The Postgraduate Certificate in Education, commonly known as the PGCE, is one of the most popular academic qualifications for teaching

Offered in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, PGCEs are designed to enhance and increase academic training, preparing students for life as a teacher. Usually taking one academic year to complete full time, and two years part time, securing a place on certain PGCE courses can be incredibly competitive.

You only need a training course to offer Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) to teach as a qualified teacher in England. However, a PGCE will increase your academic knowledge and provide you with the flexibility to teach internationally. The Scottish equivalent to a PGCE is the Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE).

What is a PGCE?

A Level 7 (NQF) qualification, a PGCE combines substantial school placements with studying the theory behind teaching and learning. Most courses run from early September to July and take nine months to complete if studied full time. Some longer part-time and distance learning options are available.

PGCE courses can either be university or school-led and the majority of programmes lead to Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), making you eligible to teach in a variety of countries.

Scottish PGDE courses, and Welsh and Northern Irish PGCEs, are similar in structure to university-based programmes.

There is a shortage of teachers in some subjects - making securing a place on these particular PGCE courses relatively easy, while other programmes are more competitive. You should research this with the provider you're interested in and be prepared to look in other areas of the UK for places.

If your undergraduate degree doesn't link closely to the subject you intend to teach you may be offered a subject knowledge enhancement course as part of your application. This is taken before the PGCE so you'd be studying for a little longer.

Do I need a PGCE to teach in the UK?

In short, no - you only need QTS. The PGCE is an additional qualification offered by some providers, which you can gain alongside QTS.

However, it's advisable to gain a PGCE if you want to teach in Scotland and other countries such as the USA, as the PGCE is an internationally-recognised qualification. It's possible to gain a qualification such as a PGCert with PGCE, if you have QTS and want to gain Masters credits and a university qualification. Find out more about the routes into teaching.

Be aware that not all courses award QTS - the further education PGCE, for example. Speak to your training provider if you are unsure about whether your programme awards QTS status.

Types of PGCEs

In England a PGCE may be led by a:

  • higher education institution (HEI)
  • school/charity/multi-academy trust (MAT)
  • consortium of schools in partnership with the HEI, as in School Direct, School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) or Teach First.

Different types of PGCE include:

  • Primary - prepares you to teach children up to age 11. Programmes focus on the core curriculum, although some may allow you to specialise in a certain subject. This is the most popular PGCE and demand for places is high.
  • Secondary - focuses on a particular subject and prepares you to teach children between the ages of 11 and 16.
  • Further/Adult education - if you want to teach in colleges or conduct adult education classes, completing one of these PGCEs means you can apply for Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) status rather than QTS.

All types include placements for a minimum of 24 weeks in at least two key stages and schools.

To see what's available, search for a PGCE.

What does a PGCE involve?

It can be a very intense nine months, at times balancing lesson planning, teaching, marking and your own assignment deadlines.

Often starting with an academic focus, PGCE courses usually cover teaching and learning theory, managing classroom behaviour and current educational issues. After the first few weeks you'll spend up to two thirds of your time on placement in schools, teaching in two different key stages. Your placements will help you to explore theory in practice. You'll be immersed into school life gradually, with an emphasis on research-informed and evidence-based teaching.

You will also work towards meeting the professional standards, which determine recommendation for QTS. Assessment is ongoing and progressive, developing the academic standards required for the Masters-level PGCE and QTS. At the same time you will work through personalised development plans to ensure that you're able to target individual strengths and improvements.

In this way, your academic performance and teacher development are closely linked. You will reflect, get feedback from others and be assessed against the teacher standards as you progress through the PGCE.

What will I learn?

You will study modules such as the:

  • Professional teacher - Looking at key issues in teaching and learning, tailored to the context in which you're working. Sessions will often be a lecture and seminar, or workshops.
  • Subject specialist - Building on your knowledge of the subject range, this would be led by a specialist tutor with expertise in your subject/s, both in university and in your placement, and supported by a mentor. You may study and evaluate key theories and policies, analyse and model best practice, and develop the skills required for teaching the subject. This will be further developed in your placement with your school mentor.
  • Reflective teacher - You would look at what you're teaching in the classroom, think about why you do it, and reflect on what works. This would include tutorials, group work and peer support to develop your experience in practice.
  • Research informed teacher - You will be able to learn from and participate in research linked to your specialism and teaching.

What's the difference between school-led and university-led PGCEs?

As a university-led PGCE/PGDE trainee you will have more opportunity for studying and reflecting on your progress, as well as spending valuable time with other trainee teachers. You will need to pay fees but bursaries are available. You'll be able to move from a placement if it's really not suited to you.

If you'd like to be placed in a school from day one, School Direct may be the route for you. Trainees are often paid as trainee teaches and may have to pay fees. School-led trainees can be chosen by the school, participating as a team member from the beginning. The School Direct salaried route requires three years' paid work experience, which can deter recent graduates or career changers who may be faced with a pay cut. Discover how you can build your experience by volunteering in schools.

Both routes may include a Masters-level qualification, such as a PGCE and QTS leading to the Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT)/induction year.

What are the entry requirements?

To study for a PGCE you'll need to have achieved the following minimum entry requirements. Some course providers may have specific eligibility criteria, but in general you must have:

  • An undergraduate degree or equivalent. For primary teaching a degree in a national curriculum subject is useful. For secondary you must have a degree or at least 50% of the degree in the subject you're applying to teach.
  • GCSE grade C/4 or above in English and maths (a B in Wales).
  • GCSE grade C/4 or above in a science subject to teach pupils aged 3-11 (primary).
  • A pass mark for the professional skills test in numeracy and literacy prior to entry.
  • An IELTS with an average score of 6.0 if English is not your first language and you don't have a GCSE grade C in English.

Plus non-academic requirements of:

  • some recent experience of working with children in a mainstream UK school in the phase for which you're applying
  • medical fitness
  • a declaration of convictions through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

There are some variations and exceptions to these entry criteria so you should check with the admissions department of each individual institution you're applying to.

Applicants with a degree in a subject not included in the national curriculum, such as marketing or education are able to apply for early years, primary and post-compulsory teaching.

If you have A-levels in a shortage secondary subject, such as maths, and your degree included a large mathematical element, you may be able to do a subject knowledge enhancement course and go on to train as a maths teacher.

Some courses are very competitive so you need to get plenty of work experience and apply early. If you aren't sure whether you meet the criteria, or if you gained your degree overseas, you should contact the admissions department of the institution you're considering or attend an open day.

How much does it cost?

The standard tuition fee in 2018/19 for UK and European Union (EU) students is £9,250 and approximately between £11,000 and £16,000 for international students, although overseas fees vary widely. Universities may offer special reductions for alumni, so check with individual providers.

You will also need to consider living costs. You're likely to have additional costs for travelling to school placements. Some providers may offer support towards travel expenses - contact them to find out more.

The majority of trainees find that they have limited time for part-time work, especially while on placement. International students are advised to check their visa restrictions on working.

There are three main ways to fund teacher training and depending on your circumstances you could receive them all. Tax-free bursaries and scholarships are available - the amount of which differs depending on the subject studied, postgraduate tuition fee and maintenance loans are available to help pay tuition fees for unsalaried teacher training routes, and additional financial support is available if you have children or a disability. See funding teacher training for more information.

Will a PGCE/PGDE guarantee me a teaching job?

The Teacher Induction Scheme in Scotland offers a guaranteed one-year training post to every eligible student graduating with a teaching qualification from one of Scotland's universities. This is not the case across all of the UK.

A PGCE is a well-recognised and valued qualification and normally includes QTS (although not all courses do), but this doesn't mean that you will automatically be employed when you graduate.

Traditionally, graduates quickly find their first teaching job, the placements completed as part of their course and any additional school experience stands them in good stead. If your School Direct/school placements go well and the school has a vacancy when you graduate, you may well be offered a job.

Pupil numbers are rising and this increases the demand for teachers. If you've completed a PGCE in a shortage subject, such as physics, maths, chemistry, computing, languages, biology, geography or design and technology, your knowledge and skills are particularly sough after.

To learn more, see how to get a teaching job.

How do I find a PGCE?

You should attend open days and meet course tutors to make sure you get answers to all your questions. Consider asking:

  • How much does the course cost?
  • Does the course include a PGCE, as for many overseas teaching roles you will need a university or college teaching qualification (BEd or PGCE)?
  • Does the qualification lead to QTS?
  • How much school experience do you get?
  • Are there grants/loans/bursaries available?
  • What is the school's Ofsted rating?
  • What is the employment record after graduation?
  • What is the institution's reputation and department ranking?
  • How much access do students have to tutors?
  • How many lectures and tutorials are there per week? How many days a week do you need to be on campus?

To find out what's on offer and which institutions match your requirements, search PGCEs.

When do applications open?

Scottish applications to PGDEs are made through the UCAS undergraduate system in the autumn for courses starting in the September the following year. Applications to PGCEs in England and Wales are normally made through UCAS Teacher Training (UTT).

Applications can be made throughout the academic year. However, providers are able to close the applications after a minimum of two weeks if they have enough quality applicants. They may open again later in the year but it is strongly recommended to apply early for the more popular courses.

In Northern Ireland, applications for PGCEs are made directly to the institution.

For more information, see applying for teacher training.

Where can I get more advice?

  • Alumni - ask them what it was like to study at a particular university.
  • Careers service - advisers can explore your options, help you decide which course is best for you and assist your application.
  • Current students - they'll tell you how much work is involved, and recommend books and other sources.
  • Open days and fairs - you can meet representatives from numerous universities, meet tutors and take a look at the campus. Take a look at upcoming open days and events.     
  • Tutors - find out more about the course content and how your career goals match up.