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Skills for life teacher

  • Hours

    37 per week

  • Starting salary

    £17,000 + per year

Skills for life teachers work with adults and sometimes 16- to 18-year-olds to improve their English and maths. They give a lot of support so that learners grow in confidence. If you want to help and support adults who have come back to learning, or young people who need to improve their skills, this could be the job for you.

You would need to be friendly and patient to overcome the fears of people returning to the classroom. You would also need to be creative in designing learning materials and lessons that you can adapt for different age groups and interests.

You would be expected to hold a minimum of a Level 3 qualification in the subject area you wish to teach, though many teachers have a degree and further qualifications. You may be able to study part-time for these once you are in the job.


The work

Skills for life teachers are sometimes known as functional skills tutors or basic skills teachers. They teach and support adults and young people who want to improve their skills in reading, writing and spelling (literacy), maths (numeracy) and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). Some work with adults with learning difficulties and disabilities.

Your work would typically involve:

  • carrying out skills assessments
  • talking to students about what they want to achieve
  • designing learning plans to suit the needs and abilities of students
  • preparing teaching materials
  • using a range of resources such as worksheets and computer packages
  • delivering individual and group teaching sessions
  • keeping records
  • guiding and supporting learning support assistants and volunteers

You would usually specialise in literacy, numeracy or ESOL. You could teach more than one of these subjects and some colleges would expect you to do so.


You could work full-time or part-time. As a part-time teacher you may only have a temporary contract. As a full-time teacher you are likely to work up to 37 hours a week, with around 25 hours spent teaching. Evening work is common.

You could be based in a college or an adult education centre and spend some of your time teaching in community centres, libraries or prisons. You could also work for a training provider helping people to improve their skills as preparation for employment.


Skills for life teachers can earn from around £17,000 to £26,000 a year.

With experience there may be opportunities to progress to more senior roles and higher pay scales.

Starting salary can depend on experience, qualifications, and whether you are employed in a further education college, a charity or a private training provider.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Entry requirements

You would need a minimum of a Level 3 qualification in the subject area you wish to teach, for example an A level in maths to teach numeracy. You would also need a teaching qualification and a specialist diploma such as one of those outlined below, or be prepared to gain these whilst working.

Teaching qualifications and requirements changed in September 2013 and employers can now decide on the level of qualifications they wish their staff to have. New awards are now available and these are:

  • Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training - lasts between one and two years and is suitable for individuals who have access to a minimum of 100 hours’ teaching practice. It includes units on developing teaching and assessment skills, theories and models of learning, and professional practice
  • Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training with specialist pathway - suitable for individuals wishing to spend part of their course developing skills in teaching English (literacy and/or ESOL), mathematics (numeracy) or teaching disabled learners and who want to explore effective teaching in both their vocational area and a specialist pathway. It takes between one and two years to complete
  • Level 5 integrated specialist diploma - for individuals who want to specialise in teaching adults with disabilities, literacy and/or ESOL, or numeracy. This pathway gives a full teaching qualification and a specialist diploma. It takes one year full-time or two years part-time. The provider may help to find a suitable specialist teaching placement.

If you have a degree, you may be able to take a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE)/professional graduate diploma in education (PGDE) in teaching disabled adults, literacy, ESOL, combined literacy/ESOL or numeracy. If you do not have a degree, you may be able to take the certificate in education (Cert Ed) or the professional diploma in education (PDE).

When applying for any of these qualifications, colleges, universities and private training providers would assess your skills and knowledge in English, maths and ICT. If you do not already have a minimum of a level 2 qualification in all these subjects, you would be given the opportunity to gain these during your teacher training.

See the profile for FE lecturer for more information and visit FE Advice for more details about the teaching qualifications.

You can also contact The Education & Training Foundation (ETF) website for more details about careers in further education, routes to qualification and to find training providers.

You may be eligible for a training bursary if you are looking to specialise in teaching maths, English or special educational needs. Visit the Get Into Teaching website for more details.

There may also be fee awards available for some pathways – check with the provider of your course.

To find out if you are suited to this type of teaching, you could do some voluntary work, although this is not essential.

As you may work with learners under the age of 18, or with learning disabilities, you will need Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance. This may take some time to be issued so you will need to allow for this.

Training and development

If you already have an adult teaching qualification and want to qualify to teach disabled adults, literacy, ESOL or numeracy, or you want to qualify in an additional specialist area, you can do one of the following standalone specialist diplomas:

  • Level 5 Diploma in Teaching English: Literacy
  • Level 5 Diploma in Teaching English: ESOL
  • Level 5 Diploma in teaching English: Literacy and ESOL
  • Level 5 Diploma in Teaching Mathematics: Numeracy
  • Level 5 Diploma in Teaching Disabled Learners

Contact The Education & Training Foundation for details.

As a newly-qualified teacher you could join the Society for Education and Training and apply for qualified teacher learning and skills (QTLS) status. Note that membership is no longer compulsory but the IfL has a number of resources that you may wish to use.

QTLS now has equal status with qualified teacher status (QTS) and on gaining this you would be qualified to work in mainstream schools and colleges. See the Department for Education pages on QTLS recognition for more information.

Skills, interests and qualities

To be a skills for life teacher you should be able to:

  • get on well with people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities and understand their needs
  • assess learners and keep accurate records
  • show patience and tact working with those who may lack confidence
  • plan and create  interesting activities to improve learners' skills
  • be prepared to adapt lessons using feedback in class
  • motivate and encourage learners to continue with their studies

More information

The Education & Training Foundation (Opens new window)
Tel: 0300 303 1877

University and College Union (UCU) (Opens new window)



You could find work in colleges, adult education centres or prisons or with private training providers and work-based training organisations.

With experience, you could be promoted to head of department or move into training other teachers.

You may find the following links useful for job vacancies and general reading:

Job market information

This section gives you an overview of the job area that this profile belongs to. You can use it to work out your next career move. It can help if you’re looking for a job now or want to do some further training.

The 'Market statistics' charts are based on figures from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The list of job vacancies under 'Apply for jobs' is from the Universal Jobmatch database. The vacancies are not from the National Careers Service.

Median income: Education
Avg Inc
UK Sector
27017 36756
Gender: Education
Female Male
65 35
Working pattern: Education
Part-time Full-time Self-employed
36 54 10
Gaps in sector due to skills shortages: Education
This sector All vacancies
15 23
Employment forecast: Education
Forecast Employment Figures
Year Predicted nos. employed
2014 1288000
2015 1308000
2016 1314000
2017 1315000
2018 1316000
2019 1321000
2020 1331000

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