PGCE Courses: Why Did I Choose a University Based Course? 

Teaching is a vocational subject. It, like being a doctor, nurse, lawyer, is a subject the study of which relates directly to a profession. Like those professions, practice and experience form key cornerstones to one’s ability to do the job (one would never want to be operated on by a surgeon who has never seen the procedure before!). However, whilst teacher training methods exist whereby one can solely, or almost solely, learn the profession in school, I believe that there is a lot to be said for the more traditional PGCE course.

Now, I am a new trainee only a few weeks into the course so naturally anything I say should be taken with that in mind. But, that I have already in that time built up enough of an idea to feel affirmed in my decision is, I think, telling. What has drawn me to this conclusion, and why would I recommend it to almost anyone looking to train?

First is that, taking the analogy from above, one would equally not want to be operated on by a surgeon who doesn’t have a deep and comprehensive understanding of the physiology of the area that they are operating on. This background knowledge means that they know which area they should absolutely avoid doing any damage to, how different organs and blood vessels interconnect, and have a relational understanding of the operation they are doing, not just knowing a list of procedures. Now, this does take a slightly harsh view of school centred models- in learning on the job one would naturally acquire an understanding of how children think and operate. But an academic understanding of the background psychology, an understanding of the cellular level of the kidney transplant is surely if not invaluable, hugely useful.

Second is that being at university is, in its essence, fun! Having only been here for a few weeks I have already made huge numbers of friends from all walks of life and studying all sorts of different subjects at different levels- not just teaching based. Is it unfair to say that some of this may be lost in learning through a school centred model? What is certainly true is that for people with a family or other commitments it can be more of a pain than it is a help- having to commute into a city in the morning instead of the leafy commute to school can sap hours of life away.

Thirdly, and I think most importantly, all PGCE courses I know of feature at least 2 long placements in 2 distinct schools. Through this one has exposure to a huge breadth of pedagogical methods, and more importantly children. Differing behaviour, attainment and social contexts create very different teaching environments, and exposure to this is surely hugely useful. 

So do I think school centred training schemes are far inferior to PGCE courses? Of course not. They pose their own advantages- one can get to know a school and its pupils and staff far better, can learn “on the job” far more readily, can focus on the teaching without the faff of moving between faculty and school. It is a personal choice, and one which requires thought. Either way, it’ll be hugely rewarding and fulfilling. Or at least I hope so- like I said, I’m only a few weeks in- expect another blog post in a couple of months where I eat my hat.

Simon Bevan