How to move up the career ladder in teaching

Teacher training advisers Chris Farr, Fran Lee, Sian Mills and Elaine Boyd have years of teaching experience. They talk about teacher development and how you can progress a career in teaching.

Is there a set path to getting promoted as a teacher?

Fran: Your career prospects can vary vastly depending on where you’re located, your employer and your training experience. For example, you might decide in your training period to set your targets in a particular area such as special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), or you might work in a sixth-form environment. And that can sway where your future takes you.

Sian: When I worked at a maintained primary state school it was quite traditional in terms of class teacher, head of year, deputy/assistant then headteacher. When I moved to a headship in an academy trust there was no deputy head. So you might not always go into a school that has a traditional structure. There’s not always a neat pathway.

Chris: People may not realise how much potential there is for progression in teaching. They think they go into the world of the classroom and that’s it. Lots of teachers have added responsibilities they enjoy doing and find fulfilling.

Can you change the subject you teach?

Fran: People have asked me if they train in geography, for example, can they move out of that subject area or become head of year. Once you get qualified teacher status (QTS) you can essentially teach anything as long as your headteacher supports you and you have the expertise to show you can do this.

What are teacher pastoral care roles?

Fran: Pastoral care in schools is looking at nurturing pathways. It’s about recognising all children have a right to feel safe and happy in school and guiding children on a more personal level. A special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) is part of pastoral care. Or you might be a form tutor and look after your pupils’ emotional wellbeing.

That pastoral level is the link between form, tutor, classroom teacher, senior leadership, home parents, carers, extended family and wider community.

How long does it take to progress between teaching roles?

Fran: Once your training has finished, it’s not about other people, it’s about how you direct your career. You have to carve out your own journey and make it your own. Lots of people expect to be told what they’ll do in teaching, when they’ll do it and how to progress.

Chris: Promotion in teaching won’t come and find you. You go and look for it. Traditionally it used to be based on length of service. But people I’ve known who have become secondary school deputy heads and headteachers in recent years have gone into teaching with a plan. They proactively sought opportunities and put themselves forward to gain the attention of leaders and build their CV within the schools.

How do you know when you’re ready to apply for a teaching promotion?

Fran: When I was working as an English teacher I got offered a fixed-term teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payment to work as an assistant head of year. It was a good way for me to test the water to see if I could deal with the demands of a more senior role. Fixed-term TLRs are usually for one-off projects. There are also TLRs that are for permanent roles. You apply for these as you would any job and get paid the TLR while you’re doing it.

To get a TLR you’ve got to have a proven track record. It’s not just a case of asking for one and you’ll get it. You need to show you’ve got good relationships with your classes. Your teaching has to be consistently solid and you’ve got to get decent results. And that does take time.

Elaine: I was ready for leadership after 6 years of teaching. Because I’d done a master’s degree I was leapfrogged into a more senior role. So you can’t put years on it. I think you know when you know.

What are good ways to let people know you’re ready to progress?

Fran: If you put yourself forward for opportunities, or you’re brave enough to say I don’t mind somebody filming my lesson and giving me feedback, it can be a way to make good progress.

Sian: Voice to the senior leadership team that career progression is something you’re interested in when you have your performance management review. If you don’t say anything they’ll assume you’re happy staying as you are. I had a supportive head that wanted me to do a national professional qualification (NPQ)(opens in new window).

How can you get more responsibilities?

Fran: Realistically you’d want to do at least a year or two in the same setting before then thinking about applying for a role with more responsibility. But you have to prove your worth to get a teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payment.

The headteacher at my school was looking to create an alternative for key stage 3 (KS3) pupils who weren’t able to access the curriculum properly. As part of a shift in my lead practitioner responsibility for English I was given a permanent TLR to research and implement this. I had to come up with case studies and a proposal. It’s about showing you’re prepared to invest in your personal development and know what’s going on out there. You have to keep up with legislation, news and topical priorities.

Sian: It may be the case that your school hasn’t got the budget for a TLR. So if you really want to take on more responsibility you may need to think about moving school.

How can teachers increase their salary?

Fran: If you have qualified teacher status (QTS) and work in a maintained school, a school funded by the local authority, your salary is reviewed every year. Most teachers on the main pay scale get an annual pay rise but it may depend on your school’s performance data to prove you’re completing whole school and individual targets. So you could potentially go from a starting salary of £30,000 to over £41,000, or more if you’re in London, in 5 years.

As well as helping you understand the demands of a more senior role, a teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payment could make a big difference to your pay. If you’re in London it could be around an extra £15,000.

What steps do you need to consider if you want to be a headteacher?

Chris: If you want to go into senior leadership in a secondary school you’ll need to build both a curriculum role and a pastoral role, for example, head of geography and head of year into your early career.

Elaine: I’ve got curriculum and pastoral experience and I also did school timetabling. As a headteacher you need experience of everything to get to the top.

How long does it take to go from an early career teacher to a headteacher?

Sian: I think 8 to 10 years is realistic to become a headteacher for primary schools although you may be able to climb the career ladder a bit quicker.

Elaine: If you’re driven you could probably get to headship in between 9 to 12 years. It took me longer but at the time it suited me to stay where I was.

Chris: If you want to develop your leadership skills there are national professional qualification (NPQ) leadership courses available to help teachers progress their careers.

How has teaching helped your professional development?

Fran: Teaching helps anybody. You can be thrown into a unique situation every day in a classroom. A good teacher can recognise that if they continue developing and learning and follow the theory side of education, it’s always going to empower you as an individual, regardless of where you end up working. Teaching has allowed me to look at the theories behind education, the psychology and sociology, which I’d never have done had I not been a teacher.

Find out more about teaching

Explore more benefits of teaching, and learn what it's really like to be in the classroom.

Get tailored advice in your inbox