How can you progress your career in education?

Education provides a rewarding but difficult job. People love to call teaching an easy job – that, because teachers get school holidays along with the students, their job is a breeze.

But anyone who teaches knows this isn’t the case. Teachers don’t leave their work at work. They don’t get to clock out and go back to their home lives. Instead, teachers take work home with them. They work evenings and weekends and – yes – they work all through those magical holidays.

Given the high demands on teachers and the poor pay levels, it isn’t a surprise that teacher retention is a real problem. In the UK, the retention of trainee teachers after one year is still decreasing. This trend has been prevalent for years and shows no sign of going away.

Documents from the Department of Education show that we currently have the lowest amount of teaching staff since 2013. With statistics like that, education can look like a difficult, struggling industry. So looking for progression opportunities might seem pointless when the job is suffering already.

But often, when a career path is going through difficulties, you can gain immense amounts from taking advantage. Schools are struggling to retain teachers? By taking a step up the education ladder, you can be a part of creating real, necessary change.

But what opportunities are available to you, and why and how should you go about seizing them?

Career progression opportunities

Education is a varied and diverse industry in which to work. There are plenty of different roles and opportunities available to you when looking for career progression. The opportunities available to you will differ depending on the sector you work in – private or state school, primary, secondary, or higher education. But here are outlined some of the options that might be available to you.

Opportunities for primary school teachers

Primary school education lays the foundations for future teaching. It is the first experience many children will have with education and can be highly rewarding as you see young children learning things for the very first time. But primary teaching can sometimes feel stunted – there isn’t the departmental sectioning that secondary and higher education have, so there aren’t as obvious career paths.

One of the benefits of primary teaching is teaching several different subjects, but this benefit does disallow specification as a teacher when looking for progression. Given this, what are the possibilities for career opportunities in early childhood education?


The most obvious progression within a primary school is into management. You could progress to become an assistant headteacher, and in time, could become a headteacher. This is a great role for those who are highly organised, responsible, and excellent at interacting with fellow teachers and parents.

It can take a while to ascend to these roles, but for someone who wants to keep progressing in their career, keeping these goals in mind for the future can be helpful. Management roles require a person with great leadership skills, a high level of responsibility, and a desire to take initiative, for example by aiming for accreditation in education for your school, and constantly aiming to improve the conditions for both staff and students.

Advanced Skill Teachers

In primary, there aren’t specific department teachers. This removes the opportunity for being a head of department. However, in a similar vein, primary teachers can become Advanced Skill Teachers. This is similar to your current role as a teacher, but twenty percent of your time will be spent going to other schools and teaching good practice to them.

Opportunities for secondary school teachers

Secondary schools offer plenty of opportunities for career progression. These opportunities are clearer than in primary, as secondary schools are broken down into departments, years, areas, and management.

Departments: When you join as a teacher in a secondary school, you will join as a specific kind – an English teacher, a Science teacher, a PE teacher and so on. Sometimes, you may be a mix of a few. Often, PE teachers are asked to cover another subject, like Geography.

Alternatively, you may cover a whole range of subjects under the same branch, like a Humanities teacher, who may teach History, Government and Politics, and PSE. Each subject branch has its own department that oversees the running of these subjects within the school. Within departments, there is plenty of room for progression.

Though you start simply as a Maths teacher, within the department, you can rise to become a head of department. This would make you the head of Maths within your school. This role will require you to add extra duties alongside your role as a teacher.

For example, you will be required to ensure the department has all the resources it needs, whether equipment, staff, or finances. To be a successful head of department, you need to know your subject well, be a good leader, and have excellent management skills.

Years: Schools are often broken down into years. A secondary school often hosts thousands of students; one person can’t look out for all of them. That’s why schools break down into years. This way, a person can be employed to look after the year, whether year seven or year eleven.

Becoming a head of year is an excellent opportunity for career progression, as it is a fairly different job from teaching. Though many areas are kept the same – you still interact with students and work within the school as a whole – you aren’t directly delivering learning.

Don’t worry; as a head of year, you will still be required to teach, but if you are looking for some variety from the day-to-day routine of teaching, becoming a head of year is a great way to shake things up.

A head of year’s role is to supervise the students within a year at a secondary school. Much of this work is administration – you need to be on top of students’ attendance, time-keeping, and behaviour. You might need to intervene with a student if they are causing or having problems.

This might include taking meetings with parents or their teachers. As a head of year, you will work with other heads of years to ensure the smooth movement of students through the school.


When thinking of education, you may think of teaching as the main career opportunity. But this isn’t the case. A school also holds host to a variety of other careers. Most notably, as a teacher, you can take your career progression into the area of pastoral care. 

The pastoral area of schooling aims to help children’s welfare. As a teacher, progression into pastoral may be in the role of a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) or as a pastoral worker. A pastoral role would be perfect for someone who feels fulfilled in creating great working relationships with students and someone who has excellent empathetic skills. Though being caring is key to this role, equally as key is the ability to be firm.


The highest paying and greatest responsibility roles come through management. At a secondary school, the second-highest management roles are deputy and assistant headteacher. Then, of course, the highest is the role of the headteacher.

It can take a while to ascend to these roles, but for someone who wants to keep progressing in their career, keeping these goals in mind for the future can be helpful. Management roles require a person with great leadership skills, a high level of responsibility, and a desire to take initiative.

Other educational opportunities

After working as a teacher for a while, you might find a desire for career progression comes from a desire to stop teaching. This isn’t uncommon – teaching can become exhausting and may no longer fit with your lifestyle. But, just because you don’t want to teach anymore, that doesn’t mean you want to leave education.

There are plenty of ways your career can progress within education but away from teaching. You can find plenty of other educational opportunities, such as working on education policy or working on curriculums. You could work for exam boards or education charities.

In addition, there is work within the government to shape how education is delivered, as well as educational lobbying groups. If you work in a trade school, for example, as a school administrator, you may want to expand your scope by pursuing new marketing avenues, which you can do with the help of marketing for trade schools. There really are a wide range of opportunities when it comes to your career.

If you want to leave teaching, you don’t have to leave education. Look out for these career progression opportunities.

What are the first steps towards career progression?

So, you’ve figured out what role you want for your career progression. Now, the question is: how do you make that progression happen?

Depending on the role you’ve chosen, the steps you’ll need to take will vary. Some roles require further education, like a training course or even a postgraduate degree. Find out the requirements, then begin to start meeting them. Think about ways you can evidence certain skills, like leadership qualities, then, when the time is right, go looking for your desired advertised opportunity.

Working in education is such an important role. You change the course of children’s lives every day. But it is important for you to feel fulfilled too. With the current retention crisis, now is the best time to get into progression roles and make real change.

Photo by Sigmund