Your teacher training personal statement should express why you'd make a great teacher and spell out your experiences, qualities and skills. We've got the inside track from Admissions Tutors on how to go about writing a good teacher training personal statement, what to do and what not to overlook...
Let's start with a look at when to apply for teacher training. Places on teacher training courses are filled on a first come first serve basis. This is due to two factors. Firstly, the Department for Education set the maximum number of trainees on some courses. But the thing that really limits the number of places available is ensuring that there are enough school placements for all trainees. Training providers can only recruit up to a number that is manageable in terms of providing the trainees with the placement experiences they need.
Places for the most popular subjects tend to go early, for example, Physical Education (PE), Primary and Psychology. Shortage subjects such as Chemistry, Computing, Maths and Physics don’t fill up so fast.
The route you are taking into teaching may also influence when you apply. School Direct is run by the schools themselves and they can only take as many trainees as they can train within their schools. They may only have the one place available for your chosen subject and once those placements are gone, they’re gone. Universities tend to have larger and wider networks of partner schools which provide school placements. This gives them more options for finding school placements so they may have places available for longer. Unlike School Direct you don’t get to choose exactly which school you go to, though they’ll try to match your school placements to your preferences as much as possible. If you apply late you run the risk that all the placements are gone.
So, you want to apply as soon as you can, with a brilliant personal statement that reflects who you are and why you want to become a teacher. So, what does that look like?
Your teacher training personal statement broadly needs to convey four things:
Kate Brimacombe, Associate Professor of Education and Associate Director of the Teacher Education Partnership at Plymouth Marjon University, explains what she is looking for in a teacher training personal statement:
“It's really lovely to get something that's individual and firstly I want to see that passion for wanting to work with children. You absolutely can get that across - it comes off the page.
“It can’t feel half-hearted, it needs to feel committed. If independence, motivation, and self-reliance don’t sing off the page, then that's an error in a sense. You need to get your personality into the written word, I’m looking for that fire that says ‘this is absolutely what I want to do’. One common mistake is being too short so that it doesn’t get that passion across. The lack of content and desire are the main reasons I don't shortlist candidates.”
You must convey why you want to teach your subject. What is your expertise? Why do you love it? What are the challenges facing teachers of your subject? Why do you want to teach this? Think about the age group you’ll be teaching and discuss why you want to teach them. What relevant experience do you have? How does your experience to date influence your thinking?
Ultimately, you’ve got to inspire others to love your subject, so be clear about how your own relationship to it is going to enable this.
The ingredients of a convincing teacher training personal statement are:
In addition, for a strong personal statement you’ll want to demonstrate some awareness of the national curriculum for your subject and then highlight how your subject knowledge maps to it.
Back to Kate for another crucial tip: “The other big thing is that we’re checking the accuracy of your spelling and grammar, it must be correct if you’re going to be a teacher. To be fair, we don't get a lot of mistakes because I think people understand that expectations around written and verbal communication are high in teaching.”
Some aspiring teachers know they want to teach but are uncertain on the age group or subject. For example, maybe you love sport and are keen to be a secondary PE teacher, but you also enjoy working with younger children at sports clubs so you’re feeling split. In this scenario, try to settle this before you apply but if you can’t then write honestly about the situation and take extra care to ensure that neither option comes across being the fallback one that you’re not really committed to.
There's no one way to structure your teacher training personal statement but be sure to back up every point you make with evidence. A great way to do this is give real life examples of what you actually did, and what you learned from it. It’s not enough to just list your work experience, you need to explain what you learned and how this experience will help you as a teacher.
You don’t need school experience to apply for a teaching course, though it helps. But if you don’t have school experience then you at least need some transferable skills, so any other experience of working with children is valid here, things like helping with sports teams and youth clubs are valid too. Use your examples to demonstrate the skills you’d bring to the role of teacher.
You could also refer to a teacher who made a difference to you at school, or who influenced your love of working with children and helping them to learn.
By discussing examples, you can also demonstrate that you are realistic about the role, in that is challenging as well as rewarding. For example, you might discuss a session you observed or taught, reflecting on what went well, how you adapted to the situation and how you would improve on it.
This is how to make effective use of real life examples, according to Julie Stevens, course leader for PGCE Secondary Education at Plymouth Marjon University: “I want to read about how you’ve helped a pupil to make progress. What did you change? How did you recognise they weren’t learning? What did you adapt to help them understand? Maybe you modelled it or talked it through? How did the child respond? You might talk for example about why a child was messing around or why a seating chart was put together in a certain way. It’s really encouraging when a candidate offers insights into teaching and that sense of self-reflection”.
You can talk about that examples that demonstrate transferable skills. For example, maybe you had to be resilient to get your Duke of Edinburgh award, maybe you’re a leader on the sports field or maybe you’re a dedicated musician with the music exams to prove it?
In addition, the way you talk about children is really important, the training provider needs to know that you see them as individuals and that you want to help them become independent thinkers. Back to Julie again for more about this: “I want to see candidates who talk about children as individuals and how you can help them make the best progress they can. Helping young people to make decisions for themselves and become independent learners, so that they take responsibility for their own success is essential for adulthood.
"It’s great when someone can talk about innovative things, like how to use social media for good outcomes. Anything like that is powerful because it means they understand our role as educators – we aren’t just filling them with knowledge, we're trying to get children and young people to understand how to develop themselves.”
References really do matter. Julie and Kate report that in practice most of barriers to shortlisting a candidate come not from the personal statement, but from references that are too short. They’ve seen references as short as three lines and that doesn’t tell them enough about you and your suitability for a career in teaching. You could be an impressive candidate, but you can’t be offered a place until your reference checks out.
If you’re applying for undergraduate teacher training through UCAS then one reference is required. If you’re applying for postgraduate teacher training then you’ll need two references. If you’re at university, or have been within the past five years, then one reference must be from someone at your university. The other reference can be from someone who knows you from work, and if you’re applying for School Direct then one of your references must come from your current employer.
A good reference says good things about you and backs up some of qualities and skills you’ve outlined in your personal statement. Your referee needs to talk about your character and why they think you could be a great teacher. The training provider is looking for insight; a different perspective on you, and hopefully one that that verifies the impressions they’re taking from your statement.
You can do a lot to make sure your reference is on point. First ask your referees if they are willing to be your referee and if they think you’ve got the potential to be a good teacher. Next you need to arm them with all the arguments as to why you’ll be a good teacher, they probably don’t know everything you do. Ideally they would read your personal statement so that they can write a reference that complements it.
If applicable, ask your referee to comment on your academic abilities, including your predicted grades. If possible, go through the reference with your referee as you might see something they’ve missed. If so, ask if they are willing to add it, it’s up to them but you can suggest things.
A good teacher training personal statement shows passion and love for teaching, as well as that you’ve done some research and that you’re dedicated to teaching career. Show your personality; show them the teacher you could be.
Back to Kate for closing advice: “Speak with honesty and speak from the heart. I’m looking for passion. I'm looking for somebody I think the has the potential. Then when you come to interview, I already know that you have that passion and so you just need to add the shine to that and tell us more about it in-person, one to one. In that way your teacher training personal statement is the stepping stone into the interview, if it does its job then we’ll be excited to find out more about you”.
You’ve got this. Follow the advice above and you’ll have a brilliant teacher training personal statement in the bag. The next step will be your teacher training interview, so why not check out our articles on how to ace your teacher training interview and teacher training interview questions.