Hands up ­ who wants to become a teacher? It can be tough, but primary school teaching can change lives, says Anne Williams, head of education at King Alfred's College, Winchester

Primary school teaching, working with children aged between 3 and 11, is nothing if not varied. Your day may start with a meeting to decide on this year's Christmas production and work out who will do what; you can move from helping a talented 10-year-old with a maths problem to picking up a six-year-old who is crying over a grazed knee; from explaining verb tenses to a class of 25 to teaching a dyslexic child to read.

Later, you may be discussing a child's progress with their parents. And, after all the pencils are back in their pots and the books on their shelves, you may share the day's highs and lows with colleagues over a drink and a bite to eat. It's hard work but it also has its rewards.

Entry requirements

Programmes at my college combine study for a degree with professional training as a teacher. Successful students leave with an honours degree and with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), the professional qualification you need to teach in a state school. Courses are almost all full-time and last for either three or four years. You will need at least two A-levels or equivalent qualifications, one of which should be in a National Curriculum subject. Grade requirements vary. Last year, King Alfred's generally made offers based on 220 A-level points, but similar courses across the UK will specify their own terms. Grade C or better in GCSE English, maths and science, or their equivalent, are required everywhere.

You need to be reasonably fit and able to communicate effectively in written and spoken English.

Training can cover the whole range of primary school ages or can focus on a particular age group, such as 3-8 or 7-11. At primary level, you'll be trained to teach English, mathematics and science, and you'll be able to specialise in one or more subjects. Whichever age group you choose, the effective use of ICT in your teaching will form an important part of your training.

Most students at King Alfred's follow the full four-year programme, but there is also a fast-track, three-year option for those who are able to demonstrate an ability to manage a more intensive programme.

All students choose a specialist subject and spend time in a school each year of their programme, working with children of different ages and backgrounds. You progress gradually from helping individuals and small groups of children to taking charge of a whole class over several weeks. This builds your confidence, so that you are well prepared for your first teaching job.

Future prospects

Jobs in teaching are plentiful at the moment. Successful graduates rarely have problems finding employment and you will receive your own individual induction programme to help you cope and develop during that important first year in school.

Promotion prospects are good for the talented young teacher. You can choose to specialise in working with particular groups of children, perhaps as a co-ordinator for special educational needs (SENCO). You may want to aim to become a deputy and then a head teacher. Or you may want to stay in the classroom and become an Advanced Skills Teacher or an expert in a particular curriculum area, staying with your own class but also spending part of each day helping other teachers with their children.

Starting salaries, currently £17,000 (more with London allowance), compare well with those for other graduates and increase annually on an incremental scale. Additional payments are made for taking particular responsibilities. Primary head teachers typically earn around £40,000.

For further information

To find out more about careers in teaching, visit the Teacher Training Agency website at: www.canteach.gov.uk

For information about courses at King Alfred's college, visit the website at: www.wkac.ac.uk/education or contact the admissions office on 01962 827273

If you are specifically interested in teaching in Scotland, visit the General Teaching Council for Scotland website at: www.gtcs.org.uk

When choosing a college or university for your QTS training, read the 'Initial Teacher Training Performance Profiles 2001', published for England by the Teacher Training Agency. You will find official information comparing the standards of all course providers. A copy should be available in your careers library.

For similar information on Welsh institutions, visit the website at: www.wfc.ac.uk

Most importantly, contact a local school and arrange a visit or work experience placement. Find out about taster courses in your area. These normally last two to four days, allowing you to sample the kinds of teaching you will find on a primary programme. The Teacher Training Agency has a downloadable list of taster courses at: www.canteach.gov.uk/info/library/ taster.doc

If you have a disability and are interested in teaching, contact Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities on 0800 328 5050 or visit the website at: www.skill.org.uk