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What is a PGCE?

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What is a PGCE?

A PGCE is a Postgraduate Certificate in Education. This is one of the most popular teacher training postgraduate qualifications, designed to give students the necessary skills to get into teaching. 

PGCE programs involve a combination of teaching and school placement activities, giving students practical experience in an education setting. 

Though a PGCE may sound like a normal postgraduate certificate, it’s really very different.

In order to do a PGCE, you’ll need an undergraduate degree. Your degree subject 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 (grade 4) in English and Mathematics at GCSE, and to teach ages 7–14 years old, you’ll need a C (grade 4) 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?

What are the different types of PGCE?

If you are considering studying a PGCE, it’s useful to understand the different types of courses that you can study. Depending on the age range of students you’d like to teach, you can opt for either a PGCE primary, secondary or further education program. 

PGCE Primary

This course prepares you to teach children aged 5 to 11 (up to and including Year 6). You’ll focus on the core primary education curriculum and train in a variety of subjects. You may have the option to specialise in a particular subject depending on your course. PGCE Primary courses are the highest in demand, and so it can be more challenging to secure a place on this kind of PGCE.

PGCE Secondary 

This type of PGCE course allows you to specialise in a particular subject and teach children between the ages of 11 and 18 years old. This PGCE is a suitable choice for those who wish to teach a particular subject, rather than generalise across several subject areas.

Some people also feel more suited to teaching secondary school students as opposed to primary school students. 

PGCE Further and Adult Education

This course allows you to teach higher educational courses in universities and other further education facilities. This course awards a QTLS (Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills) rather than a QTS.

What does studying a PGCE involve?

In order to succeed at a PGCE, you have to have the following skills:

  • Patience
  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Dedication
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Communication skills

You’ll begin your course by learning about teaching and learning theory, managing classroom behaviour, and current educational issues. This will help prepare you for the classroom and work on-site. 

After this, you’ll spend the majority of your course on placement in schools. This will help you gain experience as a teacher and put your theory into practice. 

You’ll be consistently assessed while you’re working at your placement to ensure that you develop the academic standards required for the QTS/QTLS. These assessments will help you reflect on your teaching skills and get feedback from others to help you focus on any areas of improvement.

What level is a PGCE?

Like many postgraduate courses, a PGCE is a level 7 qualification in relation to the Higher Education Qualifications scale. A PGCE offers the equivalent of 60 credits at postgraduate level.

A PGCE is not technically a postgraduate degree, although it is considered an advanced postgraduate non-degree qualification. This is due to a PGCE being a vocational program that directly relates to teaching careers.

What are the entry requirements for a PGCE?

To begin a PGCE, you will need to meet the specific course’s eligibility criteria – this may be different from course to course. Though in general, you will need the following to begin your PGCE:

  • An undergraduate degree
  • GCSE grade C/4 or above in English and Maths
  • GCSE grade C/4 or above in a science
  • If English is not your first language, then you will need an IELTS with a score of 6

Though this may differ depending on the course that you’re applying for. If you graduated with a degree in English, Maths or a specialised science, you can go on to do a subject knowledge enhancement course. This will help you become a teacher that specialises in the field you studied. 

It’s recommended that you get in touch with the admissions department at the institution you're considering applying to in order to double check their entry requirements. You should also apply for a PGCE course early as they are extremely competitive. 

How much does a PGCE cost?

The cost of a PGCE will vary depending on where you’re from originally:

  • UK and EU students will pay about £9,250 
  • International Students will usually pay between £11,000 and £16,000

It’s also important to consider cost of living prices and travel and commuting costs. Some PGCE students may take on a part-time job alongside their placement, although they may find that their time is limited.

Teachers can fund their PGCE in various ways:

  • Bursaries and scholarships are available depending on the subject studied
  • Tuition fee maintenance loans are available for teacher training routes
  • Stipends for PGCE students who have children or a disability are available

Do you need a PGCE to become a teacher?

You don’t necessarily need qualified teacher status to become a teacher in the UK. Schools have the freedom to choose who will work for them. Although, there are some academies that will not employ someone unless they have a QTS. 

Though in general, if you plan to go into teaching as a career, it’s highly recommended that you get your QTS through a PGCE. 

While having a PGCE will help you along the way, it will not guarantee that you become a teacher – unless you are part of the Teacher Induction Scheme in Scotland, which guarantees a one-year training post to every eligible student graduating with a teaching qualification. 

While a PGCE is highly recognised across the UK, you will need to put the work in to find yourself a job after the course. There are occasions when the placement school will offer a full-time position to a newly qualified teacher – though this is only if the school happens to have a vacancy at the time of graduation.

How long is a PGCE?

A PGCE usually takes one to two years to complete. The length of study can depend on whether you study your PGCE part time or full time.

Upon completion of your PGCE teaching course, you will earn a QTS. This makes students a qualified teacher, with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). In order to obtain QTS, students must complete a year-long induction.

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, this will involve in-person study and practical exercises.

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 by experiencing a real education setting. 

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. 

Your mentor will also come in to visit you and check on your progress throughout your PGCE studies, 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 PGCE 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 to study a PGCE if you think you would excel in the following standards:

  • 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.

What modules can I expect to study?

Most PGCE courses have two main strands of study, the first relates to professional and academic development. Here you’ll learn about planning lessons, managing a classroom and the art of teaching. You’ll also be taught about how the education system works in the UK, assessments, and the responsibilities you’ll have as a teaching professional. 

Secondly, you’ll look in depth at the National Curriculum, or the academic subject of your secondary PGCE. You’ll learn about delivering lessons in innovative and new ways, and the technologies available to assist you. Units often have titles like Reflection on Professional Development, Research on Leadership, Thinking Skills and Creating Long-term Plans.

Studying a PGCE outside of university

We mentioned earlier that there are alternatives to getting PGCE other than the university route if you want to get into teaching. These will work differently, and it’s best to do independent research. 

For some non-university PGCE courses, you will only work in schools and may not learn as much theory behind teaching. This could be a plus, as it means you get more teaching time, but it could be a hindrance as this provides less theoretical background into teaching methods and how children learn. 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.

Please note, a PGCE should not be confused with a PGCHE (Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education), a postgraduate qualification undertaken by university staff and lecturers.

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