How To Become a Teacher Without a Degree

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 28 September 2022

Published 19 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

It's very often the case that getting into teaching requires you to have completed a university degree. However, this isn't always necessary, as there are alternative routes to become a teacher available to you. To become a teacher without a degree is certainly possible, although you're going to have to acquire some training, experience or qualifications. In this article, we discuss the possibilities of becoming a teacher without a degree, the teaching qualifications you can acquire and the different schools you might work at.

Related: The Complete Guide to National Vocational Qualifications

What does a teacher do?

The job of a teacher is to develop and plan lessons for school pupils between the ages of five and 18. Even if you specialise in teaching certain subjects, the school may require you to teach a broad range of ages and classes. Your job is to ensure that your lesson plans and materials are adequate for the job, up-to-date and engaging for students. Teachers also assign homework and tests and mark them and give students feedback. They also prepare students for external exams and qualifications. Beyond learning activities, teachers also act as mentors and manage classroom behaviour.

In the United Kingdom, teaching positions broadly fall under one of two categories: primary education or secondary education. Knowing which educational stage you want to teach is an important part of planning to become a teacher. Whereas a primary school teacher's teaching work usually covers an entire curriculum, a secondary school teacher specialises in a certain subject or two. In both cases, schools expect teachers to work with parents, school governors or parent councils, depending on where the school is in the UK. Additionally, there are certain differences between the primary learning stages between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland:

  • England: in England, primary schools follow the national curriculum and are most often divided into three stages: foundation stage (ages three to five), Key Stage 1 (ages five to seven) and Key Stage 2 (ages seven to 11).

  • Scotland: Scottish primary schools follow the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), and are divided into three stages: Nursery and P1 (ages four to five), P2-4 (ages six to eight) and P5-7 (ages nine to 11).

  • Wales: primary schools in Wales follow the Foundation Phase and national curriculum, and are split into just two distinct stages: Foundation Phase (ages three to seven) and Key Stage 2 (ages seven to 11). However, the new Curriculum for Wales 2022 is going to be implemented and develop a seamless, single curriculum for all pupils aged three to 16.

  • Northern Ireland: the primary school system in Northern Ireland is divided into three learning stages, based on the Northern Ireland curriculum: Foundation Stage (ages four to six), Key Stage 1 (ages six to eight) and Key Stage 2 (ages eight to 11).

Teacher qualifications

There are generally three things that you must have to become a teacher: a degree, Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and completion of an Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programme. For primary school teaching, you need to have GCSEs in English, maths and science. For secondary school teaching, you just need English and maths. In both cases, your grades ought to be C or higher (from 4 to 9).

However, there's also the QTLS route now available, which stands for Qualified Teacher Learning Skills. This was originally designed for sixth form teachers, but the law changed in 2012 to allow QTLS holders to teach primary and secondary as well. There's also the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), which is a higher education course for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the equivalent is the Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE).

How to become a teacher without a degree

Pursuing a career as a teacher without a university degree may not be common, but it's certainly possible. Alternatively, you could consider starting a degree, which you can even do part time while working in some instances. One of the better options for those who don't possess a degree is the QTLS, which doesn't require one. However, there are separate prerequisites for becoming a teacher via the QTLS route. Follow these steps to learn how to become a teacher without a degree:

1. Acquire a Diploma in Education and Training (DET)

The Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training is a teaching qualification for the post-16 education sector. Both universities and colleges offer the DET, and it takes between one and two years to complete. Formerly known as the Diploma to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (DTLLS), the DET is the equivalent of a second-year bachelor's degree. If you pursue this through a university, it might be referred to as a Certificate in Education (CertEd) or a Professional Certificate in Education (PCE).

The qualify for a DET, you usually need at least 100 hours of experience in teaching, have Level 2 skills in maths and English or a Level 3 qualification if you're planning to teach classes involving numeracy or literacy. Training providers may also ask you to take additional tests to assess your numeracy, literacy and other skills. However, once you've received your DET, you can then apply for QTLS.

2. Gain Qualified Teacher Learning Skills (QTLS)

Since 2012, QTLS has been recognised as equivalent to QTS, where previously it only qualified holders to teach sixth form. Just like QTS, you can gain QTLS through a degree, but this isn't always necessary. To qualify for QTLS without a degree, you need to get the Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training (DET) or an equivalent (such as CertEd or PCE). Other QTLS requirements, such as Level 2 or Level 3 English and maths qualifications, are generally already required for the DET.

To reach QTLS, you start by pursuing an Initial Teacher Education (ITE) certificate, after which you can register for the Professional Formation, leading to the QTLS.

3. Apply for teaching jobs

Once you've gained QTLS status, you're officially qualified to carry out the same teaching activities as somebody who has the QTS. This means you can apply to teach in primary and secondary schools, besides the post-14 sector. Although you're legally on the same level as a QTS holder, some schools may still have their own requirements. Make sure you check these before making your application. If you're unsure of how to proceed or require further assistance, the Department for Education has a dedicated 'Get into Teaching' programme that can inform and assist aspiring teachers.

Related: How to become a teaching assistant with no experience

Other options

Other than the QTLS route, there are other ways of working in teaching. There are the Troops to Teachers programme for service leavers, which is specifically designed for veterans who don't have a university degree. Alternatively, you could work at a private school or academy, or become a teaching assistant. The details for each are as follows:

Private schools and academies

Also known as independent schools, private schools are fee-based institutions that are not required to follow the national curriculum, although they are still inspected and registered by the government. Private schools don't always require teachers to have QTS, so you could get a position at a private school without a degree. However, this is unlikely as you may be competing against candidates who have more qualifications. You can offset this by acquiring experience and other qualifications.

There are also academies, which are government-funded schools that have greater control over their own management. Academies may also accept teachers without QTS, although the same difficulties exist that relate to private schools.

Related: Work Experience: Definition, Importance and Tips

Become a teaching assistant

You can work in a teaching environment without a degree by becoming a teaching assistant. These individuals assist teachers with classroom activities, including lesson and classroom preparation, handling reading activities, supervising group work, helping children in need of extra support, assisting with classroom discipline and management and carrying out administrative tasks. Teaching assistants can also specialise, such as in special educational needs (SEN).

Teaching assistants don't need a university degree or QTS. Experience in similar work, such as in nurseries, youth work or childcare can help you get a job. If you need experience, you can always volunteer for a local school. In terms of qualifications, teaching assistants can pursue a Level 2 Award in Support Work in Schools and a Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools. There are also teaching assistant apprenticeship schemes available.

Related: Higher Apprenticeships: Everything You Need to Know

Troops to teachers

Since September 2018, public servants can pursue a teaching career without a degree through the Troops to Teachers programme. This leads to an honours degree and Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) for those who succeed. This is equivalent to an undergraduate degree, allowing veterans to transition to teaching secondary-level chemistry, physics, biology, maths, computing or foreign languages. The training process generally takes two to three years, and applicants wishing to teach the aforementioned secondary subjects can receive a £40,000 bursary.

To be eligible for the Troops to Teachers scheme, a service leaver must have served for a minimum of four years and be within five years of discharge when they start the programme. This programme is exclusively for service personnel who do not possess an undergraduate degree.

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