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Teaching and Education: PGCE Case Studies

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PGCE case study It can sometimes be difficult to work out the perfect postgraduate course and university prospectuses all contain similar persuasive jargon that from the arduous undergraduate application process, you know sometimes what sounds too good to be true often is. As a final-year student or a graduate, you know from experience how important it is to get it right, especially when you haven’t got the time to visit every university on the planet.

Every postgraduate course is different, just as every postgraduate student is different. This may sound like an obvious point, but to find out more, we got in touch with two recent PGCE graduates. Enter Alex Bourne and Gemma Bramhall, two recent-graduates of a PGCE course, Alex in Modern Languages and Gemma in Geography.

We were interested to find out if they were always set on teaching, as some finalists/graduates spend ages being indecisive about their future. We also wanted to know what it's like to be a PGCE student.

Alex: “I was not always set on being a teacher – I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do – but the idea came to me while I was on my year abroad considering what to do once I left university. I opted for teaching as it seemed a relatively stable career, particularly given the economic situation, that would put my degree to some use.”

Gemma: “I always had in interest in teaching; however I thought I would teach Archaeology at university level. When I was near the end of my degree I began looking at different career options (local government, diplomacy, civil service) and after visiting some schools decided to go into teaching at secondary school level. I am glad I made this decision as it is an interesting and rewarding career!”

The PGCE offers entrance into a stable career which is both interesting and fun – both Alex and Gemma found employment in the May of their PGCE year, which is great for those postgraduates looking for reassurance that the extra year studying is worth it.

Other options

But what about other options, such as the Graduate Teacher Program and the ever-popular Teach First Program? Only you know which course is for you, but it is still interesting to ask what made our recent graduates choose the PGCE rather than other routes into teaching?

Alex: “At the time of applying for teacher training, I had only heard of Teach First, which did not appeal to me, and the PGCE. It was not until I had begun my PGCE that I became aware of other routes into the profession. I think I would have chosen the PGCE anyway, however, as being based at a university rather than a school suited my situation at the time.”

Gemma: “I liked the idea of spending time at university and also many of the other options (including the GTP) are designed for people who already have some level of teaching experience, which I did not have. I also considered ‘Teach First’ but did not want to be restricted to living and teaching in the areas on offer.”

The PGCE course, however, surprised both Alex and Gemma ‘with the overwhelming focus on how children learn’ and Gemma especially thought the expectations and workload were very high, with ‘every student expected to plan and teach lessons, mark work and complete university work’.

Despite this, Gemma found it refreshing that almost everything you learnt was directly applicable and useful in the classroom and Alex stressed that teaching itself is an excellent job in which no one day is ever the same. Even each lesson, he went on to say, is different as different groups take to the same material in different ways.

Disadvantages of a PGCE

PGCE case study Now we’ve looked at some of the advantages, we ought now to consider the downsides. For some finalists yearning for freedom, it does take a couple of years before you’re fully qualified, with your National Qualified Teacher year following your Certificate in Education.

Gemma: ”The disadvantages of the course are that you might spend much less time teaching than people on other types of course (e.g. SCITT or GTP) and the PGCE is often only for core academic subjects.”

Alex: “I found that the PGCE did not prepare me for teaching as well as I thought it would. The university side of the course focused a lot on the theoretical side to learning and teaching, leaving the development of practical teaching skills to school placements. This meant that the real preparation for teaching could vary according to which schools you were placed in. I feel that I have learnt more about what is expected of a good or outstanding teacher during my NQT year.”

Seal of approval

Finally, we asked Alex and Gemma if they would recommend a PGCE and what kinds of things potential students should be thinking about before they apply:

Gemma: “I would definitely recommend a PGCE, however the quality and type of course vary greatly between universities. Potential PGCE students should try to visit a number of different universities and question the education faculties on the placement schools, the course break-down (including the amount of time spent teaching during each placement) and the types of assignments they will be expected to do. On your placements you will slowly build up the amount of time you spend teaching which can ease you into teaching once the course has finished.”

Alex: “I would suggest that undergraduates look carefully at which institution they study at, not only to find out about the course itself, but even how likely it is that they will be sent to an outstanding school on placement. The quality of the placement schools serving a university is at least as important as the course itself as those placements are where most of the training really takes place.”

Both Alex and Gemma wanted to stress to potential applicants that the PGCE and the job require a lot of dedication and hard-work, but it is certainly worth it for the job satisfaction, which seems to be a relatively rare commodity at the moment.

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