Volunteer teaching in the UK: definition plus how to guide

Updated 25 May 2023

Volunteer teachers help students gain an education and mentor them as they develop. They usually progress to become teachers in primary and secondary schools and higher education institutions. Understanding what volunteer teaching entails can help you prepare to pursue this career path. In this article, we define volunteer teaching, provide steps on how to become a volunteer teacher in the UK, outline the benefits of becoming one and highlight other routes to beginning a teaching career.

What is volunteer teaching in the UK?

Volunteer teaching in the UK is teaching and mentoring students in schools out of personal responsibility. People become volunteer teachers to help educate children and gain experience to determine if teaching would be a suitable fit for them. Volunteer teaching allows you to work in several schools under different circumstances and settings, which can help you gain various skills and experiences. This can help you apply for permanent teaching positions in schools and boost your career. Subjects you may teach include mathematics and basic counting, English and grammar, history, general knowledge, geography, art and music.

While volunteer teaching isn't a prerequisite to becoming a teacher, it provides you with the following:

  • an understanding of the national curriculum and educational system within the region where you might work

  • practical experience in a classroom that you can use to impress hiring managers during job interviews, such as creating lesson plans and overseeing student activities

  • several opportunities to observe and learn from teachers with more experience

  • some connections within the educational sector

  • proof of your commitment to teaching

Related: How to find school volunteering opportunities

How to become a volunteer teacher in the UK

Review the following steps on how to become a volunteer teacher in the UK:

1. Complete your secondary school training

You need specific secondary school qualifications to begin teacher training in the UK. In England, you require a minimum grade of C in maths, English and science in your GCSEs. Training in Wales requires at least a B in English and maths and a C in science if you want to become a primary school teacher. To train in Scotland, you need a level six Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) qualification in English and a level five qualification in mathematics.

You also require two other SCQF qualifications at levels five and six in two other subjects to qualify for undergraduate training. In Northern Ireland, you need three GCSEs with a minimum of grade C and two A-level passes.

2. Apply for a teacher training course

You can apply for an undergraduate degree relevant to the subject you want to teach, especially if you eventually want to become a secondary school teacher. For example, if you want to teach biology in secondary school, consider getting a biology degree. If you want to teach in Scotland, you can also get a one-year-long Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). To work in Northern Ireland, you need a Bachelor of Education undergraduate degree or a PGCE.

You can apply for your teacher training programme in England through the Department for Education. To apply for the programmes in Scotland and Wales, you can apply through the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS). In Northern Ireland, you can apply to individual institutions directly.

Related: How to become an early years teacher (with skills)

3. Understand the different student age groups

Learning about the various age groups you can teach can help you determine which age group suits you, allowing you to look for relevant volunteer teaching positions. The UK's education system comprises primary and secondary schools with various key stages. As a volunteer teacher, you may gain experience within each key stage, which can help you decide a suitable fit for you. The key stages are as follows:

  • Early years foundation stage (EYFS): This stage comprises children under five years old who go through nursery and reception.

  • Key stage one (KS1): KS1 has 5 to 7-year-olds who go to years 1 and 2.

  • Key stage two (KS2): This key stage comprises children 7 to 11 years old in years 3 to 6.

  • Key stage three (KS3): KS3 consists of 11 to 14-year-old students in years 7 to 9.

  • Key stage four (KS4): This key stage has 14 to 16-year-olds who go to years 10 and 11.

Related: How to become a preschool teacher (with tips and steps)

4. Get a background check

Teachers need a background check from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) because they work with children. It's a requirement for you to present this DBS check with your job application. Consider applying for it before you begin your job search to ensure it's ready when you start applying for volunteer teacher jobs.

5. Write a CV, cover letter and personal statement

When looking for a job, potential employers may ask for a CV, cover letter and a personal statement to decide whether to give you the job. These documents allow you to demonstrate your qualifications, including relevant degrees, experiences and skills. Consider writing individual letters for each job you apply for to customise them to the educational institution. Your CV and cover letter are complementary documents containing information about your qualifications. Ensure to include the relevant requirements the employers ask for in the job description.

Your personal statement is a story about why you want to become a volunteer teacher. You can write motivational and inspirational stories about previous professional and personal experiences that motivated you to pursue a teaching career.

Related: Guide to writing a compelling teacher CV

6. Gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)

Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) is a legal requirement to teach students in the UK. Maintained schools usually require this qualification to hire teachers. These schools fall under the state-funded school system and receive oversight and funding from local authorities. Examples of maintained schools include community or voluntary schools, where local authorities hire staff and admit students and foundation and voluntary-aided schools, where the student's governing body admits students and employs staff.

Related: How to make a career change to teaching (plus skills)

7. Begin your job search

For a volunteer teacher position, consider connecting with people in nurseries, primary and secondary schools or colleges and ask if you can observe the teachers, shadow them or visit the schools. You can also contact friends, family members and other colleagues to find open positions. If you're in university, find out if it offers student-tutoring programmes where you can tutor other students or teach in schools. This can offer practical teaching experience and show your dedication to this job.

You can also consider visiting charities and local authorities and enquire about any open volunteer teaching positions. They may run schemes that allow mentors to work with students individually.

Related: Job hunting tips to help you find your next job

8. Acquire skills

If you want to get a permanent teaching job, gain relevant skills for the job. You can build these skills through daily practice and by asking colleagues and superiors where you can improve. These include the following:

  • Enthusiasm: Being an enthusiastic teacher can help you influence students to feel excited about their learning. It can also help you stay current on educational content and issues, which allows you to become a more effective teacher.

  • Knowledge of the curriculum: A solid understanding of the curriculum helps ensure you give your students the educational foundation they need. You can also use this skill to set developmental expectations for your students.

  • Resilience and dedication: During your teaching experience, you may experience successes and challenges. Being resilient and having dedication can help you learn from past mistakes and become a better teacher.

  • Integrity: Showing honesty and integrity allows students and parents to build trust in you and your abilities. It also allows supervisors to trust you and give you more responsibility.

Related: 14 essential teacher skills

Benefits of becoming a volunteer teacher in the UK

Analyse the following benefits of becoming a volunteer teacher in the UK:

  • Making a difference: Volunteer teachers add value to students' lives by teaching them new concepts and helping them gain a foundation for their education.

  • Building networks: Working as a volunteer teacher allows you to meet new people, work with students in different key stages and build professional networks, which can help you advance your career in the future.

  • Developing skills: This career path allows you to help students face different issues and exposes you to various challenges, which enables you to develop problem-solving skills.

Other routes for teaching experience

You can gain teaching experience outside typical classroom settings while still demonstrating your dedication to teaching by working in the following areas:

  • Summer camps: You can volunteer to teach students several skills during summer camps, including music and art.

  • Sports teams: Consider applying for coaching jobs with sports teams in schools to help with their training.

  • Mentorship programmes: Find out if schools and universities have mentorship programmes where you can mentor young students through their education and personal developmental growth.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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