School Experience

School experience is essential if you are interested in becoming a teacher. Before you apply for teacher training, you’ll need to gain as much experience in the classroom as possible in order to strengthen your application and prepare you for potential interviews.

The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) runs the school experience programme, which offers prospective trainee teachers the chance to see what it’s like to be a teacher.

School experience programme

Spending time in a classroom is the ideal way to strengthen your application for teacher training. School experience gives you the chance to watch lessons and see for yourself what it’s really like to be a teacher – and allows you to draw on your own examples in your application and interview.

The school experience programme (SEP) is run by the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) and offers places to those wishing to commence initial teacher training (ITT) in a secondary school subject.

What can I expect?

Throughout your placement, you’ll have the opportunity to observe teaching and pastoral work and to talk to teachers about day-to-day life in a school. You should get the chance to see a range of different lessons and age groups being taught – but if you have any specific requests, you can talk to your school about accommodating these. For instance, if you already have experience of observing lessons with younger secondary students, you might want to focus more on lessons with an older age group.

While your experience will focus on observation, you may have the chance to plan and deliver part or all of a lesson. Your time in a school might also include the opportunity to meet or shadow a member of senior management.

How to join

If you haven’t already, you’ll need to register your details online before you can participate in the SEP. If you’re eligible for the programme, once you have registered you will receive an email with a registration number indicating what you need to do next. Alternatively you can contact the Teaching Line on 0800 389 2500 for more information.

Before you gain a place, a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check may be required. This will be organised by the school and can take four weeks or more to complete.

If you are interested in teaching primary schools or you are not eligible for SEP, you can still arrange your own experience.

If you have any questions about your application to the SEP, you can contact the Teaching Line directly by emailing schoolexperience@TA-recruit.education.gov.uk or on freephone 0800 389 2500.

Arranging your own school experience

Getting some experience in a school before you apply for teacher training will provide you with an invaluable insight into what teaching is really like through observing classes and shadowing teachers. It will also strengthen your application to your preferred training courses.

If you’re not eligible for the NCTL’s school experience programme, you can arrange some time in a school independently.

Whether you’re still studying or looking to fit it in around your work schedule, these eight tips on getting some classroom experience should come in handy.

Find the right school

You may need to contact a number of different schools in your area to arrange your school experience. The Edubase portal has a list of all the educational establishments in England and Wales, and can filter your search by education phase (primary or secondary) and location to quickly find a suitable school.

“It’s also worth contacting your old school as many schools are more receptive to requests from ex-students. You never know, some of your old teachers might even volunteer to show you around.”

Daniel Wilkins, English teacher

Do your homework

Don’t just send enquiries off to generic contact email addresses. Telephone the school in question and ask who would be best to contact. This varies from one school to another – sometimes it will be the person responsible for organising work experience, at others it could be a head of department.

Be flexible

Classroom experience may have to fit in around a school’s training placements, exams, and other activities. Schools might find it difficult to accommodate you if you only have fixed availability for a school visit.

Less is never more

The more time you spend getting experience in a school, the better. Most schools and universities expect you to have gained at least 10 days’ school experience before you start your teacher training course.

You can check on different schools’ and universities’ requirements for school experience when you search for courses on the UCAS Teacher Training website.

Ask your university

If you’re a student thinking about teaching, find out if there are any schemes led by your university. These can offer you the chance to gain some stuctured experience and school placements before you apply for teacher training. Depending on your degree, there may even be the option to complete a module that includes classroom experience at a local school.

Consider volunteering options

To improve your chances of gaining school experience, you could also offer to volunteer at a school – perhaps as an unofficial classroom assistant. Volunteering in general is a great opportunity to gain experience of working with children. You could also volunteer to work in a youth club or as a Scout or Guide leader.

A lot of volunteering opportunities, such as after-school clubs, sports coaching or youth schemes, take place during evenings or at weekends, so you can fit volunteering around your existing commitments.

Be patient and persevere

Schools are very busy places, so may not always reply immediately. They also have to be careful about welcoming visitors. Schools may require a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check as a matter of policy – so don’t leave things until the last minute as these can take four weeks or more to complete.

The time you spend in a school will be invaluable. You’ll gain a better understanding of how schools work, how you can fit into teaching, and important insights you can take into your training. It’ll also help you prepare the strongest application possible and get you fully prepared for the interview stage.

So while school experience may not always be easy to arrange, you can rest assured your efforts will always be worthwhile.

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