Postgraduate Certificate in Education

The PGCE (and the similar qualification PGDE in Scotland) is a major teaching qualification in the UK and perhaps the most common way people currently qualify to become teachers in the UK. Nearly always it's a year long course which you study after a first degree. It mixes together the theory behind teaching and learning with significant placements in school to prepare people for a career as a teacher. If you wish to teach in any state primary or secondary school you'll need to have achieved Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) which you can get from a PGCE. However, you do not need this to teach in independent schools.


Different types of PGCE

There are different types of PGCE depending on the age ranges you wish to teach and the subject background you have. These are the most common ones:

Primary School PGCE

These prepare you to teach Primary School age children (up to Year 6). You might specialise in one or more age ranges (either Early Years, key Stage 1 or Key Stage 2). Many also have you specialising in a specific subject, such as maths, languages or PE. The competition for primary PGCE is the fiercest of the lot. This course leads to Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

Secondary PGCE

These prepare you to teach secondary school age people (Year 7 to Year 13). Some specialise in the just Key Stage 3 and 4 where as some cover KS3, KS4 and Sixth Form/College level teaching. You specialise in normally one, but occasionally two subjects. The subjects you can specialise in are based on the content of your first degree and normally you'll have to have had at least 50% of your degree in your chosen subject. Like a Primary PGCE, the Secondary PGCE leads to QTS.

Further/Adult Education PGCE

This type specialises in college education and adult education but unlike the other two it doesn't lead to qualified teacher status. If you have an FE PGCE and want to teach in a secondary school you'll either have to train to get a secondary PGCE or be paid in the unqualified teacher payscale.

Other types of PGCE

Though the above three make up the majority of PGCE courses on offer there are other types. Middle Years PGCEs usually concentrate on teaching KS2 and KS3 and since most of the country doesn't have middle schools you are able to teach in both primary and secondary schools.

There are also some 18 month courses in which the first 6 months is there for you to build up your subject knowledge before the last 12 months are like a usual PGCE. These are especially good if you want to teach a subject which only made up a smaller part of your degree.

PGCE Applications

If you've decided to become a teacher you'll need to know how to apply - it's all done on a central system on the Graduate Teacher Training Registry website (GTTR). That site lists all the courses available (and thankfully, removes the course when it's full!). It's also the site where you make your application and can track it's progress.

The application is very similar to most university courses. There is a section for all your personal details and education details, sections like a personal statement where you can say why you want to do it and why you should be picked, and places for you to write in your references (usually two are needed).

When should you apply?

The answer is as early as possible in the year prior to you wanting to start your course. Primary PGCEs usually have a deadline for applications in early December. If you apply before this date you are guaranteed to be considered. If you apply after it you will only be considered if places are still available. With the other PGCEs, the deadline is the end of June. Applying after this date puts your straight in to clearing where you can be considered for any remaining places.

What happens when you've applied?

So you pick your five choices and fill in your application form and click send. What next? Well firstly your application is only sent off to one uni at a time - so make sure you place your courses in the order of preference you want them in. Your application is only sent on to the next place after you've been rejected/turned down the previous application - this is why it's advisable to apply early so you can get the best shot at as many places as possible. This is more important for primary education and popular secondary schools as places will fill up very quickly for these but also as you'll be more likely to need more of your choices as the chances of being rejected are also greater (due to the higher competition).

What do you need to make an application?

Now you know how it all works it might be good to talk about what should go in your applications. Basically you need experience of being around children and to be able to show an understanding of the role of a teacher and the needs of learners.

This is mainly done through the personal statement type section of your application, though your references can also be useful in demonstrating this. Most people will have some sort of experience in a school or club where they have either observed teachers or helped out with tutoring the children. Alternatively they may even have worked as a teaching assistant. If you want to sort out this sort of experience (and it's pretty much an unwritten compulsory requirement for primary PGCEs and some popular subjects like history) then many universities have student tutoring systems set up. If you're doesn't or you're not at uni then simply phone up some of the schools in your area as often jump at the chance to have an extra pair of hands to help out. You'll a CRB check however to assist in a school, so if you're doing this off your own back it's definitely worth paying for more prior to contacting the schools.

Other types of experience that is useful for your application includes things like home tutoring, anything where you might have had to teach, present or explain things to a group or any time you've worked with a group of children or been responsible for a group of children.


The Interview

Once your application has been sent off you might be lucky enough to be invited to interview. What you can expect here can vary a lot from university to university. But a number of different activities tend to be popular.

At some point during the interview you'll likely have a traditional interview sat down answering questions with from university tutors and sometimes teachers. These will cover the reasons why you want to be a teacher, what you think you've got to offer as a teacher and often you might be asked to explain certain topics to the people in the room. This last point is especially common in interviews for secondary PGCEs.

Other activities could include investigating an educational topic prior to interview in order to write about it at the interview - this would be testing your writing ability as much as it would be testing your knowledge and understanding of the topic. You also could be asked to take part in group discussions or even prepare a presentation to give. Some unis also make you sit tests in basic numeracy and literacy.

What ever you have to do you will be given the information for the day before hand, so if you need to prepare anything in advance you will know about it. For more information about PGCE interview tips read the 'Interview Tips for Teaching Courses' thread on the forums.

Example of an Interview

Here is the structure of an interview day for someone who did a secondary mathematics PGCE.

There were three people being interviewed on this day. We had an introductory talk about what a PGCE is like and what teaching is about. This talk also covered what would happen during the day. Prior to the interview we had all been asked to research the use of calculators in schools. In this talk we were going to have to write an essay on evaluate their use in the classroom.

We then took it in turns to have a formal interview while the other two wrote their essays. We were told there was no right or wrong things to talk about in the essay, but rather they wanted to check our ability at writing English and to check our spelling and grammar ability, so it sort of put you more at ease.

In the actual interview it started off talking about ourselves and our education. It then moved on to answering questions about our experiences with children and with teaching learning. We had to talk about why we thought our experiences would make us good teachers and explain why we wanted to be teachers.

One question I'll not forget is when I was asked to speak about one teacher that had an impact on me in school. I spoke about my Year 8 maths teacher. Little did I know at the time but that teacher was in fact an in-school mentor for people on the course I was applying for and was known to the interviewers. I hadn't seen him for 8 years at this point.

The only other part of the interview was a section where we had to explain a few mathematical topics as though we were teaching it. The main one I got was to explain the expansion of brackets where I was pushed to think on my feet to explain it in different ways and overcome the questions the interviewers asked about what I was doing.

If I'm honest, it was an interesting day and not too nerve racking. I think I quite enjoyed it. We must have all done OK that day too as just a few months later all three of us were back at the uni starting the courses.

Funding a PGCE

Unlike most postgraduate courses there is funding for eligible PGCE students via Student Finance. However, this works very much like undergraduate Student Finance - it is a repayable loan. This financial help will cover the full cost of tuition as well as provide maintenance support in the form of a repayable loan, plus the possibility of an additional non-repayable maintenance grant depending on your household income (see below). Repayments start when you are earning over £21,000 a year (2014) and repayments are based on future earnings and not what you borrow. Students from England should apply to Student Finance England via the GOV.UK website.

Students from England are eligible to apply for a partially means-tested maintenance loan for living costs, such as accommodation, food, clothes, travel and other living expenses. The maximum loan available for PGCE students in 2014/15 is £5,555. 65 per cent of this loan is non means-tested and the remaining 35 per cent depends upon your level of household income.

Extra funding for certain subjects. There is also incentive funding for those applying to teach shortage subjects such as IT, Maths, Chemistry, Physics and Modern Languages who have (or expect) a 2.1 or a First at undergraduate level. The Institute of Physics, the Institute of Mathematics, the BCS Academy of Computing and The Royal Society of Chemistry teacher training scholarships are worth £25,000 for applicants applying to teach these subjects (see the relevant websites for more information). The Association of Church College Trusts has limited extra funding for those applying to teach Religious Education. Some Universities also offer their own bursaries or top-up awards for certain applicants.

Funding for students from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is similar to that for students from England, but there are differences. Please visit Student Awards (Scotland), Student Finance Wales and Student Finance Northern Ireland websites for more information.

NB. If you are an EU student, you are eligible to apply to Student Finance England for the fee loan for your full-time PGCE programme. EU students are not eligible for any UK government grants and loans from the UK government to help with the cost of living whilst at University in the UK.

For the most up to date information, and details of application procedures and deadlines always check with the relevant government website HERE.

PGCE Course Structure

As you can imagine the courses will vary from university to university. But all will have major placements in schools and all will have some form of written assignments. As well as this you'll have a range of lectures and seminars in university, talks in schools and other activities to take part in.

Written Work

The amount of written work varies hugely and whether it all counts towards you passing the course can vary too. Generally you will have a number of written assignments that will draw from both your teaching experiences and your knowledge and understanding of education theory. You will probably get a fair amount of choice on some assignments to pick topics that really interest you too.

Key Skills Tests

Part of the requirement to achieve QTS is the successful passing of three Key Skills Tests. These are basic computerised tests in numeracy, literacy and ICT (they are similar to the driving theory test in that you book then in advance and take them at specialist test centres on a computer). You can sit them as often as you like, but will be unable to get QTS unless you have passed them all. Most people manage to pass them fairly easily, but often people will get stuck with one or more of them and repeatedly fail it. The point is not to worry about this and to keep trying. Book your tests early on in the year. That way if you have trouble you will have loads of time to keep resitting them to ensure you pass.

QTS Standards

The QTS Standards are a series of standards that someone must have demonstrated to be able to achieved QTS. You will be given a list of them near the start of your course and you will be expected to develop evidence to say you have met them all by the end of the course. There are loads of these standards and it's best to keep updating them regularly. They cover all areas of teaching, from subject knowledge and planning to communicating with parents to dealing with children whose first language isn't English. Normally you will be expected to have several pieces of evidence for each of these. They can be drawn from your experiences on placements, the lectures you have at uni and your own study for assignments.

Teaching Practice

As you'd expect the actual teaching practice takes up a large portion of your course. To get QTS status you need to have had a certain number of days in school on placement. Your uni should organise the placement times so they exceed this limit - this allows for unforeseen circumstances where you might miss a few days (like illnesses or interviews). If you fall below the requirement it might be necessary to extend a placement beyond the normal period of the course in order for you to pass.

The way each uni organises your placements will differ. But usually you will need to have experience in at least two schools, preferably ones which will give you differing experiences and present to you opportunities to meet all the QTS standards.

In the placements you will usually start off observing lessons and build up from there, maybe through planning and teaching parts of lessons, to taking full lessons and eventually taking over several classes (under the guidance of their 'normal' teacher) so that you plan, teach and assess them as if they were your own.

The amount of time you spend teaching and planning will also normally increase over your placements. So early on in your coruse is perhaps a good time to get involved with other aspects of school life and also to observe as many classes as possible. You may have some observations organised for you, but don't feel you have to be limited to those. Ask around to see if any other teachers are willing to let you sit in (and even help out) in their classes or if they are willing to have a chat with you. Also when you are teaching you might have difficulties with certain aspects of it, or with certain classes or individuals. In these cases it's also wise to be pro-active and try to organise a time to observe how other people deal with that same person or the same class.

Don't just use your placements to practice teaching. They are more than that - it's where you learn from those already in the profession and from the other teaching students. You can learn as much from informal discussions outside the classroom as you can from teaching within it.

Example of Placements

Here is an example of the teaching placements for one Secondary mathematics PGCE.

Placement 1 - two weeks in length
Primary school placement. In the two weeks before we started the courses we had to organise a two week primary school placement. This was for loads of reasons including to help us reach the QTS standards of looking at the key stages either side of what we were to teach.

Placement 2 - approx 30 day
Our first secondary school placement. My school was an 11-16 school. We started off doing two days a week in school from the second week of being at uni. We got to know our school over several weeks, observing lessons and having in school talks. We then had 4 weeks totally in school where we did our first teaching but still only had a small number of lessons to teach.

Placement 3 - approx 16 weeks
This was our big placement. It was in a different school to the first and this time it was 11-18 so I could get some A Level teaching practice. Some people who got two 11-16 schools took 2 or 3 weeks of this placement in local colleges to get the A Level experience. We were given our classes straight away here, though started again by observing and developed from there to fully take them over. You had more chance to get to know the kids and the school and play a fuller role in school life. You were also more likely to end up report writing, attending parents evenings and going on school trips here.

Placement 4 - 2 weeks
This placement was called our 'Professional Enrichment Placement'. We could basically choose to do anything we wanted that was based around education. It could be anywhere - in a previous placement school, somewhere new. Two people even went out to visit a school in the Caribbean (though they had to pay for it themselves). I looked at the transition from Year 6 to Year 7 from both a pastoral side and from a mathematical side. So I did some maths work with bright Year 6 kids in primary school, visited primary schools with the Head of Year 7 to talk to her new intake, spoke to Year 7 kids about how they found the move to Secondary School a year on and worked with some bright Year 7 kids. I even went back for a day after my course finished to work with the same Year 6 and Year 7 kids again on an activity day.

Other Activities In addition to all these placement we also managed to get involved with other things too. We all helped out on a mathematics treasure hunt day across the city and also hosted a maths activity day at the uni for local school kids.


Finding a Job

Once you're on the PGCE you'll quickly find you have a dozens of lessons to plan, towers of marking piling up, a parents evening the next night and an assignment deadline at the end of the week. You might think that is all you have to worry about. But you need to think well a head to the next year when you've finished the course and will need a job. It might seem like you haven't got the time, but you'll have to find it in amongst marking exams and creating planning sheets to make that cracking application that will star you off on your career.

Where to look?

The best place to look for jobs is in the Times Education Supplement. Pretty much every teaching job advertised will be in there. Most schools will have copies delivered each week, but more and more people make use of the online job searching facility. Other places to look are local council websites and even listen out for what other teachers have heard about positions being available.

When to Apply?

There is no best time to apply really. I could say as soon as possible. But then if you're offered a job early on in the year and accept it you have to take it. You'll be unable to drop it at a later date if a job in a better school or nicer location is advertised. But then if you leave it later on you could find there a few jobs available and too many people wanting to work in that area to fill them. In such a case you could be damn good teacher but find yourself standing in the dole queue come September.

So the best advice is to look early, practice apply with early jobs, but only apply for the ones you might actually want. Otherwise you could find yourself with the dilemma of having to turn a job down and potentially stop other people who really want the job from getting an interview.

Making the Application

So that is all about finding jobs and when to apply, but how do you apply? Basically you'll be expected to fill in a generic council application form for most schools. It's the supporting information or covering letter that is important. Your uni and sometime even your school will offer initial help with this. But you really have to sell yourself with it. The covering letter is not some short, three paragraph summary like for some jobs. Really take your time with it, explain your experiences that show you'll be a great teacher. Pick out bits from your own experience which meet exactly with what the application is looking for. And include those points that make you stand out above the other student teachers. You'll need something in there which makes the person reading your application say 'Wow. We need to give them an interview. They could be a great asset to our school.'

It's therefore important you don't rush your applications. Have a copy of all application material in front of you and tailor each application to the information the school gives about what they are looking for. Take time with them. Proofread them. Get other people to take a look over them. Hopefully then you might just be invited to interview.

The Interview

Often you will know well in advance that you are going to have an interview. This time is very much welcomed as normally you will be required to teach a lesson on a topic of the schools choosing to a group of kids you will never have met before. This is a very daunting prospect as you'll have come to realise that knowing a class makes tailoring a lesson to them much easier. But your placement school will often be willing to help you plan your interview lesson and if you're lucky you might even have the chance to practice your lesson out on one of your current classes of a similar age and ability.

While the lesson might take up a lot of your time prior to the interview day, don't let that eat up all your time. You also will need to think carefully over what they might ask you and be prepared with answers. Often it's a good idea to try out a mock interview before hand.

Also find out as much about the school as possible. At the very least try to find out who the management team are, who the head of your department will be and what the area is like that the kids will come from. You should also know about the schools recent exam results and any other successes of developments which are happening. It is invaluable to show that you've take the time to really research this place you want to work. Demonstrating this effort and willingness to take an interest can really help your chances.

So what could an interview day be like? (Yes, I did say day there, teaching interviews usually last most of the day and you will usually be sat around with the other candidates if you are waiting for anything). Well normally you're expected to arrive around the start of school - be prompt and if you're having difficulties getting their ring a head to let them know.

The day might start with a group chat with the head teacher. You them might go given a tour of the school (often by the kids). At some point you will meet other members of your department. You might get to observe a lesson - be active in this and speak to the kids - don't just sit there watching. Of coruse, if you've planned a lesson this will often be taught in the morning. Sometimes, but not always, some of the interviewees are sent home at lunchtime. Often if a lot of people are invited you can usually guess this will be the case as formal interviews are usually held in the afternoon and these can take up a lot of time. They will not want to interview half a dozen people.

In my experience the formal interviews can vary hugely. One very calming interview felt more like an informal chat - me and three other people sat around a circular table in a cosy little office. But another one was like an interrogation. I was sat in at one side of a rather large table in a rather grand room. On the other side were 6 people each firing questions at me. The key is to stay calm, be clear with your answers, not to waffle and to back up what you say with specific experiences from your own teaching.

Once the interview is over you will often be asked to wait around until everyone has been in. I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but many teaching interviews result in a decision right there on the day. You will often wait around even longer when the last person has been interviewed and then someone will come and ask to see one person again. This is normally an indication that person has been offered the jobs. If they've accepted then someone will come back and tell you the job has been filled and thank you for coming.

In many cases you might be offered some feedback on how you did. Take this as it can really show you where your weaknesses are so you can improve for the next interview. It can also pick you back up again if you hear where your strengths are too.

So that is it. All the basics of a teaching interview. It sounds really harsh doesn't it? But we've all been there and most of us have got through it eventually. I'll finish this article with one final tip for interviews. Once you arrive at the school you are on show for the whole day. It's not just the lesson you teach and your formal interview that counts, but how you behave the whole day and how you interact with the kids and the staff. I'm not saying you have to freak out for the whole time, but just take care with how you present yourself. Hopefully then you'll find yourself employed early in your PGCE year and can take the time to enjoy your remaining placements knowing all you have to do is pass and you have that job in bag to start your career come September.

Also See

Got postgrad questions which aren't covered above? Then visit the Postgraduate Forum to get your answers.

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