The Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) is a very popular graduate route into teaching

In Scotland it's the Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). Offered at a range of higher education institutions (HEIs) across the UK, a PGCE/PGDE takes one academic year to complete full time and two years part time.

What is a PGCE?

A useful route if you already have a degree in the subject you want to teach, this path combines substantial school placements with studying the theory behind teaching and learning. You may also graduate with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in England and Wales, and be able to teach in state maintained schools

Scottish PGDE courses and Welsh and Northern Irish PGCEs are similar university-based courses.

How long does it take to do a PGCE?

Most courses run early September to July and take nine months to complete if studied full time. Some longer part time and distance learning options are available. If your degree subject 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 would also be a longer route.

Types of PGCEs

In England it may be led by a HEI, or could be run by a 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 PGCEs include:

  • early years;
  • primary, with or without a specialism such as maths or special educational needs;
  • secondary;
  • further/adult education with Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS);
  • international, PGCEi.

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

What will I learn?

You will study modules such as the:

  • Professional Teacher - University tutors and school-based staff will provide you with current knowledge 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, 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 does a PGCE involve?

It can be a very intense nine months, at times balancing lesson planning, teaching, marking and your own assignment deadlines. Up to two thirds of your time will be spent on placement in schools, teaching in two different key stages. Your placements will help you to explore theory in practice.

Often starting with an academic focus, the PGCE leads on to a gradual immersion in school with an emphasis on research informed and evidence-based teaching.

You will also work towards meeting the professional standards which determine recommendation for QTS.

Teacher education courses support students to gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) by meeting all the professional standards requirements (currently the Teachers' Standards 2012.) 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. So you will reflect, get feedback from others and be assessed against the teacher standards as you progress through the PGCE.

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

Both provide you with the practical and theoretical elements for teaching, but are delivered differently.

University-led training will begin at a university or college and be taught by university professionals. You'll also spend plenty of time in at least two contrasting schools - gaining a minimum of 24 weeks' practical experience. All university-led courses include a PGCE and lead to QTS. These courses can offer further opportunity for studying and reflecting on your progress as well as spending valuable time with other trainee teachers. You also have the possibility to move from a placement if it's really not suited to you

School-led training sees you based at a school from day one, observing and learning from experienced teachers with one day a week spent at a college or university. You will also spend time in a second school to make sure you gain the broad experience required to become a qualified teacher. Most school-led courses also include a PGCE and all lead to QTS.

You'll have to pay tuition fees on both routes into teaching, unless you're on a salaried school-led route, such as School Direct (salaried), although tax-free financial support is available for some subjects.

What are the entry requirements?

  • A minimum of a 2:2 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.
  • A-levels in the subject and/or related subjects are desirable.
  • GCSE grade C or above in English and maths (a B in Wales).
  • GCSE grade C or above in science to teach pupils aged 3-11.
  • 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:

  • at least two weeks 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).

Some courses are very competitive, get plenty of work experience and apply early. If you aren't sure if you meet the criteria, or if your degree is from 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 2016 for UK and European Union (EU) students is £9,000 and approximately between £11,000 and £16,000 for international students. Universities may offer special reductions for alumni, and you should check with individual providers.

You will also need to consider living costs. You're likely to have additional costs for travelling to school placements, broadly estimated to be around £600 during the course but this will vary.

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.

Professional and Career Development Loans are available to pay tuition fees for unsalaried teacher training routes. You may also be eligible for a non-repayable bursary of up to £30,000. 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, but this doesn't mean you will automatically be employed when you graduate. If your School Direct/school placements go well and the school has a vacancy when you graduate then you will be in a strong position to apply.

Traditionally graduates quickly find their first teaching job and many are offered a job at the school where they did a placement. School pupil numbers are rising which increases demand for more teachers and shortage subject teachers are still in demand.

Is a PGCE the right teacher training course for me?

Various teacher training routes offer a PGCE including universities, some School Directs and Teach First. A university-based PGCE can provide a more diverse range of placements as they have a larger pool of partnership schools.

There is an expectation of a job at the end of a School Direct PGCE but this isn't guaranteed. Equally a very high percentage of university-based PGCE students go on to a job as an NQT in a school, often as a result of their teaching placements while training.

Lots of overseas teaching opportunities require a PGCE qualification as it's well recognised and highly sought after. One or two years teaching experience is often asked for as well.

Research your options, considering your experience, funding and practical issues such as accommodation. After your research is completed, choose what is right for you, not just what other people recommend.

How do I find a PGCE?

You should attend open days and meet the tutors to make sure you get answers to all your questions. You should ask yourself:

  • How much does it cost?
  • Does it include a PGCE, for many overseas teaching roles you will need a university or college teaching qualification (BEd or PGCE)?
  • Are there grants/loans/bursaries available?
  • What is the 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 a 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 the UTT when it opens in late October.

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.

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.
  • Tutors - find out more about the course content and how your career goals match up.

The ultimate guide to postgraduate study

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Postgraduate Study Guide

The essential guide to funding, choosing and applying for your ideal postgraduate programme.