‘Traditional’ or ‘University-led’ PGCE

By Katharine Burn

‘Traditional’ PGCE routes into teaching

What is a PGCE?  

‘PGCE’ or ‘Post-Graduate Certificate of Education’ is simply the title of the award that is made to postgraduate students who successfully complete a university-accredited programme of initial teacher education. It isn’t actually a very good label for the traditional route into teaching since all the routes into teaching may actually offer a PGCE if a university is involved in the programme and accredits a number of the assignments at Master’s level.

What are the distinguishing features of a ‘traditional’ or ‘university-led’ PGCE programme?

The distinguishing feature of the traditional PGCE route is simply that the training place has been allocated to a university working in partnership with local schools (rather than that it has been allocated directly to a school).  Although the DFE refers to such core placements as ‘university-led’, the fact is that all teacher training programmes require trainee teachers to spend a minimum of two-thirds of their time in schools. Even on the most traditional kind of course – a 36-week programme that begins with some time in a university – trainee teachers will spend at least 24 weeks in school.  Obviously no university can ‘lead’ such a programme without very close collaboration and joint planning with the schools in their partnership! Because ‘university-led’ routes tend to have been running for many years, they often have the most securely established partnership arrangements and strong communities of subject mentors across their local schools.

How much school experience is there on traditional PGCE course and how is it structured?

Beyond the core requirement (established back in 1992) that at least 24 weeks should be allocated to school-based professional learning, the precise format of PGCE courses can vary quite significantly. Some courses begin with a period of time in the university – providing a basic framework for your subsequent learning. Others offer a ‘serial’ placement from the start (part-time in school/ part-time in the university) ensuring that you can connect your classroom experiences to more systematic consideration of what learning and teaching history involves and of how that learning can be most effectively structured and assessed, given what we know about young people’s development and about the nature of the subject.

While all training routes require you to gain experience in two different school contexts, some partnerships have two equal length placements; others opt for one longer and one shorter placement, allowing you time to develop your practice to a high level in one context before offering the opportunity to test and refine that practice in a different context. Some insert a very short, contrasting experience in the middle of your main school experience, allowing you to reflect on the differences and perhaps bring back new ideas with which to experiment.

Because PGCE trainees are not paid members of staff that have to take full responsibility for classes from the very beginning, your school experience is structured to give you a gradual introduction to teaching, allowing you to build up the number and range of classes that you teach as your confidence and expertise develops. 

As well as finding out how different courses sequence the two school placements in relation to the university-based elements, you may also find it helpful to look at how time is divided (particularly in the university) between a history-specific focus and more general ‘professional studies’( examining those aspects of professional  work that are common to all teachers). Since one of the key benefits of applying to ‘university-led’ partnerships is that they can bring together subject groups of trainees who have placements in different partner schools, you may also want to find out how many history trainees there would be altogether on the programme. 

What qualifications do I need to apply for a PGCE?

Different university/school partnerships may have different requirements, but because history is highly competitive, most will expect you to have at least a second class degree (and often a 2.1) in history or a related subject with a strong history component. If your degree is not in history, you will need to show in your application how you have studied it within your undergraduate programme, along with any other ways in which you have engaged with the subject.   (You also need to have achieved a GCSE grade C – or overseas equivalent – in maths and English.)

Many applicants have prior experience working in schools as a teaching assistant or cover supervisor, but this is not a formal requirement. However, all providers will look for experience related to your interest in working with young people and many stipulate that you should gave spent some time observing history lessons in a state-maintained school.

How does the application process work?

Applications are submitted through UCAS:  https://www.ucas.com/ucas/teacher-training.
You will need to check exactly when applications open in the autumn for courses beginning the following September. Because history is highly competitive, you should apply as early as possible. 
No one can be offered a place without an interview, which is likely to involve some kind of teaching or planning task and may well be conducted by a school-based mentor as well as a university tutor. 

If you are offered an interview by more than one provider you can delay making any decisions about which place to accept until 10 days after you have received a decision from the last of those providers.

What kind of assignments would I have to write as part of the PGCE qualification?

The precise nature and number of assignments varies between different courses, but they will always be closely related to the practical work of teaching – encouraging you to link your reading of research and professional literature to your classroom experiences. In most cases the PGCE will carry an award of 60 Master’s level credits – equivalent to one third of a full Master’s degree. Many teachers later opt to complete a full Master’s qualification with further part-time study and school-based action research.

What are the fees for on a university-led PGCE route and what financial support is available?

A postgraduate teacher training year is effectively treated like another year of an undergraduate degree – with trainees paying ‘student’ fees and eligible for student loans. Different courses will have slightly different fees, but there are currently bursaries available for history trainees with a 1st class or 2.1 degree. For full details of these bursaries see the funding pages of the DFE ‘Get Into Teaching’ website: https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk/bursaries-and-funding

How can I find out what courses are available?

A full list of training programmes is provided by UCAS at:

You can search this list using different criteria, but once you have identified possible options in the right location you are strongly advised to find out more about the details of each course using the universities’ individual websites.  Because history places tend to fill very quickly you are advised to do as much research as you can before the UCAS applications process opens for the following year.

What do previous PGCE trainees have to say about their experience on the course?

‘Carrying out my PGCE through university-led teacher training has been a fantastic experience. I have been offered extensive, varied teaching and learning opportunities as well as working alongside researchers and practitioners in a supportive and collaborative environment. Most importantly for me, the support and camaraderie of being part of a community of fellow trainees has enabled me to learn from my peers and to form a wide network of future history teachers. I hope we will continue to support each other throughout our careers in education. Teacher training through a university-led route has enabled me to spend extensive time in the classroom of very different schools, but I have also had access to fantastic Master’s level teaching which has opened my eyes to the complexities and challenges of history as a subject. It has given me the tools to face the challenge of making my history lessons accessible and thought-provoking, as well as academic yet engaging. Thanks to the hard work and support of both the university and school staff, I have worked alongside, I feel ready to take on the challenge of my NQT year in September.’

Charlotte 2015

Our course was made up both of school placements and university input – the latter predominately subject-specific, alongside a general Professional Development Programme. Obviously I’ve only experienced this particular kind of programme, but in my opinion, the greatest benefit of university PGCE has been the subject-specific input and collaboration. What makes this work is the integration of a theoretical approach to history and history teaching with down-to-earth realistic classroom teaching. This can happen to a large extent because of the nature of a university: a community where individuals have the time and expertise to dedicate themselves to research – a resource which PGCE students are unbelievably lucky to be able tap into and experiment with in the classroom. I came into teaching to teach history, and I value the way that the structure of a university PGCE holds subjects in high esteem as distinct disciplines. Of course we develop and hone our practice as teachers by actually teaching in schools, but arguably this is strengthened by training not just in how to teach and how to reflect on your practice, but in specific consideration of the structure of the subject and the ways in which students make progress within it. Just as important has been the close personal connection with university tutors. I have felt very well supported in schools knowing that there is a university department behind me, to set the boundaries of my placement and act as an additional form of support and guidance to my school mentors.

Kirsty 2015

Previous page     Next page