GUEST BLOG: PGCE students tell it how it is

UoY Careers Rocket illy  With applications for PGCE now open, we asked some York graduates (who are currently undergoing teacher training) key questions about applying for courses.

What skills and experiences did you develop whilst at university to prepare you for your PGCE application?

Amanda Walls, Primary PGCE at Northampton University

At university one of the key skills I developed was confidence in public speaking – through doing presentations in seminars and speaking at YSIS events I had the opportunity to practise public speaking and get more used to it. Through YSIS I also really developed my reflection skills when filling out my log book and writing evaluations – I don’t think it would be possible to complete teacher training without reflection. Every lesson needs to be reflected on so you know how to approach your future lessons.

For experiences, one of the crucial things I gained through my time at university was being able to work in lots of different schools through YSIS. I was able to volunteer in primary schools, secondary schools, faith schools and academies. Through YSIS Plus I also gained an insight into the educational theory behind teaching practice, which was a massive help in my interview.

How did you write your personal statement and include all of your experiences?

Amanda Walls, Primary PGCE at Northampton University

Writing my personal statement was awful – trying to get the balance between bigging yourself up, but not sounding arrogant is very tricky! To start with I wrote down everything I had done that related to teaching and then highlighted things that were a little bit different and that would make me stand out from the crowd, so that I could focus on these in the personal statement section.

I mainly used the work experience section to list what I had done that related to teaching and then used the personal statement to reflect on why these were important. I had several Careers appointments to go over my personal statement and the advice given in these sessions was fantastic. My top tip for writing your personal statement is every time you write something think ‘why is this important?’ If you haven’t explained why it is important then you need to reflect on it or take it out.

Why did you choose School Direct?

Lisa Scott, Schools Direct English with LearnED, the Academy at Shotton Hall, Durham

After looking at course outlines for PGCE courses, I couldn’t really find one that suited me. After three years in university I didn’t want another year. Of course, PGCE is different because you are on placement, but with Schools Direct you are in schools almost straight away. As my provider is a specialist teacher training school (SCITT), from day one I was training in a school environment, surrounded by the pupils I would soon be teaching. For me, the selling point was really the way the course is run, instead of having two or three days in university and then two or three days in school in the average week, my Schools Direct course has training weeks and then placement weeks.  

What did you face at interview? How did you prepare for this?

Joanne Day, PGCE Secondary English at the University of York

The interview for my PGCE course was divided into several parts.  Once I had been invited for interview, I was given a document telling me what to expect on the day, which really helped me to prepare.  The tasks I had to complete in my interview included a group activity with other interviewees, a literacy test, marking work, delivering a starter activity and an individual interview.  I actually enjoyed the interview!  The tasks were really engaging and interesting, and it was really helpful knowing beforehand the kinds of things I was going to be asked to do.

Because my interview was close to Christmas, I decided to devise a starter looking at language in Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’.  I decided to use this text because it linked with the festive period, which I thought would work nicely for a real class, and because it is a text I am comfortable and familiar with from my Literature A-Level.  This really helped me when it came to preparing the activity.

What would your advice be to students preparing to apply for teacher training?

Leanne Scarborough, Secondary PGCE Maths at the University of York

I think that one of the best ways to prepare for ITT applications is to make use of the fantastic Careers services available – I attended talks run by the PGCE team at York (through YSIS Plus) who helped to clarify the things that they look out for in applications and how to add in extra information to make your application “sparkle”. The Careers team at York have lots of years of experience looking through ITT applications, so get them to look through your application (especially the personal statement as this is a vitally important part of the application, much more important than it was at UG level for most courses). You should also get family, friends, contacts in the education sector, etc to look through it until you are happy that it fully reflects you as an individual and puts across your passion, skills and dedication to teaching.

The PGCE interview prep talk run by Careers was invaluable to me and is something not to be missed. It is worth noting that the PGCE team at York suggested that the majority of people who get through to the interview get onto the course, so the initial application and personal statement is really important!

What do you wish you’d known before starting your training?

Alice Melly, General Primary PGCE (KS2 specialism), University of Cambridge

This is quite a hard question to answer, as most of what I wish I’d known before is very course specific!  The school placement aspect of the course is fantastic; we have to spend 120 days in schools during our PGCE year, and the rest of our time is spent at the Faculty of Education.  I suppose I wish I’d known just what the ‘theory’ and ‘academic’ side of the course entailed – Cambridge’s course is a must pass on the academic side, as well as the teaching, other courses don’t put such a heavy weighting on the academia.

Basically, we have to write two 6,000 word essays, one is a curriculum assignment talking about the way in which we assess children.  The other is more fun (apparently), and is a research project in school.  It’s definitely worth asking about the academic side of your course at interview – I wish I had!  It’s pretty tough going, especially if you love going into school as much as I do.  On the plus side, if you’ve done a YSIS placement there really isn’t much that will shock you when you go to school!  Definitely do a PGCE, but trust people when they say “Prepare yourself.  It’s a tough year.”

Read all about Alice’s experiences during her PGCE on her blog:

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