“ Postgraduate certificate in Education offered at the University of Chester „
After trying a couple of different careers when I left University I finally decided it was time to do something with my life and get a career that I was going to stick to for at least more than six months! I'd always enjoyed working with children and I used to spend hours when I was younger pretending to teach my toys so teaching seemed like an appropriate option. I should have done it when I first left University but the thought of spending another year training and not earning put me right off! I've now finished my training and have been "officially" teaching my own class for just over a month now... I think I'll probably end up sticking this career out a bit longer! I decided on studying at Chester due to its good reputation for teaching training and also the fact that it was relatively local to where I live and wouldn't involve me having to relocate at all. It was probably the busiest and the most stressful year of my life so far... but looking back I'd say every single minute of it was worth it!
What is a PGCE?
PGCE stands for Post Graduate Certificate in Education and is the main route into teaching for graduates. The alternative is to study a four year undergraduate education degree which will give you qualified teacher status once you finish and also the GTP which is a much smaller and less well known route, it stands for the Graduate Teacher Programme and actually involves you training to be a teacher while on the job almost, with very little support and hardly any University contact time! A PGCE takes a year officially but mine actually started towards the end of September and I finished at the very start of June so it's more like nine months, give or take. If you wish to become a primary school teacher you will gain your Post Graduate Certificate of Education in primary teaching whereas if you wish to become a secondary school teacher the certificate will be specific to your subject.
What does a PGCE involve?
Every University does differ slightly in terms of what training they offer although the majority do tend to stick to the same schemes. A PGCE will involve two school based training placements where students actually spend around seven weeks in each school, observing teachers and teaching lessons themselves. For primary trainees one of the placements will be in Key Stage 1 (infants) with the other placement being in Key Stage 2 (juniors). During the placements the trainee will be paired with a class and their teacher, they will be responsible for teaching between forty and eighty percent of the timetable. While in the school the trainee's lessons will also be observed on a weekly basis to ensure they are making progress and can gain qualified teacher status at the end of the year.
The remaining time will be spent in University style lectures which cover a variety of topics, from subject based lectures in the subjects primary school teachers actually teach to lectures on discipline, safeguarding children, etc. The majority of tutors at Chester University who taught on the Primary PGCE programme had been teachers in their previous careers which meant the advice that was given had been tried and tested by many of them. At Chester the lectures tended to be three hours long, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, which was pretty intense but there's an awful lot of learning to cram into the nine month period to equip you for getting a job. The University periods of the nine months were often much less stressful as there wasn't planning and marking to do!
How much does it cost?
The PGCE costs just above the £3,000 mark (I think mine cost £3,145 last September when I started) but obviously this is subject to variation every year. Unfortunately as you're effectively a student you don't get paid for your work in school (not good!) but the government do offer a number of different initiatives (which again are subject to change). Trainees on the Primary PGCE programme last year got £4,000 tax free which was paid in ten instalments in the year, starting in September and ending in June., which did not have to be repaid at any point. Students could also apply for a bursary to help them, depending on age, family background and savings you could also be given up to a further £3,000 tax free during the year which again did not have to be repaid. Unfortunately due to my age I only got around £1,500 extra but it certainly made the year a bit easier in terms of paying bills and income! There is plenty of financial support available for those that can't really afford it. This is probably where the GTP is a better option as that does pay you a wage, approximately £11,000 tax free during the year.
How do I apply?
All applications for PGCEs have to be made through the GTTR website (Graduate Teacher Training Registry) using an online application form. This site will also allow you to search for courses at national Universities, to see which ones have vacancies and to see the entry requirements for getting onto the course. The application form did take me a couple of evenings to fill out, it's split into sections and some are really straightforward (e.g. contact details) while others can take absolutely ages (e.g. writing a personal statement). Once an application has sent it can be tracked on this website, it'll alert you when your application has been sent off, if you've got an interview, etc.
It's also worth mention the somewhat "standard" requirements that most Universities seem to ask for. Firstly all teacher training courses will require you to have a GCSE in Maths, English and Science at a Grade C or above. They'll also all require you to have a degree, there isn't really any limit on what subject it can be in at the primary teaching level - obviously for secondary teaching you tend to need a degree in the subject you wish to teach. It's also really important that you gain school based experience before you apply for the course, primary school training is so competitive these days (Chester took only twenty eight students last year and received over two thousand applications) so I'd recommend you gain as much experience as you can. I did three weeks work experience in one school and worked as a classroom assistant in another school for two days a week for six months. If you play any sports, musical instruments, etc. these will all add value to your application and make you stand out.
What's the interview like?
Obviously every University will do their interviews slightly differently but at Chester is consisted of about five hours during one day. There was opportunities to look around and to find out more about the course but we also had to do a presentation on a topic that was given to us a week before, we had to have an individual interview with one of the course tutors which lasted about fifteen minutes and we were also given a written English and maths test too. There were also a couple of group activities which centred around a video that we watched as a whole interview group but that's all I can really remember. I found out after less than a week that I'd been successful!
What's the campus like?
Chester campus is situated only minutes from the city centre, making it a great place to study as you're so near to all the nightlife and shops! The campus itself is fairly small, probably the smallest University campus I've ever visited but the buildings are all quite modern and well equipped with all the facilities you'd expect. There's accommodation on the actual campus if you wanted to live there, or there's loads of houses surrounding the campus which are clearly student houses. There's a small Union, a shop and several cafes where you can eat quite cheaply. All the lectures tended to be located in a building known as Primary Base which was basically the teacher training building... and it was absolutely freezing in their in the winter! All the tutors were located in the building opposite this one (where the heating worked a bit better) and were available to chat to most days if you had a problem.
What were the best bits?
The best bit was definitely getting my job for September back in May and realising that the year had not been a total waste of time! It was such a high and now I've got my own class I absolutely love every day of it. The other best bit is the friends I've come away with, as it's such an intense year and no one else can quite understand what you're going through you have the chance to bond with complete strangers in a really short time period. Within about two months I found there were people on my course that I was speaking to practically every night! The course did have a good social side as well, despite there being a huge range of age ranges on the course (from fresh University graduates to people in their fifties), there were always social events taking place for us. In fact when I look back, although there were really stressful days and times I did resort to crying, the whole year was an amazing experience which has taught me so much and made me a far better teacher than I ever hoped to be!
What were the worst bits?
The worst bits of the entire year have to have been the stress... and the sleep deprivation too! There were days when I'd get into school for 7.30am, leave at around 5.30pm and then work at home until about 11.00pm at night! By the time Friday night came, especially during the school based training placements, I was virtually exhausted. The work load is massive and no one should apply for this course thinking it's going to be an easy ride... but it's worth it!
Would I recommend it?
100% yes! If you've ever thought about teaching then I'd urge you to do it, it's an absolutely brilliant and rewarding career where no two days are ever the same. Chester University was a great place to study, the campus is really nice (and small too), the tutors were really supportive and the whole year was a great experience. The only thing I would say is that some of the administrative staff didn't really seem that well organised, we didn't find out where our school placements were until Friday before we were due to start on the following Monday which wasn't ideal! Yes a PGCE may well prove to be the hardest year of your life... but the actual job will more than make up for it.
Thanks for reading!