The Longest Year: School Direct or School, Die Wrecked?

Or: My life in Comic Sans

It’s finally over. I survived a year as a School Direct (Salaried) trainee. I made it to the end, I qualified, and I have a job as a Newly-Qualified Teacher (NQT) next year. This is nothing short of a miracle, but it was the children and some amazing colleagues who made it possible. (If you want quick School Direct tips or a ‘should I / shouldn’t I?’ guide, skip to ‘Cut to the chase’ at the end of this post).

School Direct replaced the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) last year, and I was among the thousands of guinea-pigs nationwide on the new scheme. It was a learning experience not just for us students, but also for schools and the universities.

The GTP was the standard year-long on-the-job route into teaching for someone with a degree who worked as a Teaching Assistat (TA). School Direct is different because instead of applying to a university and then finding a school placement, the you applied to the school. The school is in charge.

The other difference, or so I believed, was that School Direct was aimed at people like me: career changers. This was certainly the spin coming from the Department for Education (DfE). It seemed Michael Gove wanted ex-squaddies or mardy middle-aged grammar school-educated blokes with O-Level Latin and A-Level Computer Science as primary teachers, and I certainly fitted one of those categories perfectly.

Working for the BBC for 22 years, I’d never worked as a TA, and I only had 2 weeks’ experience in a primary school. I inhabited another world. This is what I was doing almost exactly a year ago:

When I started applying for the (hugely competitive) Salaried School Direct, however, I realised that as a career-changer, I was the exception. I spent a day in one school doing round after round of X-Factor style auditions, where I was the oldest person by far (45 at the time). I only met one other career-changer that day, a young police officer. He was outstanding, and I was thrilled when he got a place. An open day at another school left me with the distinct impression that as far as some schools were concerned, School Direct was no different from the GTP, and no-one with little experience of working with children would make the cut.

Somehow, I did. And when I started, I found I was only one of two career-changers in four schools, and even at college we were the exception; we sought each other out, we could sense the desperation in each other’s eyes. I met a tree surgeon. And a tax lawyer. Or was it a tax lawyer who packed it in to become a tree surgeon and then tried teaching? But almost everyone on the scheme had worked as a TA, some for many years. They spoke a different language: not just the jargon that goes with any profession, but they had a familiarity with the daily business of school life and learning that was utterly alien to me, as an outsider.

Time expands

I spent my first school week in a state of shock. Culture shock. According to Wikipedia, culture shock, has the following features: ‘information overload, language barrier, generation gap, technology gap, skill interdependence, homesickness.’
It’s fair to say I experienced all of those at different times.

Time expanded; I’d moved from an environment in BBC radio where perhaps 3 or 4 noteworthy things might happen to me in a day, to one where the demands of 30 children meant that dozens of fascinating things were occurring around me all the time. My brain is still adjusting to coping with the amount of information I need to process in a day, and one result of this is that things that happened yesterday still feel like they happened a week ago.


I faced many challenges, but perhaps the greatest was, to mix metaphors, the juggling act required to know which hat I was wearing at any given time: teacher, student and teaching assistant; finding the time for everything I had to do for college as well as starting to plan and teach my own lessons, ensure that my class teacher felt supported and be a parent to three school age children. I never got the hang of that. I only survived the year by dropping one of the hats, usually the college work. I don’t think I read with my own daughter all year. The long hours in school, and long evening hours spent trying to study and plan lessons took a hideous toll on family life, the full extent of which only became fully apparent to me when I qualified and finally had a moment to look around me and notice what was going on at home.

Planning lessons took me an eternity; I probably spent 3 or 4 hours preparing each hour-long lesson. I think it’s hard for anyone who’s been teaching for any length of time to understand the sheer horror of being a trainee teacher, staring at a blank lesson proforma. It’s like extreme writers’ block. Qualified (and even newly-qualified) teachers will breezily say ‘oh find a nice activity or game’ and the student then spends a whole evening scouring the TES web site for things, none of which quite fit the learning intention you had in mind. It’s easier now, but it was only in the summer term I found I could plan a lesson in anything that was much faster than real time.

Putting CPD into practice

By the end of the Spring term, however, I was developing an increasing awareness of how children learn, through a combination of college lectures, practical experience and school Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs becomes tangible and meaningful when you are working each day with children who may have their most basic physiological needs met, but who may be lacking in feelings of love and belonging, and may be low in self-esteem. A CPD session on attachment theory, brought together some of John Bowlby’s original ideas with recent findings from neuroscience, and painted a compelling picture of how neglect can affect learning, behaviour and the physical development of the brain. I was able to see possible links between this and a child who, unexpectedly, started to seek attention through petty theft and vandalism. My training gave me a greater understanding of where this behaviour was coming from, so I could deal with the child more effectively and sensitively.

Finding my own voice

In my teaching, was starting to find my own style, and my own voice, experimenting with some more creative ideas of my own:

Second School Experience

My second school experience in Year 2 in a different school brought a new, milder form of culture shock. New colleagues, new children, a larger school, classrooms so much physically larger I almost had agoraphobia on my first day. I had to think carefully about where to position myself (and the children) so I could be heard.

As my teaching load increased I found work-life balance increasingly hard to manage. Fortunately I had the support of a fantastic class teacher. She saw me through tough times with her unquenchable optimism, Tigger to my Eeyore, working with me much as she would with children in her class, talking through my lesson plans in detail, making me realise for myself what would and wouldn’t work, and making my lessons better as a result. This helped me appreciate the benefit to children of learning this way, reaching your own conclusions rather than just being told the answer.

I learned so much from her, but the chief things were:

  • Allowing time for responding to marking each day – marking only makes any sense if children have time to read and act on your comments. You can have a dialogue about learning with children this way.
  • Knowing something about the children’s life and interests outside school – any interest can be a hook to engage them in learning.
  • Bringing lessons full circle by reviewing in the plenary the learning that has been achieved.

My proudest achievement in my second school was teaching computer programming to children much younger than normally attempted, in a setting where there were about 3 laptops that worked. Normally Scratch is only taught – even by the experts – to upper KS2, but my experience of teaching it in Year 3 made me think that it was worth a go in Year 2.

The risk paid off. I used a combination of whole-class teaching with practical activities: children cut out instructions, arranged them on sugar paper, and then brought them to one of the few computers we had for testing. I was also able to use Scratch to make my own interactive resources for teaching maths that fitted in with our literacy topic on Scaredy Squirrel.

Scaredy SquirrelAs in Year 3, the chief joy was finding the unexpected children who have a natural aptitude for programming: the boy who struggles with maths and literacy, but becomes the class expert at something for the first time in his life, helping and teaching others, raising his self-esteem; the girl who would shun computing if introduced to it later in life (for girls ‘year 8 is too late’), but who showed a natural aptitude for the logical thinking required to plan and write computer code. This is about broadening horizons, thinking ahead not just to KS2, but to secondary school and beyond, giving children more career choices.

Whilst in my second school, I also ran a weekly debating club for Year 5; discussions with children in this age group on a range of controversial issues – the environment, mobile phones – helped me improve my understanding of how older children think and what motivates them. They can be very passionate about issues, but need to develop skills to organise their thoughts, and express their ideas more clearly. I found this very rewarding; I talked about my experience watching debates, like Prime Minister’s Questions, in the House of Commons. I’d like to build on this in my future career, teaching debating as a skill and also taking children to Parliament to find out more about how we are governed.

Wrong man for the course

It was at the end of (my rather wobbly) second school experience, my tutor told me ‘you should never have been accepted on the course.’ She’d said this once before, and I’d been a bit taken aback, but this time I knew what she meant. I had recently come very close to quitting for the second time, after a bad observation. I’d thought that if I was that bad, that far into the course, there really was no hope. I was physically and mentally exhausted, walking to school with tears in my eyes every morning, and getting ill. I was working about 10 times harder than I had done in the BBC (all day, every day, every evening until I was so tired I could no longer think, including weekends) and earning less than half the money. In my old job, I could switch off when the red light went out, but now my work followed me home, filling my every waking (and sleeping) moment. I just wanted to stop.

But, with the help of my class teacher, I turned things round and delivered that computing lesson (without computers) that just went swimmingly.

Also, I had been accepted on the course. I couldn’t help that. Well, I could not have applied, I suppose, but the reason I did was that I couldn’t afford to do a PGCE. If you look at the fees involved in a PGCE, and add that to the salary I got paid to do the School Direct (Salaried) route, you’re looking at a cost of about £27,000 for doing a PGCE. I had three children to feed and clothe. There was no other possible route for me into teaching.

Final term: eighty percent teaching load

Shortly before the start of the summer term I was asked ‘How do you feel about the 80% teaching load?’  A fair question, but I think I coped better than expected. Coming back to my base school felt like coming home. I got into a routine, speeding up the planning process by making better use of resources and the experience of colleagues.

Getting an NQT job on my first job interview was a pivotal moment. This provided me with an even greater focus and incentive: I really was now going to turn from being a radio studio manager into a primary school teacher.

Gardner’s World

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences includes, alongside linguistic, musical, logical, spatial, kinesthetic and so on, one that is often overlooked: naturalist intelligence – this is to do with having an affinity with the natural world, living things and ecosystems.

I first came across this when doing some reading on behaviour management early on in the year, but it only really made sense when I experienced it first hand when working on planting fruit and vegetables with a group of ‘difficult’ children. They impressed me with their hard work, and the great care they took handling living things; one child in particular, whose behaviour could be very challenging, was a joy to work with. Handling the plants, the child was focused, well-behaved and enjoying the learning. Food for thought: this could be another way of improving self-esteem and outcomes for some hard-to-reach children.


I finally got an inkling that I might be good at this when half my class went out on a sports tournament. Alone, no teacher, no TA, I had a whole morning to fill. I got a sense of the possible joys of teaching by bringing my knowledge and experience into a cross-curricular morning of history, maths, ICT and a dash of PSHE. I used the 70th anniversary of D-Day (the ‘longest day’) to take the children on a virtual journey to the Normandy beaches, thinking about the importance of secrecy, code-breaking, Bletchley Park, computers and how they store information as binary numbers. We did binary maths, we broke and made codes. Some children accused others of cheating, so we talked about espionage and what’s fair in war (if not love). I had taken a theme and riffed on it, and the children loved it. It remains my favourite moment of the year (closely followed by getting the children to make musical instruments with a MakeyMakey in a combined DT / music / ICT lesson).

Apart from that, did you enjoy the play?

Here are a couple of observations I’ve made that have resonated with other teachers:


‘My best AND worst lessons are planned on the hoof, or at very short notice.’

My next challenge is to work out how to make all my lessons fall into the former category. I suspect this will take the rest of my teaching career, through a process of continuing reflection and learning, striving to improve my subject knowledge and pedagogy.


‘A key quality for being a teacher is deriving pleasure from other people’s achievements.’

I’m hugely passionate about this idea; for me, it’s the fundamental reason why I became a teacher. It came back to me when I was watching the end of year music concert. I got more pleasure out of watching children, some whom I’d taught, some I barely knew, on stage and doing their best than I got out of any number bands on Later With Jools Holland. I probably looked like a fool with a huge grin on my face, but it was sincere. I may be naive, but I can’t understand adults who sit stony-faced at such occasions.

I am more rewarded every single day as a teacher, even on the bad days, than I was in 22 years working for the BBC. Key to that is the constant desire to want the best for the children, to give them the tools to progress, to open up as many options as possible for them in later life, and to ensure that in my classroom they are happy.

Cut to the chase…

Would I recommend the School Direct route to anyone? Well, I have to say, if you have young children: no. A friend told me that on her GTP course, half the students’ relationships broke up in their training year. I’m not surprised. Unless your partner is Wonder Woman or Superman, the price your family will pay may well not be worth it. For anyone else: yes, but a few things to consider:

  • Don’t use normal notebooks, write everything in spiral-bound hole-punched note pads with detachable pages – everything is evidence. You will need it for your standards folder. Sounds simple, but this was probably the best single piece of advice I was given, thankfully early on by my class teacher (herself a career changer).
  • The schools are now in charge, so make sure you pick a good one. Larger schools may well offer more flexibility with things like PPA and observation time, but balance that against being known and being able to get to know every child and member of staff in a smaller school. Ask about additional adults. It’ll probably just be you and the teacher in class, but some schools have additional TAs and there may be Learning Support Assistants (LSAs). LSAs are there for a reason, but an extra adult can make a huge difference.
  • Having said that, the academic institution matters too. On my course the college days were all over by January, varying between 1 and 2 days a week, but the quality of the teaching in college was hit and miss. When you have so few days in college, and you’re working with some people who spent four years learning about the theory of how children learn, those college days are so precious. It’s not a great feeling to be sitting in a lecture or tutorial thinking you are wasting your time when you have 90 books to mark and lessons to plan, though the opportunity to talk to fellow students in other schools is invaluable.
  • Get your PPA time nailed down. In writing, if possible. It varies hugely between schools: some have fixed whole days with joint planning, in others you take it in chunks when you can. Clearly, fixed whole days are likely to be more productive.
  • Your class teacher can make or break you. I was pretty darn lucky, but I’ve heard some horror stories about some class teachers (not in any school I taught in, I hasten to add) who do not support students, and, in some cases, actively undermine them. I don’t know why people like that become teachers, but I’ve heard enough stories at college to conclude they do exist. They need to find new careers, and school managements need to think very carefully about who makes a suitable mentor for a student, regardless of the student’s age or apparent experience.
  • I think it’s fair to say that School Direct had its teething problems in its first year. The shift in ‘ownership’ from universities to schools left many confused as to who was in charge, and some things were neglected as each institution thought the other was dealing with it. Much of the paperwork was adapted (or not) from the GTP, and was insanely repetitive. It will be better next year. The bane of my life was the training record. I had to account for every hour of training given in school and college, though I couldn’t work out why this was my resposibility, in an unworkable Word document. Next year, at least one college is folding this into the weekly reflective journal, so there’s no end-of-term panic to fill it in.
  • You will find your role confusing. You may find that you are a TA when it suits, a teacher when it suits – meaning you may need to sharpen the pencils, do playground duties AND take sole responsibility for the class. I would sigh as PGCE students left at 4.30 pm (though I’m not saying the PGCE is an easier route – I had far, far less academic work). If you’re on the Salaried School Direct scheme, you do have to remember that you’re being paid to do a job.

This is an expanded version of a presentation I gave as part of my final assessment, and in a staff meeting to colleagues.

NB: Since writing this post I have moved to secondary teaching – please read comments below – my views may have changed since writing this article!

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84 Responses to The Longest Year: School Direct or School, Die Wrecked?

  1. Frank Bath says:

    You’ve done great work. You’re the world savvy sort that should dominate non academic teaching. Alas it isn’t always the case. Don’t over drive yourself – two schoolteacher ex wives tells me that. I’m waving a warning flag.

  2. Emma says:

    I would love to know how you’re getting on now. I’m applying for the this salaried route into teaching later this year (2015). Although my experience with children/classroom is minimal at the moment, I have both primary and secondary experience lined up. However, after reading many people blogged (who tried/failed) to gain a place has somewhat unnerved me. I graded in 2011 and have spent 3-4 years in IT and now considering a career in teaching (science).

    I’m concerned that I will fall short of the classroom experience, especially as it’s already January and my application will need to be sent off in a matter of months!

    Kind regards


    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Emma – where to begin?!

      In short: As you can see, I found the School Direct Salaried route very tough (I came very close to quitting at least once, but I was lucky in having an amazing mentor and colleagues who pulled me through). I got a job as an NQT in a different school but, very reluctantly, resigned at the end of November. I’ve just started some long-term supply work and, though it’s very early days, this is going well so far. I may try and re-start my NQT year in September 2015.

      If your main concern is lack of classroom experience, then that will be down to the school. I applied to one school where I think they took 6 School Direct places and I was 7th on their list, but then I got a place in another outstanding and very highly-regarded school. When I was going to open days one Head told me “School Direct is no different from the GTP” and that people, like me, with no or little experience of working with children would be very unlikely to get a place, which seemed to close the door on career changers – but I got a place, largely I think down to personal preference. My own tutor said that I shouldn’t have been accepted on the course – not because I was useless, but because my lack of classroom experience made things that much harder for me.

      People’s experience of the scheme has been wildly varying, depending on the school they are working in. Some of my fellow college students had amazingly supportive schools, some were virtually bullied and ignored (not, I hasten to add, in my school).

      There is a bigger question to ask about teaching’s work-life balance, especially I think in Primary – though, again, it varies vastly from setting to setting. I still remain to be convinced that being a KS2 primary teacher is compatible with family life, long holidays notwithstanding – I have three school age children, and the combination of many other factors (which I can’t go into here) meant that I felt I had to abandon my NQT year. The NQT year is notoriously tough (some other teachers telling me to expect “a year of tears as an NQT”) but in hindsight I don’t think I was sufficiently prepared for my NQT year with only a year of School Direct classroom experience under my belt.

      If you’re thinking of secondary Science, I think your experience will be vastly different to mine, and (this is just a guess) lack of classroom experience will be far more normal than in Primary, where most School Direct students are former TAs.

      Good luck, and I’d love to know how you get on!

  3. Leanne says:


    I’m scared and reassured to hear your story.I think you did amazingly well to see it through.I’m a career changer of sorts in that I’m an ex EFL Teacher recently returned from Spain with just over 5 years teaching english experience. I’m 43 and about to apply for art and design School Direct Salaried.I’ve not had a creative career apart from the odd private job even though I have a degree in Textile Design so for me this will be a challenge as it’ll be a very different beast to teach compared to English grammar.

    The creative aspect asides I am worried about the theory side of things as I learn a lot better with practical lessons which I suppose is the point but I was wondering how hard you found that side of it?Did you do any pre course reading to get ready before your started?I’m also worried about being tied into a school after the course but a friend of mine said maybe the school will only be obliged to take you on for the NQT year and that it works both ways i.e the student Teacher or school might not be a good fit and either party may want to part ways.

    I was thinking about going down the non salaried route but I’m wary about not getting finance as I’m not an undergraduate.Phew my brain’s hurting just typing all these questions! I second the post above and would love to see how you get on.

  4. blogmywiki says:

    Hi Leanne. I did a bit of theory reading (on the beach!) before I started. The course is heavily weighted to the practical (or mine was) so that wasn’t a problem. Wasn’t tied into a school – but that may vary. There may not be enough jobs for all School Direct trainees in your school, but if they like you I think you’d be encouraged to apply for one. I got a job in a different school to the one I trained in because they advertised very early & I got the first job I applied for. Good luck!

  5. Adam says:

    Very interesting read. I’m currently on the SD primary route and very close to throwing in the towel! Like you I had only had a few weeks experience before starting the course, but I have been placed with a mentor who has supported me very little in terms of being in the class with me. When I voiced my initial concerns in November that the work load was becoming overwhelming, the response was “I don’t know what you want me to do”. I constantly swing between thinking the expectations are way to high given my limited experience and questioning my own competence. I love working with children and get the ‘buzz’, but the 18 hour days through the week and weekends playing catch up are hard to keep up. I loathe spending 3-4 hours planning and organising resources for just one lesson for it to not turn out great. I hate getting negative feedback when you’ve stayed up into the small hours to plan a lesson especially for the observation,
    I recently asked for more support in the class, simply to tell me what I’m doing wrong to combat low level behaviour issues and was made to feel like I’m failing. Fortunately, my experience doesn’t resonate with peers on my course, they mostly have extremely supportive mentors. At this point I’m wondering whether the benefits of being a teacher outweigh the fact it rules your life? Do I want to spend the rest of my life in a job with constant pressure to be ‘outstanding’? Or have I just ended up in the wrong school during a time where good support can make all the difference to success or failure?
    Any advice for someone who is feeling the pressure would be much appreciated. I’ve spent the whole weekend contemplating my future (whilst still trying to plan lessons!).

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Adam,
      Thank you for commenting. It’s a tough situation you’re in, and I certainly sympathise having been there myself. I know that people’s experiences vary wildly. A few questions: aside from your mentor, do you have a qualified class teacher with you working as your TA when you are teaching? The support from your teacher/TA is at least as important as the support from your mentor, possibly even more so. Also, are your fellow SD’ers all former TAs? I think it’s very tough on career changers, especially when you are staring at a blank planning sheet on Sunday afternoon with no idea what to write because you lack the classroom experience to pluck ideas out of thin air.

      I find it very difficult to answer the question about whether the benefits outweigh the fact that it takes over your life. For me, with 3 school age children, working exactly the kind of hours you describe was too much and I am now doing general supply teaching – something there is a huge demand for, and which I couldn’t do without my QTS. I am unsure about my future in teaching unless I can find the right role in the right school, and supply work is a great way to see how widely schools differ. Plus it was a lovely feeling walking out of a school at 4.30 on Friday knowing I had a free weekend with no planning to do.

      So, I’m glad I stuck the training year out, having been lucky enough to get a place, because it has given me a source of income; but I am far from certain I have the right stuff or circumstances to survive as a primary class teacher. Secondary may have been a better choice for me, as I could then have specialised in a subject I love like Computing.

      Hope that’s some use, and good luck. Let us know how you get on.

      • Adam says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        I don’t want to quit because I know I will regret it in the long run, but I really can’t see myself living this lifestyle for years to come. I feel completely unprepared for being potentially responsible for a whole class next year should I get a job. I’m half heartedly filling out applications, almost hoping I don’t get an interview because I literally couldn’t find the time to squeeze the prep time and stress into my week!
        Reading up, I think it’s widely acknowledged that training providers/ schools vary in their ability to train people effectively. Personally, I think the fact we’re salaried is used as an excuse to chuck you in and are left to get on with it. Others on my course have been into different year groups each term because the school wants to give them as much experience as possible – I’ve been in the same year group from the start with a 4 week placement after Easter scheduled – I’ve been told I’m wholly responsible for the progress of that class this year!
        Right now I have 5 more lessons to plan, resources and prep for the whole week to consider, 30 books to mark (detailed mark) and all the Uni side to catch up on.
        I think supply work might be the best option for me so I get a broader experience of other schools and decide whether its actually for me. I just feel if I get a job in another unsupportive school the pressure will be immense and I’ll probably buckle.
        I best stop procrastinating!


  6. Georgia says:

    Hi Giles

    Great post – thank you. You sound like a brilliant teacher – and I admire your tenacity. Sorry to hear the training took its toll on your family life, though.

    I’ve been a journalist for almost 20 years and have just applied to do SD secondary English. I am mildly panicking now. I do have a young child (3 yrs) – just the one, mind (hat off to you for doing this with three!).

    I’m no stranger to working ridiculous hours – sometimes 8am – 1am, which doesn’t go down too well at home. But I am worried this is out of the frying pan into the fire.

    As my husband is away at least one night a week, I do have nursery pick-ups to take into consideration. Based on your own experience, and what you’ve heard on the circuit, do you really think SD and family life are a match made in hell? I don’t mind working in the evenings, but working until the wee small hours every night – and at the weekends – sounds like a family breakdown waiting to happen.

    Any work/life balance tips?

    Good luck. Would love to read more updates.

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Georgia,

      Thanks for getting in touch – have a look at my comments to Adam above.

      My experience is purely primary, so we need to bear that in mind. I have to say that I think being a primary teacher, for me, has been incompatible with family life, in the schools I’ve worked in. The SD year workload was no different to my aborted NQT year, in fact it was probably less stressful in my training year because I did not have sole responsibility for teaching & assessing 30 children plus doing displays etc.

      Of course the holidays suggest that it may be a family-friendly career, but you need an incredibly supportive partner and stable home environment. I always say you don’t really know what it’s like being a teacher unless you’ve been one or lived with one.

      I do wonder if I may have been better suited to secondary teaching. Secondary teachers may shoot me down in flames, but my suspicion is that their workload is often less than primary teachers’ in most schools, plus they can specialise in a subject they love. I personally love planning computing or English lessons, that seems like fun to me, whereas with other subjects it can seem like a chore.

      Have you left your former job yet? If not, still time to think about the options. Talk to as many secondary teachers as you can, especially in schools where you may want to work. Do they have children, if so how do they manage?

      I never cracked work/life balance, other than by doing supply, but one tip I would offer is to work on Saturdays not Sundays. I used to save my work for Sunday so I would have 1 clear day, but that always left that horrible ‘Sunday night essay crisis’ feeling looming over me for the first time since 6th form. Latterly I got up early on Saturday and tried to finish planning by early Saturday afternoon, leaving me with clear, guilt-free family time, making me (and those around me) happier.

      Hope that is some help – please let us know how you get on, and good luck!

  7. Georgia says:

    Hi there,

    Thanks so much for getting back to me.

    I did my first full day of working as a voluntary TA today – at the school in which I’m hoping to train. My head is spinning. Not because of the lessons – I loved those – but because of the stories from the staff about exhaustion and workloads. One teacher said she does a 70-hour week.

    Having said that, I think that’s a good point you make about the primary teaching workload. It’s funny, so many people have asked why I don’t go for primary teaching because I think they think that’s the ‘easier’ option (hanging out with cute, adoring kids all day). Yet the worst reports I’ve heard, in terms of stress and workload, have been from primary trainees/NQTs.

    It’s certainly not going to be plain sailing – and I don’t have the option of reapplying next year and choosing a more academic course as I’m really restricted in terms of placement locations. As my husband is away every week, I need to be able to get to and from nursery/school.

    The way I see it is I can spend six minutes or six years deliberating it – but until I actually try it, I’m just not going to know whether it’s for me. It’s a very expensive mistake to make (it’s unsalaried) but working as a freelance journalist from home is no longer cutting it for me (having recently moved from London to Leeds where there are few full-time roles) so I think I’m going to try it.

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences and wisdom. If nothing else, I am going into this with my eyes open. Although this is reminding me of entering the world of parenting, wondering how hard it could be, despite everybody telling me it was the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Like you say, you can’t really know what it’s like unless you are a teacher or you live with one!

    God help me…

    PS Definitely going to take your advice about Saturday mornings

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Georgia,

      Thank you for your update. I have to say if you have a child to get to and from nursery and your husband is away in the week, I really think you will find it incredibly difficult unless you have some extra childcare in place – how early can you drop off and how late can you pick up? I know you can take work home with you, but the school day alone is exhausting and you need to be sure that the school will be ok about you coming in and going as you need. And if it can work for your training year, I have to say you’ll probably need some different childcare arrangements for your NQT year. That figure of a 70 hour week, I’m afraid, sounds entirely plausible, especially if they have extra responsibilities such as being a subject or phase leader. I found I was working similar hours just because as an NQT everything took me longer than it would an experienced teacher. I also think that School Direct didn’t prepare me for my NQT year as well as a 4 year course would have done, but that wasn’t an option for me – I couldn’t even afford to do a PGCE or an unsalaried School Direct course.

      Hope that’s not too depressing – please keep in touch, and good luck!

  8. Georgia says:

    Hi Giles

    Crikey! Thanks for the warning. I feel like my brain is going to explode with indecision.

    It would probably be one day a week where I’d arrive at school about 8.30 and leave at 5/5.30 (with a view to working from home later) – and then maybe one other 8.30 start and one other 5/5.30 finish. I did mention the pick-up/husband-away issue to the Head of English, who was quick to reassure me a lot of it can be done at home and they could be quite flexible.

    But that’s easy for her to say – and doesn’t help with my NQT year – or indeed the rest of my career. There must be thousands of teachers out there with young children – I just don’t understand how they do it.

    At the moment, it’s not unusual for me to pick up my son and then work until the early hours, once he’s gone to bed. But it’s different when you’ve got to be up at the crack of dawn to spend a day in the classroom… and repeat after school… and repeat ad infinitum. I could do the occasional 70-hour week but I will not do that as a matter of course. I would literally never see my son.

    I’ve just retracted two applications, which would involve further travel. Just need to decide the fate of the last one…

    Thanks again for the advice/wake-up call.

    I hope things work out for you.

  9. Mike says:

    This post has resonated with me like no other I’ve read online…I’m coming to the end of my primary SDS year, and although I agree with all the positive aspects mentioned above, it saddens me to say that they are far, far outweighed by the negative. The workload is quite simply ridiculous, experienced teachers will tell you it gets easier but I think that is more a case of just becoming conditioned to the 70+ hour weeks! The job literally takes over your life, every waking moment, and for me it’s just unsustainable and sadly, unenjoyable. The day to day contact with kids is amazing, and the reason we all want to do this, but when the children go home at 3.30, you literally start your working day again! Like the OP, I’m going to look at supply work until I can find a role in a different sector, then get out and never return! I want my life back…

  10. Catherine says:

    This is definitely one of the most realistic posts that I have read about teacher training!
    I actually nearly completed the PGCE route and failed my last placement due to having one of those ‘nightmare’ mentors you wrote about. I completely lost all confidence in myself and as a result I convinced myself that teaching wasn’t for me. I then tried out a totally different career in PR which I hated. I was getting paid the minimal amount to commute into London every day and it was going to take years to move up the ladder.
    I then thought I would try teaching again and was allowed to repeat my final placement at another school. However, low and behold the very same thing happened! I had another mentor who was incredibly difficult and would sit in the corner observing me for every lesson (this was only required for graded observations- verbal feedback would have sufficed). While some of her notes were quite helpful they became increasingly more critical as time went on – to the point where she stopped writing any positives down. I dreaded going into school every day- it felt like I had Ofsted sitting at the back of every lesson, every day of the week. She constantly brought up subject knowledge and on occasions sent me home early to ‘go and work on my knowledge of the curriculum’. I don’t understand what she expected me to learn in one afternoon- did she think I would come back into the classroom as an mathematical expert?
    Like you, I had very little experience outside the classroom- and I think having a career break to do something else had clearly not helped matters. She told me that I was teaching the children far too many misconceptions, and as a result terminated my placement.
    The sad thing is that I actually enjoy teaching and working with children. I don’t think I should quit because of one or two mentors that have made me feel inadequate.
    I have now reapplied to do Early Years at a different University- but I am nervous that the same thing will happen. It has made think I am not cut out to do it and that maybe teaching is not for me. I don’t believe that teaching Early Years will be any easier – although I have heard there is less marking and that your subject knowledge does not need to be so in depth. Mainly I am applying to do early years because teaching is all I know and I don’t know what else I enjoy.
    Anyway, thank you for your post as I think it paints a realistic picture of what teacher training is like.

    and am in my mid 20s- I don’t have a family to take care of so I commend anyone who does teacher training and has a family (you are all SAINTS!)

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Catherine – thank you for taking the trouble to write. It sounds like you’ve had a very tough time. I’ve heard a few stories about mentors who grind students down – I’m sure they are the exception, but I’ve heard enough to think there are some odd people in the profession, and I wonder why they became teachers if they dislike helping people so much. Good luck with early years – you may find your niche there.

    • Rob says:

      Hi Catherine,

      Like you all I want to do is teach. I regrettably left a teacher training course a few years ago and took a different career path in finance. I get paid double what I would as a teacher, but all I dream about is teaching. Were you successful in re-applying for a course? At your interview did you mention your previous teacher training experience?

      I was told when I left the course by the course leader that if I left I would not be allowed to return to teacher training.


  11. Zoe says:

    I’m a writer, working on a novel placed in London. One of the main characters is a SD trainee. Your blog is very helpful but I need more information. Would you be willing to answer a few questions? If yes, please contact me at

    Thank you!

  12. Debbie says:

    I read this article with great interest. I have just completed my Hons degree in education attaining a 2:1 (primary) . I am a widow and support my two teenagers so can’t afford to follow the PGCE route and have been thinking about schools direct. I have 12 years experience as a TA and HLTA but am having concerns about what to do next and wonder if I am to old at 50! My other thought is moving towards family support work or social work or SEN teaching just don’t know where to go to for advice. Any suggestions

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Debbie,
      If you’ve not already read my more recent post at – and the comments on it – I think it’s worth a look. If you’re a TA/HLTA you are well ahead of where I was when I started and have a much better idea what you’d be getting in to. SEN teaching might be a good path, but you’d still need to do a School Direct year, and I presume an NQT year as a regular class teacher. SD is a tough year and, in my experience, the NQT year a lot tougher. Too tough for me, at any rate.

      Talk to as many teachers as you can to see what they think. Talk to NQTs. Talk to more School Direct candidates (there are some on Twitter if you can’t find any). Good luck, and I’d love to hear what you decide to do.

  13. Mrsw says:

    This is a fantastic blog and one which I read with great interest. I’ve just completed my primary school direct (non salaried) training and I can honestly say it has been the toughest year imaginable. I, like yourself, had only had minimal experience in a classroom prior to this. Before this year I worked for an IT company for two years and completed a grad scheme and a 60 credit post grad – i thought that was “hard work”- little did I know! I was offered (and accepted) a job in my base school back in March but during May half term I really started to think that teaching isn’t for me. I love the teaching and being with the children but the hours outside of contracted hours are simply too much. I don’t have children but I am due to get married in a couple of months and I feel that the lifestyle of a teacher isn’t what I want (I also want children in the near-ish future and believe it impossible to juggle the two). I’m glad that I took the SD route as I believe it much more thoroughly prepares you for life as a teacher than a PGCE but at the same time it has also shown me how difficult the profession is. Having said this, I’m very torn with what to do as my school are incredibly supportive and I’m worried about regretting my choices if I don’t undertake my NQT year, however, I cannot see myself working 70 hour weeks for the foreseeable future. My previous company have also offered me my old job back – on more money than I was earning before (substantially more than what an NQT earns). I feel torn between my head and my heart on what I should do. Whilst I know you cannot give me an answer on what I should do, I’m glad that there are other people who have felt a similar way to myself. Thank you for writing this blog.

    • blogmywiki says:

      Thank you Mrs W – I know I can’t really advise you what to do, but if I had the chance to return to my old job at an increased salary I would take it! Given term is nearly over, have you been offered an NQT year in your current school?

  14. Mrsw says:

    Thank you for your reply! Interesting, a lot of people have said that. Not sure why I feel in such turmoil over doing it! Yeah, I’ve been offered a role in my current school. The school was inspected earlier this year and received a “good” but there are now big changes afoot as the head is leaving (deputy replacing as interim measure) as well as two teachers retiring – it is a one form entry school. I have spoken to the deputy and current head about how I feel and they both want me to do the NQT year, or at least start the year and then reevaluate how I feel, but with the offer of another job on the cards I have to make the decision to stick with one or the other. It’s so frustrating to feel like this as I have been told I’m good at what I do (I’ve not had an observation at less than good overall the entire year) but I can certainly see why the attrition rate is so high.

  15. Boris says:

    I have read the blog with huge interest! I have just started the SDS, although in A secondary school. I was really tempted by the primary option but just felt the planning must be immense. All day every day with the children, planning every subject. I can totally understand why you felt your working day started again at 3.30pm! I have no previous classroom/school experience and have an 18 month old with another baby imminent so it’s certainly not going to be easy. Thankfully though, my wife is a teacher (and so our most of our family members) so at least she understands what it is i’ll be going through. Also she did the GTP route herself so knows a bit about the background. I hope she’ll remain understanding. I am a career changer myself, mid thirties, so hope ive not made a wrong decision. My department are very supportive though and this has been a huge help in the short time ao far. Hopefully i will remain as positive at the end of the course as i am in the first week, though i must admit i was a little surprised to be thrown in to a classroom on my own straight away. I think in reality im filling a desperate shortage of teachers at my school (the whole Geography department is either new or NQT or me).

    To those who made the primary choice, i do wonder if secondary may have been a better option. Yes Year 9 give me alot of grief (probably more than year 2 would i hope!) but being part of a department has helped to bank some resources and share ideas. Fingers crossed….

  16. Lisa says:

    I tried a pgce secondary and had to quit due to endless amounts of marking and lesson planning and feeling like I never saw my own kids! I’ve always thought I would have enjoyed primary more as even though it’s as much hard work it would be less behaviour management I’m hoping. How are you finding secondary compared to primary in terms of planning and resource making? Do you think it gets easier the older your own kids are? Mine are 7 and 5 now. Finally, I’ve found a part time pgce option, where you do it over 2 years. What are your thoughts? Thanks so much for your help!

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for your comment. It depends a lot on the school you are in! So far I am finding it much easier in secondary, for a few reasons: I am teaching a subject I love, so doing planning and research feels much more like fun to me; my school does not expect/demand full lesson plans to be submitted, I am allowed to get on and plan and teach in whatever way I see fit; I find teaching 1 subject to several classes much less stressful than having sole responsibility for 30 children; and I’m not required to set targets and track levels as I was in primary (this may well be because of the kind of school I’m in).

      My children are almost 16, 13 and 11 and my wife works from home which makes life much easier. I still think being a state school class primary teacher is, in the current climate, ridiculously stressful and suited only to the very committed, very young, very childless, very single, very friendless. I found behaviour management at least as challenging (if not more so) in primary than secondary, but again that could be down to the kind of school I am now in – behaviour is generally excellent in my secondary school.

      Good luck, keep me posted.

  17. Maureen says:

    Hi. I have just been thrown out of School Direct after five weeks as my performance up the “steep learning curve” with a nasty, unhelpful mentor was deemed under par. I owe over two thousand pounds of the £9,000 loan I took out. To get onto the programme I moved house (and previously left Spain where I was living) to have a go at a new career. I’ve two degrees in my subject, which is Spanish. This School Direct debacle has almost ruined me.

    • blogmywiki says:

      My goodness – very sorry to hear that. Did you have any right of appeal to the academic institution backing the qualification? (though I understand it’s the school that calls the shots these days).

      • Maureen says:

        Hi, I apparently did have some right to an appeal but the way in which the school handled the crisis with my mentor – I was never given a chance to give my side of the story – left me lacking any trust in them. I also fell behind in a course assignment as I was kept out of the school for ten days and couldn’t give the classes I was then to document. Just this week I had a meeting with the Trust responsible for the school and though very sympathetic they stated they would not challenge the mentor, as I knew, of course. However, the training provider has managed to release me from having to pay back the fees. It has all been a disaster on a scale I would never have imagined. The school seem to have felt I could have “done more for myself” despite the little to no real support I had. It was all Ofsted driven and I was expected to adhere to a “script” for all classes. I can’t believe I went through the lengthy application procedure, welcomed as the new trainee even before I got my application in (!) only to be treated like a stupid child on arrival at the school to start the training. A total fiasco.

        • Ruth says:

          Hola Mareen,
          Puedes dar más datos sobre la escuela? Por si puede ayudar a otros compañeros. Yo empezaré School Direct en septiembre.
          Un saludo y ánimo!

  18. GSF says:

    Hi there, currently on a SD Secondary placement with a story broadly similar to yours (older, career-changer,zero previous experience) thinking the dark thoughts on leaving the course. I have a young family (2 kids under 2) and an outstanding wife for support. I read your article before applying and re-read today and it’s scary how much rings true. Lesson planning is absolutely killing me – tasks not so much an issue, but it’s the Assessment for Learning you have to keep referring to. I’ve been up.past midnight regularly, sometimes as late as 3am trying to produce LPs on my own (my mentor is great but has even less time than I do). I sometimes want to grab the teachers and scream that no I don’t have any experience, certainly not at lesson planning (not much from the uni element either) and you knew this when you took me on! The sad thing is, it’s throttling the original desire to teach that I had. Sorry to rant, it just is nice to find someone who was in a situation similar to mine!

    • blogmywiki says:

      Oh my goodness – I hear you, and you have my sympathies. Being a primary class teacher in a state school was not something I could sustain, certainly, but I will offer a few crumbs of comfort: everyone says it gets better, and even in my new NQT year I am finding planning (if not marking) is taking me less time than it used to. And every school is different – if you can hang on in there, you may get a job in a school where the SLT are supportive. What is your teaching load at the moment? It’s quite early in the year still, and I was managing ok at this point in the SD course, although I did consider quitting at Christmas – I stuck it out though, and am glad I did, even if the job of primary class teacher was not, ultimately, the right one for me.

  19. Elimyy says:

    Thank you so much for writing this blog. I am only 3 months into schools direct unpaid. I worked full time for 4 years and wanted to be a teacher to make a difference. I, like you had very little experience and am in the process of wanting to quit the course. The school is trying to support me and the institution saying it will get easier. I understand that they say it gets easier but the work life balance that I was used to is never going to be the same. I love being around children but really missing my old job and being able to leave after a long day and not think about work. That is never going to happen in a career in teaching. I feel so torn and don’t want to disappoint or let anyone down but I think I have decided to leave. I just need to pluck up the courage to tell them.

    • blogmywiki says:

      Sorry to hear about your experience, but I know exactly how you feel, I was feeling similar at this point in my training year. Are you in primary or secondary? Can you go back to what you did before?

  20. Elimyy says:

    I am in Primary. I can’t go back to what I did before straight away but I can find a job to tie me over whilst I apply for new ones. I am so glad I tried it because I would have always wondered what if? However I really don’t think it is for me.

  21. JJCLAN says:

    Really please about reading these valuable comments. I’m a single Mum of 3 young kids and have the opportunity for SD or PGCE. I have got TA experience and although TA’s are brilliant the job isn’t the same as teaching. I think I might do PGCE so I have a little more control over my study.

  22. Marie Sharp says:

    I would say to anyone having difficulty or doubts about SD ….don’t do it, it’s really not worth it. I put myself through the ordeal last year, completing my training but absolutely exhausted and very disillusioned by the end of the year. It really is pot luck whether you get put with a supportive teacher or not and if you don’t they really can make things difficult for you. Some of the stories I heard from other younger students were shocking and some schools seem to cultivate a culture of fear amongst staff. After qualifying I was unable to get a job anyway, I could not afford to do supply because I need the security of a regular wage. So it was a complete waste of time, I have ended up working back in my old job on less money than before I started, £10,000.00 + in debt and the longer it goes on the less likely I am of doing my NQT year. I know two other people in the same position as me so it is not uncommon to have difficulty finding work, even when you have qualified as an outstanding teacher. I loved working with children but the reality is that the adults can make things unbearable and as a student there is little recourse for you regardless of what anybody says. The mentor that you raise any issues/problems with is the same person assessing and marking your performance, a conflict of interest if ever there was one.

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Marie, apologies for the late reply. So sorry to read your experiences. You’re right about it being pot-luck, but I’m surprised you were unable to get a job, so the picture must vary a lot depending on where you are and what kind of job you are after. There still seems to be a huge demand for primary teachers in London, but I’m not sure if you were doing primary or secondary? I hope things work out for you.

  23. Kevin Herron says:

    I dropped out of my School Direct Media Studies course at the start of December. Left Belfast to go to Birmingham and complete it. It was going okay and went back after Halloween break and on Friday had a really tough lesson, students throwing things at me behind my back, out of control when trying to put them in groups to do a practical task. I broke down after the lesson and cried and cried when my mentor left, wanted to turn it around so badly but it wasn’t working out.

    My university tutor commented on one of my observations that I was more like a classroom assistant than a teacher. Days before I went my Year 9 class stole memory sticks from me (if you didn’t laugh by this stage you’d have cried) and a Year 10 student said to my mentor “he isn’t in control of the class is he ?”

    That really hit home and on the Friday I decided to call it a day, felt so miserable and was devoid of confidence.

    I have just started to volunteer at the school where I worked as a classroom assistant last year. I am helping with Maths support for KS3 pupils and hope to get my old job back when they will be advertised in the summer. Get a few more years experience as a classroom assistnt, get my confidence back and supply for a PGCE. I am 24 coming 25 so still have time on my side.

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Kevin, thank you for sharing your experience. Behaviour management has been my trickiest thing too, but I think it’s important to remember it’s a skill which can be learned and practised. Don’t think that you just don’t ‘have authority’. I think if you can possibly afford to do a PGCE, that will provide you with a solid basis for becoming a teacher. Best wishes and good luck!

  24. Emma says:


    This is a great blog post; I think you can tell by the amount of comments that it has really resonated with people.
    I actually read this before applying for and starting a secondary school direct placement last September and just wanted to add a note of optimism- it can work for some people.I am also a career changer but I have loved every second.

    Granted it is a lot of work, but I’ve found it manageable. Totally agree about the school making all the difference, however my mentor is fairly disinterested so whilst I am not badgered I am not given much support either- it is always a mixed bag, I think. Definitely try to spend some time in the school you apply to before you accept an offer to do SD, it will really help you get a feel of the school, department etc.
    Also, I hadn’t thought at all about the pressure on different subjects; if you are applying for English or Maths you will probably get a tougher time than if you do a less closely monitored subject- certainly less compulsory weekend revision sessions!

    Hope all are currently enjoying jobs, in or outside of teaching.

    • blogmywiki says:

      Thank you Emma – good to hear a positive experience. ‘Light touch’ management certainly helps, along with teaching a subject you love. I am so much happier now in my new role.

  25. Violet says:

    Hi there, what an amazing blog, and what a mix of experiences too. It’s giving me some serious food for thought as am currently debating whether or not to go into Primary Ed down the SD route or try a PGCE. Complicating factor is I’ve recently become a single Mum of 5 (all under 9). Is it possible or will I go mad? Desperate to work in education but just don’t know if it will all be too much. I don’t have recent classroom experience but was 1 teaching practice away from QTS when I got cold feet – due to several of the issues raised by previous posters – poor mentoring, hostile class teachers. I’ve regretted it ever since and want to lead by example for my kids so building up to trying again. Any advice gratefully accepted!

  26. Sean says:

    Many thanks Giles for this blog. I believe that it provides an excellent insight into the challenges and potential issues related to the SD ITT route. From your contributors it would appear that a lot of the issues encountered are personality driven and, shameful as it is, the impact that this can have is clearly evident.

    From my perspective I suppose a lot depends on the thickness of the rose tinted glasses I currently wear and my personal expectation management. Bottom line is I won’t truly know the outcome until I immerse myself into the SD secondary route during the next academic year 2016-17. Although forewarned is forearmed and this blog certainly adds value from that perspective.

    Much like yourself I don’t think I could be viewed as a typical trainee. I am coming to the vocation at the age of 50, ex military, and giving up a significant salary to follow the unsalaried route. I have tried (am still trying) to prepare and if I could suggest to your readers (future and past) that I have found ‘A Guide To Teaching Practice’ (Revised 5th Ed – 2010) a real benefit and which you can get on Amazon:

    It may not be useful to everyone, all are different, but I have certainly found it beneficial. Although I have no background in a school teaching environment I do have time spent as an instructor in the military. There are elements highlighted in the book which clearly resonate with my personal experience and other areas which I have no experience with at all. For 25 quid therefore I would strongly recommend.

    Just a final point. Given my professional background and my time spent as an instructor, this held no weight whatsoever in looking to secure a salaried route into SD. I was told by the ITT provider that schools do not wish to take the risk and cost associated with employing an unknown quantity and would look to secure TAs in the first instance. I have no issue at all with this. Good luck to those that are able to secure the salaried route. I would just highlight that, what may appear to be on offer from the DofE website to those looking to change career, was for me not the reality.

    Great blog and I hope you don’t mind if I add an update now and again as I take the leap of faith.

  27. Sean says:

    Sorry – I should add that my local ITT provider also offers a PGCE (2 year part time) in partnership with a University should trainees wish.

  28. Kate petherbridge says:

    Omg! This is so brilliant to read! My daughter is training at the moment and I am becoming increasingly worried about her. She works from 8am until 6.30pm everyday at school, gets home and until at least midnight planning lessons, marking etc. she works every weekend doing the same thing and is getting paid 12k for the luxury!
    She is tearful, stressed, tired, and feeling less and less supported, but reading this blog it seems par for the course. I will pass it on to her because I think just knowing that others out there have felt the same will give her the encouragement she needs. I know she will be a fantastic teacher if she can just stick with it a bit longer. I would like to ask one question though….is 12k the average wage out there for someone doing the schools direct course?

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Kate – sorry to hear your daughter is having such a tough time. Salary will vary according to where you are. In Inner London I was on more than £12k but that might be right for outside London. Talking to friends still teaching in the state primary sector, things seem to have got worse in the last 6 months not better.

  29. Mr Geeray says:

    Hi Kate,
    I think the minimum for unqualified teachers, which is what SD trainees are, is around £16k… Details here:

  30. Shaz says:

    Hi, just need a bit of advice from all the lovely people following the thread. I plan to apply for school direct salaried primary teaching this coming September but I am having doubts on to how much school experience or qualifications would be good enough for the schools to choose me for interviews? I am currently doing my early years teaching status with top-up masters in child learning and development through an employment route working in a private nursery since 3 years and managed to get done with 4 weeks of school placements in two outstanding school which I absolutely enjoyed. I am finishing my early years degree end of June, have passed both skills tests and therefore in order to gain a QTS I want to go for the salaried route to primary teaching as I can afford to do pgce with two young children not in school yet.Need help and advice please!

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Shaz – I’ve no experience in early years, but my hunch would be that you have plenty of experience to be considered for a salaried School Direct place. Anyone got any better ideas?

  31. Shaz says:

    Sorry it’s can’t afford to do pgce in my last comment *

  32. Shahina says:

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I started my school direct (salaried) post September 2015, also doing the PGCE alongside it. I also have 3 school aged children. This has been by far the hardest year of my entire life and I have done a lot of difficult things! Everything you have said has resonated so well with me. I am going through the exact same things as you did. I thought I was the only person in the entire world who was feeling like this but reading your post has made me feel like I am not alone. The year has really affected my marriage and my husband is still not able to come to terms with how many hours I spend working. Im surprised that we are still together tbh. I have felt like such a bad mother/wife and many times I have asked myself is it worth it?. Your words honestly have brought me to tears as I completely understand what you went through I am living it right now! I cannot believe I have made it this far. I am so exhausted and tired I work all hours of the night, many nights surviving on 3-4 hours sleep. I love teaching but the work load has been horrendous. Teaching, writing essays, evidence files has just taken its toll and I just feel like I want to admit myself into a hospital. I agree with you, I would not recommend this to anyone that has very young children. I still feel down, anxious and constantly worried and I dont know if these feelings will ever go away. I am starting my NQT year in September and so scared! I dont know if I will be able to cope with having my own class. Please can you shed some light, do you think I will get through it and if so and advice?

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Shahina – sorry to hear you have had such a tough time of it, but it does chime with my personal experience. How your NQT year goes depends to a huge extent on how much support you get in your school. I was one of 4 NQTs in a 1.5 form entry primary school, and I was in a planning group with 2 other NQTs, which felt like the blind leading the blind. I was overwhelmed by being solely responsible for the education of so many children and did not last until Christmas. My experience may have been totally different in a different school. I’m much happier now I am teaching a single subject in KS2 and KS3.

      • shahina says:

        Thank you for your reply, my school is very supportive. We are a four form entry and the teachers tend to share planning. Still doesnt really help me feel any less worried about my NQT year though. I just dont know if I will be able to cope with the work load especially as my youngest child will only be 3 years old. Will I be able to juggle work and family successfully? I just dont know anymore! Im glad you are happier now and in a role that you are enjoying. Thanks again.

  33. Moezx says:

    Hi there, thank you so much for your post it has shed some light on what to expect. I am considering a career change, i have been thinking about it quite a bit to teach, however i didn’t know exactly how to go about it. From my research so far, i have discovered 2 routes, either do PGCE, or school direct (salaried). To me the latter is a more attractive path. But reading from the comments and the post it self, i see that there is a requirement for experience in teaching, in which i have none. But i have been working continuously for 4 years and a half, a degree in forensic science, and am currently doing distant learning masters in forensics too. What do you think are my chances in getting into school direct salaried? also am doing the masters and am planning to do both along side each other, the masters is all online and all essay based will i have around 8 hours a week to devote to my masters if i do this?

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi there, thanks for commenting – you don’t say of you are looking at primary or secondary. I think if you are looking at a secondary science subject you’d be in with a good chance of being accepted on the course but it all depends on the school and if they think you’re right for them. As for the masters, I think that depends on your personal circumstances. As a parent of 3 children I cannot imagine doing a masters alongside School Direct, the course alone nearly finished me off! Good luck, and let us know what you do.

      • Moezx says:

        Hi thanks for the reply. I was looking more at primary rather than secondary. I am still single so i guess i have a lot of time on my hands and less responsibility, i want to use that to my advantage to do as much as i can academically.

  34. Nick says:

    Hi – thanks for this and some of your other blog posts I just read! I’m about to start SD in a primary school (Year 4 or 5), about to hit 40 with two young kids and a wife who works full time (and brings in the cash). I left my previous career last month to work as a TA in the school where I’ll be based from September. I was expecting obviously the workload to be heavy, with a slightly ‘I’ll figure it out when it comes’ approach. If it’s too much, then we’ll decide if the sacrifice is worth it, trying to take the long view. If you know what I mean. Do you have any advice for stuff I could do over the next few months to help me prepare and not get quickly overrun?

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Nick – good question! I was totally UNprepared for what hit me, but as you’ve been working as a TA (I hadn’t, came straight from BBC) you will already be in a much better place than I was. Tempted to say: get as much rest as you can and spend as much time as you can with your family, because you will not have time for them come September! If you know who the class teacher is you will be working with, talk to them and sketch out an overall plan for Autumn 1, but there’s no point planning in detail at this point. Perhaps plan 1 lesson and get some feedback from your class teacher? Good luck!

  35. Ayesha says:

    Firstly I just wanted to thank you for having written this article, I first came across almost a year ago and I’m glad I did because it gave me the push I needed to leave an office based job I hated to take a position as a TA – thought it payed about 12k less the experience has definitely helped me realise I do really want to teach and I love working in a school.
    I’ve now successfully applied for a SD salaried secondary position in English which will also allow me to work for a PGCE which will also be paid for…it sounded too good to be true and I think I’ve discovered the catch…I’ve been informed I’ll be expected to teach 12 hours straight away…which I fear means from day one of term in September!!!
    How am I supposed to be able to do that with no training and having never delivered a single lesson before in my life?!? I knew SD was baptism by fire but surely this is just dousing me in petrol, setting me alight and then setting the lions on me just for good measure :O
    Is 12 hours per 4 day week do-able? After all I’m going to be doing a PGCE alongside it and one day per week training.. Is this normal?

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Ayesha – it does sound steep! My route was rather different – primary, SD without PGCE, certainly not doing anything like that amount of teaching in my 1st term. Will you be shadowing someone, i.e. will you be planning and working with another teacher? If so it might be do-able?

  36. Ayesha says:

    No shadowing and no observation in the first week…just straight to teaching! Teaching will begin when the students start school in September.

    Whatsmore I’ll also have a tutor group to manage, it may be a shared responsibility or not..I don’t know yet.

    I will have a mentor and I think the mentor will be in my lessons to begin with..but most probably observing them rather than actually co-teaching or anything. The mentor can also look over my lesson plans but I don’t know how much time i’ll actually get to plan these lessons seeing as I’ll be starting on the INSET day, just a day before term starts when I’m expected to teach :/

    I also get the impression there is lesson plans already made up which the whole department use and a scheme of work that I’ve already be sent – but is this enough to make it do-able?

  37. claire loveday says:


    A very interesting blog. Glad I came across this before I applied to Schools Direct.
    Does anyone have any experience of teaching RE on an SD scheme?

    If one gets through the year, is it really the case that employment prospects aren’t always that great? Don’t people get taken on sometimes by the school they trained in?

    Any info much appreciated..

  38. Isabella says:

    My partner did a school direct placement last year through the University of Cumbria. He did receive a small salary (£9,000 which was a substantial drop in his earnings) – the amount you receive depends on the subject you’re training to teach and the grade of your first degree.
    It was a horrendous year for both of us, the workload is huge, he was up until at least midnight most nights and had to work at weekends also, as there is a lot of essays and reading to fit in on top of your school prep work.
    His course finished in July and he still hasn’t got a job, despite having had several interviews and doing quite well in them according to feedback, the job always went to the teachers with years of experience that were also interviewed. Unfortunately he is not alone almost half of the other SD people in his group did not have jobs at the end of July.
    He is now left with the difficulty of completing his NQT year doing supply teaching, which unless he gets blocks of 3 months employment at a time which is highly unlikely it is virtually impossible to do this. Supply teaching pays dismally for NQT’s -£90 -£100 a day before deductions and if he did not have our family business to fall back on then I think he would be better off working in retail than teaching. We are also left with £9000 + debts incurred with fees.
    The only positive thing I have to say about the SD year is that my partner did enjoy the teaching side of it, he did seem to have helpful mentors throughout and he would really like to become a teacher but he does feel let down by SD because of the difficulty in finding a job as the expectation/implication when you apply for the course is that you will get taken on in one of the schools you train in.
    In his case there wasn’t any appropriate vacancies for his subject (DT) in his placement schools. I do wonder how many other trainees are being given false hope and taken on in schools were vacancies simply don’t come up that often.
    I would advise anyone going down this route without a private income to think very carefully about the financial implications, research the vacancies in your subject in the part of the country you want to live in and bear in mind the effect the stress and workload may have on your personal relationships. There is no guarantee of a job at the end of your SD year.

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Isabella – this sounds shocking. I had a very different experience of employment, probably both because I am in London and because I trained as a Primary teacher. I certainly found getting work much more challenging when I decided to specialise and transfer to Secondary. I hadn’t realised NQTs got paid much less for supply work – I got paid more than the figures you mention but again this is probably because of being in London and the very high demand for staff. Thank you for sharing your cautionary tale.

  39. Amanda B says:

    Hi. I’m currently on SD primary route (east midlands) as a 43 year old mature student. My mentor is great but the workload is having a massive impact on my health and wellbeing and on my family. I’m stressed and tired all the time. I feel I have aged so much in just 7 weeks. I have already taught 7 whole class lessons (year 5) and have been planning these as instructed. Planning takes me so long, but is well received by the other year 5 teacher who also follows my lesson plans. I’m now taking books home to mark which means after getting home at 5.30/6pm I need to evaluate my lessons and mark work, spend some time with my 12 year old son and eat .my hissed is very supportive but also works. My weekends are consumed by planning and uni assignments. I’m also struggling with children’s behaviour. I dread going into school (I love the theory and going to university). I have 5 really disruptive children and spend a lot of time asking them not to speak out. Yet even in line with school sanctions they still persist. When I ask children to work independently they struggle and before long the classroom is noisey and most are off task. The class teacher doesn’t manage behaviour any better than me and appears to accept that the children will behave this way. I awoke last night after only 2 hours sleep (and I was so tired) and I had a melt down. I went to my spare room and sat there and just cried for ages. I’m so sad as I type this. I thought I wanted to teach. I don’t. I’m embarrassed to quit and feel I need to invent a valid reason to do so. I rarely see daylight and I miss my family time so much. When you consider teachers salaries with the real hours worked, the rate is quite low and this deflates me further. I’m unsure how I stand in terms of the proportion of my fees I would need to pay back if I quit at this stage. Can anyone please advise?

    • blogmywiki says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience, and I am so sorry you are having such a tough time. I have to say your experience mirrors mine as a primary school SD mature student. I almost quit at Christmas because of the effect on my wellbeing and family life, but carried on and qualified, only to find the pressures of being one of 4 primary school NQTs in a small school too much to bear. If you quit, do you have any other work that you could slip back into? Ultimately I’m glad I qualified, I had just picked the wrong route and am much happier as a secondary school teacher who also teaches a specialist subject in a junior school. Are any of your fellow college students also mature / have families? How are they coping?

  40. Calm says:

    I am into my second term as a SDS student…… I feel so drained and are questioning myself all the time. I am teaching 50%timetable so planning and delivering 10 lessons a week. I also have loads of uni work to do ( assignments etc). I am leaving te house at 7 in the morning and getting in at 6 at night. I am then on the laptop until 9-10pm. I feel like my children are missing out. I know my husband comments every night and just leaves me to it. I keep reassuring him it will get easier but I am only kidding myself.

    I haven’t really got a great mentor although my teacher is great. I am just left to get on with it and sometimes feel undervalued- unappreciated. I rarely have a dinner time as I am sticking in and marking 90 books every single day.

    I never have planning time with my teacher and are literally given a plank template and told to plan what I like as long as it covers the learning objectives of the national curriculum. Starting on a blank every week is a struggle……..

  41. Caitlin says:

    Wow, I’m shocked reading all these comments. I wanted to apply for the SD salaried route, but with no classroom experience I’m wondering if it’s even worth applying. I’m considering primary and secondary – I haven’t made a decision. My degree is in Creative Writing so I’m not even sure that I’m qualified to teach my subject of choice, English.

    I have a lot of experience private tutoring and was planning on getting some classroom experience over the coming months. However, these all sound like horror stories, like a nervous breakdown is part of the course!

  42. Joanna says:

    Hello. i found your post really interesting (and slightly scary). I’ve worked as a primary TA for 6 years and had two interviews this year. One was for Special Needs but I wasn’t successful. The other was for the school I work in, but unfortunately it was given to another candidate. I’ve decided to change direction and have an interview for School Direct Salaried for Secondary English. I’ve only worked in Primary and don’t know if that will go against me. I’d really love to get a place.

  43. Chloe says:

    Thanks for this post, definitely food for thought! I’ve got a BA and an MA and have worked as a private tutor for 5 years. The plan has always been to train to teach once my youngest starts school (2018) and I’d so love to but I am very conflicted! I know how insane the training year is (let alone the job itself) and just don’t think I can put that pressure on my family. I’d have the option of unsalaried school direct or tradition uni pgce – I think both are equally backbreaking but I wonder if the traditional pgce is slightly more family friendly? (By that I mean perhaps greater time to prepare lessons etc as there’s lesss time in the classroom?? Could be wishful thinking there though!)

    If I don’t train to teach I would get a support role, perhaps with a more pastoral side to it…I’d love it and I’d have a work life balance…but then I fear I’d always regret not giving teaching a go. If I didn’t have a young family I’d be there like a shot, but sadly it’s a career that doesn’t seem compatible with family life these days!

    Congrats on succeeding in such a difficult career 😀

    • blogmywiki says:

      Dear Chloe – thank you for your comments. My hunch is that PGCE may be more ‘do-able’ for those with families for the reasons you outline, but I don’t have any direct experience of it. Obviously you would then have a lot more college work than I did, which may balance it out. Good luck and keep us posted about what you decide to do. What subject are you thinking of or are you looking at Primary?

  44. Nick says:

    Hey Blog my wiki

    I am currently school direct salaried just coming up towards the easter break

    On Friday I ate a dodgy meal in a restaurant which has completely knocked me for six – gastric flu

    As a result of this I have been off today and will no doubt not be back tomorrow due to this.

    This combined with the fact that being ill has killed my planning time.


    I am actively undermined by everyone who has observed me since I requested a new mentor.

    My mentor pretty much only ever gave me requires improvement, this resulted in me
    losing confidence and being unable to be MYSELF.

    The school keeps coming up with these support plans which have just made everything more stressful

    Anyway – coaching observations

    I have probably been given requires improvement 50 times!!

    I have done everything to try and move away from this but every time I follow the feedback for example; differentiation I get told ‘yeah you did it’ but ‘it wasn’t good enough’. That has happened many times.

    Now I am at the point of believing that I cannot teach and I feel like telling the school the reason for this is because that is what they have led me to believe.

    Getting a bit depressed here – I have honestly felt like a hostage

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi Nick. Sorry to hear you are having such a tough time. Have you been able to speak to a tutor outside the school as opposed to a mentor? I was lucky enough to have a very supportive mentor who kept me going when I was finding it tough.

  45. M says:

    It’s like reading my own story!! I’m on SD secondary Science and it’s killing me. My specialism is human biology and basically I’m learning to teach Physics and Chemistry, there is very little biology until later in the year which I wasn’t fully aware of at interview. I spend so much time learning the subjects before I can plan them and I’ve discovered I really dislike physics and it’s a difficult subject. I was children nurse before and the job was ‘never’ this tough.
    Trust me secondary is NOT the easier route, many primary SD I meet feel they have it easier as we teach so many different year groups and the subject knowledge has to be to such a significant standard, for me in 3 subjects. Also there are parents evenings or CPD training every week. My mentor is supportive but very particular and although I was a school nurse and taught EFL for the last 10 years combined nothing could prepare for this!!
    I’m mentally not coping and probably going to as my life is so stressful and I’ve just been told I may fail my first term, despite creating and delivering excellent LPs I’m not managing behaviour well and not this standard.
    I’m hoping to go to back to School nursing with a little re-training. The biggest is financial as I get a bursary and loans, I have no partner to support me but my mental health is more important than money so please if you’re reading look after yourselves. No job or training should steal your life like this.

  46. M says:

    Just read this back and I’ve clearly typed in frustration, lol! That should say I’m probably going to quit before Christmas. I’ve spent the last 2 days crying due to being advised I’m potentially going to fail my first term on behaviour management. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done and I’m late 40′s with more than average resilience in all the things I’ve done in my life. I’m sorry you’re all having such a hard time but glad I’m not alone!

    • blogmywiki says:

      Hi M, sorry to hear your story. Your mental health absolutely comes first, but I would say two other things: you may possibly not fail your first term, and if you stick with it you may be able to secure a role in a school where you can teach Biology exclusively and feel much more comfortable. I very much wanted to quit by Christmas but was talked out of it by my mentor, and I’m glad she did, even if Primary teaching wasn’t the right field for me ultimately, it opened up possibilities that I’d never have had otherwise. Behaviour management was also my weak spot, and it’s a tough one to crack – it took time, experience and general gaining of confidence for me. Good luck making your choices and I hope everything works out for what’s best for you.

  47. MarmaladeAtkins says:

    Considering SDS for secondary English. Now reconsidering! Have 15 yes teaching experience but lack of pgce/NQT limiting my school choices. However …. these stories are quite scary!!

  48. Caroline Carroll says:

    Hi All I recruit for School Direct for a secondary alliance of schools and there are some pretty awful recounts on here. I also did half a primary PGCE some time ago before dropping out so I see that side of the coin too. lesson planning – the stuff of nightmares.
    wishing you all well however.

  49. Sara says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It has been extremely helpful in helping me decide between a PGCE and School Direct, and I can safely say it’s going to be a PGCE for me :)
    Even though you wrote this 5 years ago it is still relevant and helpful today. Thank you

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