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What is a PGCE?

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What is a PGCE?What is a PGCE? Well, let’s start with the basics – what does PGCE stand for? It’s a Postgraduate Certificate in Education. Though this may make it sounds like a normal postgraduate certificate, it’s really very different.

In order to do a PGCE, you’ll need a degree. The subject that your degree is in should ideally  be the one you intend to teach, as a PGCE won’t teach you about your subject in detail, but rather, how to teach. If it’s merely linked, you may need to gain more experience by following something like a subject knowledge enhancement course. Therefore, you need to be confident in your knowledge of your subject before applying for such a course. In addition, you’ll need at least a C in English and Mathematics at GCSE, and for ages 7-14 you’ll need a C in Science too.

PGCEs are offered by a variety of places – universities, Teach First, or through a school direct training program. We’ll mainly focus on the university method, as this is the most common way to get such a qualification. So, what is it like to study a PGCE?

Studying a PGCE at university

As with many postgraduate courses, the PGCE is a year of full time commitment, or two years part time. It is possible to do parts of it online, but as the course involves learning to teach, you will obviously be required to do that in person.

As a PGCE student, you will have lectures, and learn the theories behind teaching – such as how children learn. You’ll also have at least two school placements, which is a great chance to ensure you’re suited for teaching. But don’t worry you won’t just be left to your own devices here as you’ll have two mentors – a university mentor and a school mentor. The university mentor will be the first point of contact for the school you’re assigned to, whether they have problems, or you do. They’ll also come in to visit you and check on your progress, and they’ll decide whether you’ve been successful on your placement or not. This may sound scary, but remember, they’re there to help you learn! In addition to your university mentor, there will be a school mentor. This is a person who teaches your subject at the school you’re assigned to. They’ll be there to help you most days, and should talk with you on a weekly basis about how you’re doing, and what you need to work on.

The general course structure is biased towards time spent in schools. You will be in university for the first few weeks of the course, and then out on placement for most days a week from then on. The goal of the PGCE is to pass a set of standards known as the ‘Q standards’. You should look in advance if you think these are obtainable goals for you – some examples of the standards are:

* Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge

* Manage behaviour effectively and ensure a good, safe learning environment

* Use relevant data to monitor progress, set targets, and plan subsequent lessons

Whilst they won’t throw you in the deep end at the beginning of your placement, you’ll be expected to work up to doing the work of a full time teacher. That means making lesson plans, teaching a variety of ages, and leading a class. In addition, you may be doing work for the university side of things.

Once you finish your PGCE, you’ll be known as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT). You’ll have this status for the first year, and whilst this is rare, it is possible to fail during this probationary period despite having successfully achieved your PGCE. So remember, while the PGCE is the first step to teaching, it’s not the last.

Studying a PGCE not at a university

We mentioned earlier that there are alternatives to the PGCE at university route if you want to get into teaching. These will work differently, and it’s best to do independent research. For some of them, you will only work in schools and may not learn as much theory behind things. This could be a plus, as it means you get more teaching time, but it could be a hindrance as you have less idea when you start. In addition, PGCEs may not be best at the more obscure subjects.

Finally, when looking at PGCEs, make sure to look specifically at university’s league table rankings for that course. Sometimes, the universities that are best at teaching are not necessarily the best in your subject, and given the course is designed around teaching, you want to make sure you find the best place for you. You should also take a look at the possible placement schools you could be sent to, and whether you’d be comfortable working in them.

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