Teaching is said to be one of the most rewarding career paths you can take, but starting a career in teaching is often one of the most confusing processes you’ll face. This guide to Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) courses will help you to better understand the PGCE application process, the funding options and provide you with details you may have previously been unaware of.

Postgraduate Certificate of Education courses are available at a number of universities and colleges throughout the UK. It’s now also possible to study for a PGCE online or by distance learning. For more information on this, see our dedicated guide to studying an online PGCE. Another way to gain a PGCE is by completing a programme of school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT). The Postgraduate Certificate of Education generally takes one year to complete full-time, or two years part-time.

Studying a PGCE

PGCE Subjects and Age Groups

There are a variety of PGCE subjects and age ranges to choose from. Generally, candidates choose between studying a primary PGCE course or a secondary PGCE course. If choosing the latter, a subject specialism is often required. Some subjects are more popular than others, such as Art, Psychology and Drama, whilst others are in demand due to their lesser popularity such as Physics, Maths and Chemistry.

Searching for the right PGCE is a daunting task. There are hundreds to choose from, but picking a PGCE course that is right for you is tricky. You have to think about where you would like to study, the competition at a particular institution and even whether or not it is somewhere you would like to work afterwards. Whilst work is never guaranteed after completing a PGCE, many students find themselves working close to where they graduated so it’s important to make the right choice. University open days are a great way of short listing your favourite institutions.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees for PGCE courses depend on your status. The cost of a PGCE for a UK student can be up to £9,000. Whilst you can self-fund, for many this isn’t easy. PGCE course costs vary depending on the institution and the course you choose, but most UK and EU students are eligible for a tuition fee loan. The loans are provided through Student Finance England and you can calculate an estimate of your loan repayments by visiting the Directgov website and selecting ‘Teacher’ from the list of careers.

There are also bursaries for PGCE students studying in England and Wales. In 2011, the bursary scheme was altered in order to attract only the best possible graduates. Students are now required to hold a 2:2 or better degree to qualify for a PGCE bursary. The 2012/13 PGCE bursary scheme recognised exceptional academic and extracurricular achievement and, based on your Initial Teacher Training (ITT) specialism, bursaries of up to £20,000 are available.

Read more: Funding for a Master's Degree

Entry Requirements

When you come to apply for a PGCE, the one thing that can help you the most is preparation. Whilst application deadlines might be a while away, use any spare time you have to prepare your personal statement, practice interview questions and gain valuable work experience. Once you’ve chosen which course you want to take, you normally apply through the Graduate Teacher Training Registry (GTTR). If you are applying for a primary PGCE, you can apply to two different providers in order of preference, whilst those who wish to pursue a secondary PGCE can apply to up to four different providers.

The GTTR normally accepts applications for PGCE courses from mid-september through to June. Some subjects and age groups are more popular than others though and should be applied for well in advance of the deadline.

Your personal statement for a PGCE course is a vital part of your application, so make sure you take your time completing it, it’s definitely not something to be left until the last minute. Make sure you read the guidelines and answer the question fully. Don’t try to use fancy language to skirt around anything you don’t want to answer, instead be honest and make every last word count; you have a limited amount of space, so use it wisely. Just like an essay, a personal statement needs a structure. Make sure yours has a beginning, middle and end. Grab the reader’s attention in the first few lines, and make sure you keep their attention by using good, grammatically correct English. Finally, check, check and check again for any spelling or grammatical mistakes, then get your friends, family and tutors to do the same.

As far as content goes, it’s often a good idea to look at examples of other PGCE statements to get an idea of how you might write yours, but be sure not copy them, admissions tutors are cleverer than you think. Your personal statement should explain why you want to teach, what skills you have that will make you a successful teacher and why you have chosen a particular PGCE subject or age group. Make sure you sell your teaching experiences, explaining fully all the work experience you have accrued and how you plan to build on them in the future. Often, even the best statements get put to one side, replaced by those who offer extra-curricular options. Whilst the classroom experience is the priority, extra-curricular activities that you are passionate about are becoming increasingly important. Note down any foreign-language skills you have, if you’ve coached or play a particular sport, any dramatic or musical skills you may hold, all of these things help your personal statement stand out amongst the rest.

PGCE Interviews

PGCE interviews are what get most applicants nerves going. If you’ve got this far though, the last thing you want to do is be underprepared. Read around the subject area and the wider educational sector to make sure you’re up to speed with all things teaching and have an opinion on these matters too. Be honest with yourself, and the interviewers, nobody expects you to know everything. Go dressed for the occasion; look smart, but don’t overdress. Take a bag with all your teacher stuff; pens, notepads, a diary, bottle of water, etc. Just like your personal statement, the purpose of the PGCE interview is to find the most passionate and talented potential teachers, so make sure everything you do shows this. Don’t talk about your passion for football without relating it to how you will use this to enhance the education of the children you’ll be teaching. If it’s music that gets you going, explain how you plan to bring this love to the classroom to create a better learning environment.

Read our guide to the top ten postgraduate interview questions

Career Prospects

Whilst employment is not guaranteed on completion of a PGCE, education related degrees were rated the fourth most employable degree in 2016 according to the destination of leavers from higher education survey. This meant that 94% of education graduates were in further education or a full time job within 6 months of graduating, with those entering the world of work starting on an average salary of £20,000! You can find out more about the most employable degrees with our article: Top 10 Most Employable Degrees