Guide for US Teachers Looking to Teach in the UK


Are you a qualified teaching professional looking to teach in the UK? Britain has a shortage of over 40,000 teachers, and those who specialise in Maths, Science, Computer Science and Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) are in particularly high demand. 

Secondary schools are offering positions to qualified international teachers from February 2021 – find your next UK teaching job.

Despite Covid-19, the British education sector is continuing to recruit skilled and experienced professionals from all over the world. From visa and legal requirements, to differences between the United Kingdom and American curriculums, here’s everything you need to know to become a teacher in the UK.

5 Things American Teachers Need to Know About Teaching in the UK

1.Legal Right to Work

Anyone who relocates to the United Kingdom will need to establish the ‘Right to Work’. 

American citizens who also fulfil the following criteria are already eligible to work in the UK and will not need to obtain a work permit: 

  • Anyone who is already a legal British citizen
  • Anyone who is already a legal European Economic Area (EEA) citizen
  • Anyone who is already a Swiss national.

If your parents were born in the United Kingdom, you may be able to apply for a second passport which could provide the right to Work. Individuals who were born in the UK or are citizens of the European Economic Area will automatically have the right to work in the UK, but will need to apply for a residence permit. 

Anyone looking to teach in the UK – regardless of their Right to Work – will also need to apply for Qualified Teacher Status(QTS). Individuals who qualified in the United States must apply for QTS and send a letter from the registered authority that confirms that you are qualified and eligible to teach permanently in America. 

If your application is successful, you will receive an email notification from the UK Government that you have been awarded either full QTS or partial QTS. Both options mean you will not be required to undertake any further training, and you will be able to apply for a permanent post at a British school. 

Anyone working with children or young people must undergo criminal record checks and Disclosure and Barring Service(DBS) checks. Whilst existing criminal records do not prohibit individuals from teaching in the UK, you can increase your chances of success and speed up the process by being as open and honest as possible about your circumstances and background.

2. School Ages and Testing Standards

The following terms are useful translations in understanding the UK education system:

  • Grammar School– Pupils are selected by Academic ability and must pass tests to obtain a place (similar to a magnet school)
  • Public School– A fee-charging establishment where parents pay tuition (the equivalent of a US private school)
  • Academies/Free Schools– Independent establishments run by not-for-profit Academy trusts which have more freedom and can follow a different curriculum
  • College/Sixth Form– Many students leave their school at the age of 16 and spend their last two years of education in a dedicated Sixth Form College before they begin University
  • SEN– Special Education Needs (children and young people who have disabilities, learning difficulties, physical, sensory and mental health needs or additional requirements)
  • Looked-After Children– Young people in the care of their local Government, who are often living with foster parents (temporary carers) or in a residential children’s home, and who may have additional difficulties or support needs.

British children start school at the age of 5, with Primary pupils attending between the ages of 5 and 11, and students starting Secondary schools at the age of 11 until 18. The British school system sorts pupils by ‘Key Stages’ to allocate the following age groups:

Key Stage (KS) 0 – Children aged between 3 and 4 attend Reception class (the American equivalent would be Nursery/Kindergarten/Preschool)

KS1 – Children of age 5–6 (Elementary)

KS2 – Children from 7–10 (Elementary)

KS3 – Children from 11–13 (Middle/Junior High)

KS4 – Teenagers from 14–15 (High/Senior School)

KS5 – Teenagers from 16–17 (High/Senior School).

3. Differences in the Curriculum 

Once you are qualified to become a UK teacher, you can begin applying for opportunities and preparing for your first role. The United Kingdom was ranked number onein the world for education standards last year. As the United States was ranked number two on the list, American teaching professionals will have an advantage over their colleagues from other countries, however there are still many notable differences between the two education systems.

Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom has one single, standardisedset of subjects, education and assessment standards that the majority of schools are expected to follow. 

The subjects that are mandatory for all Primary pupils are:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Geography
  • History
  • Geography
  • Design & Technology (D&T)
  • Art and Design
  • Music
  • Physical Education (PE)
  • Religious Education/Studies (RE or RS)
  • Computing/Computer Science
  • Ancient and Modern Foreign Languages.

Key Stage 3 pupils must study the following subjects:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science (including Biology, Physics and Chemistry)
  • Geography
  • History
  • Modern Foreign Languages (MFL)
  • Design and Technology (D&T)
  • Art and Design
  • Music
  • Physical Education (PE, Gym or Sports)
  • Citizenship
  • Computing/Computer Science.

Key Stage 4 and 5 students have much greater choice over their areas of study. KS4 pupils must take English, Maths, Science, Computing, Physical Education and Citizenship, and can choose several other subjects to take. Schools are also required to offer learning in the Arts, Design and Technology (D&T), Humanities and Modern Foreign Languages (MFL), and many establishments offer additional fields of interest to choose from.

Key Stage 5 pupils will usually tailor their subject choices to the type of University degree or practical Apprenticeship they are interested in taking. A-Level students often have a wider range of subject choice in theoretical, Academic, practical and technical areas. A-Level subject choices range from the common English, Maths, Science and MFL to Accounting, Archaeology, Criminology, Theatre, Government & Politics, Journalism and Psychology.

4. Grading and Assessment Systems

Children are tested at the end of every Key Stage and Secondary pupils are assessed every year, however GCSEs at KS4 and A Levels at KS5 are the most important assessment periods. 

Whereas until recently the UK and US grading systems were very similar and both used an alphabetical assessment standard, GCSE and A-Level examinations have different grades as of 2020. The new numbered grading system of 9 to 1 marks a 9 as ‘exceptional’, which is the highest grade, and 1 as the lowest grade (not including U which is ungraded). A grade 4 is generally considered a passing mark for most subjects.

A-Levels are still graded by an alphabetical system. An A* is the highest possible mark, with A slightly lower. The system continues to the lowest grade of E (not including a ‘fail’ or ungraded mark).

All UK teachers and schools are also regularly assessed to maintain high education and learning standards for all pupils. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) frequently inspect all establishments that provide education and skills for learners of all ages. After an Ofsted inspection, schools will receive one of four ratings on the quality of education and student care:

  • Outstanding 
  • Good
  • Requires Improvement
  • Inadequate

Schools with better Ofsted ratings will usually require less frequent Ofsted inspections.

5. Training & Support

Teaching in the United Kingdom means continually learning and developing your skills and experience every year and throughout your career. Most educators are required to complete at least 30 hours of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) courses every year to evidence that they are up-to-date with the latest learning methods and responding to evolving student needs.

Prospero Teaching provide free, CPD-accredited courses, both online and face-to-face learning, in the following areas:

  • Remote Teaching
  • Safeguarding
  • Classroom Management
  • Inclusive Education
  • Behaviour Management
  • Curriculum Changes
  • Assessment
  • Revision.

Find out more about our courses.

Many education recruitment agencies also provide support for UK teachers. Prospero Teaching is staffed by former teaching professionals, and we have 20 years’ experience in recruiting, supporting and training education staff around the world. We provide an acclimatisation programme for those moving abroad to help them settle into their new jobs and lifestyles, and all our candidates receive ongoing personal and professional support advice and guidance throughout their careers.

Apply to Become a Teacher in the UK

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond, schools across England are urgently recruiting for qualified staff. We are urgently looking for experienced Maths, Science, Computer Science and MFL teaching staff to start new jobs from January 2021 and in the spring next year.

Prospero Teaching are an official partner of the UK Government’s Department for Education (DfE) to help experienced American-trained teachers relocate to England.

Find out more – Start your UK Teaching Career.

Not ready to make the move across the Atlantic just yet? Read our 5 Strategies to Support Students with Special Educational Needsor take some tips from our Guide to Improving Classroom Behaviour