GUEST BLOG: Teacher training – the inside view

UoY Careers Balloon illy Guest blog written by York alumni

With UCAS applications now open for postgraduate teacher training, recent York alumni give an insight into their training experience.

1) Lucy Hodkin, Primary PGCE at Durham University

How did you go about writing your PGCE application?

I first completed the work experience section, listing all the relevant school based placements I’d undertaken and other child related work experience I’d had in the last 3-4 years. After listing this, it gave me a good starting point and some ideas of things to explore in more depth in the personal statement part of my application.

I had a look through two of my friends’ successful PGCE personal statements, which was very useful in helping me structure my own – I’d definitely recommend doing this if you have the opportunity! In my own statement, I wrote about why I personally wanted to get into teaching, what teaching means to me, described the skills I’d picked up in my work experience that would enable me to be an effective practitioner and tried to show that I’d be able to cope with anything that teaching could throw at me! There’s not much space to write more than about 4-5 paragraphs in the application, so I went for a depth over breadth approach and attempted to fully explain a few points rather than try and cover everything. This approach seemed to work as I quickly received two interviews on consecutive days!

What did you have to do for your interviews, and how did you prepare?

My first interview was with Durham University and involved a comprehension essay test, maths and English exams, a presentation and a 30 minute interview. For the presentation, we were given a week to prepare a 5 minute presentation on an individual who had been an inspiring teacher and demonstrate how this had encouraged us to go into the profession. I talked about a karate teacher whose class I used to help out with, and related her methods of teaching martial arts to how these would be effective in the classroom – which was very different from what everybody else at my interview talked about and definitely made me stand out amongst the other candidates. Thinking outside of the box is definitely going to get you noticed at interview! I practised my presentation aloud and in front of a mirror a lot, and by the day of my interview, a few cue cards were all I needed.

My second interview, with York St John, had the addition of giving an 8 minute lesson teaching a new skill to a small group of other candidates. For this, I didn’t do too much preparation as I didn’t want the lesson to come across as too rehearsed, but I ensured I planned a structure for the lesson, having an opening, main activity and a plenary summarising what had been achieved.

I also did a few practice interviews with my sister, which helped boost my confidence. Careers are very helpful in helping you practise these skills if you don’t have a willing sibling handy! I was given some very helpful support material from Careers in their workshops, and I used their extensive list of PGCE interview questions to write model answers in advance.

2) Sam Holroyd, Primary PGCE at University of Cambridge

I decided to apply to York St. John’s, Institute of Education and the University of Cambridge. I made these choices after researching the types of Primary PGCE courses that many universities were offering. Location was an important factor for me and I mainly wanted to stay in York or move to Cambridge. I was lucky enough to have friends through YSIS that were on both PGCE courses and who I could gain advice and information from. Ultimately, I based my decision on course qualities and chose Cambridge, following the feel and information I got from attending both interviews.

Take time to research your choices before you apply and ask any questions you have. Think about your personal priorities as your choice shapes the teacher you become!

How did you revise for the Maths and English skills tests?

To revise for the Maths and English skills tests I mainly used practice examples on the Department for Education’s website. These were very helpful as they let me experience the timings and layout you get in the real tests and get used to the exact types of questions that I ended up being faced with. Use BBC Bitesize for GCSE subject knowledge – always a useful resource! I found the mental maths part hardest as I struggled to complete the questions fast enough at first. To overcome this, I kept timing myself at practising questions that were similar to the test examples, as quickly as I could. What worked for me may not work for you but try to use various revision methods. Do not be daunted by the thought of these tests – they are easily defeated! There are also books out there that are specifically aimed at helping you revise for these tests. Just practice, practice, practice to improve upon weaker areas and build your confidence, then go into the test with your mind set on passing!

Now, this seems like the smallest hurdle on my journey to becoming a trainee teacher. Good luck!

3) Emma Rickard, PGCE English at the University of Oxford 

October is a landmark occasion: I go into the school that I will be training in until Easter! Initial Teacher Education is full of these little moments that you want to celebrate.

Why did you chose your PGCE course?

I’ve chosen to do my PGCE English course at the University of Oxford as they run their course following an internship scheme model that allows interns (student teachers) to spend a large amount of time in their first placement school rather than skimming the surfaces of two separate schools for the same period. I’m really looking forward to being a valued member of teaching staff whilst training and studying at a world-renowned institution with the leading researchers and practitioners in the education field.

What advice would you give to students considering teaching?

Three weeks in and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself despite the mounting workload. As a word of advice to students considering teaching, make sure you do your research on what method of teacher training will suit you best. PGCE courses like mine have the scope to offer you a Masters programme once qualified but there are other routes available too. Regardless of your chosen route, ensure that you have completed as much school experience as possible (I can’t recommend YSIS highly enough) as this will form the basis of your personal statement and interviews. Best of luck with your applications this year, you won’t regret it!

4) Sara Dimmock, School Direct Primary PGCE (run by Ebor Teaching School Alliance and York St John University) 

Five weeks into ITT and my undergraduate time at York feels like a very distant memory! After much thought, I opted to do School Direct with a PGCE as my route into primary teaching, a course which is accredited by the Ebor Teaching Schools Alliance and York St John University.

Why did you choose School Direct?

School Direct is a very recent initiative which at the time of my application, was accompanied by very little information as to what it actually entailed! The information which was available labelled School Direct as a much more practical, school-based training route as opposed to a standard PGCE. As I had already gained a lot of teaching experience mainly through YSIS and other student volunteering, I felt school-based training was much better suited to me. I knew I already felt comfortable in the classroom and the idea of going straight into school on the 1st of September seemed for me personally the best way to train to teach. School Direct also appeared much more intimate; I liked the idea of being one of fourteen as opposed to one of a hundred on a straight PGCE. I specifically opted to apply to the Ebor Alliance and York St John as it meant I would still get the PGCE qualification alongside my school-based training.

Can you describe your School Direct training so far?

Now almost a term into my training, I’m relieved to say there is much more clarity in the School Direct route and I think it’s definitely the most beneficial way into teaching for me.

The Ebor Alliance split the year into three phases (coinciding with the three school terms): Introductory, Developmental and Consolidation. The first and the latter are spent in the same school. In my Introductory Phase so far, my time has been split between my school, training in other alliance schools and time in lectures/workshops at university. I’ve also managed to squeeze in a three-day residential with our Year 5 children!

A huge benefit of the School Direct structure is that for this phase, I have six weeks getting to know my class before I begin being assessed teaching them. In this period so far I have had opportunities to do small group work, team teaching, observations, school assemblies and whole-class teaching – I’ve even started my own lunchtime club. 

Do you have any advice for current students applying for ITT?

My greatest piece of advice for current students is to make sure you spend time researching the different routes into teaching. Yes, it does seem like a bit of a minefield and the information available isn’t always clear or as helpful as it could be, but it is so important to opt for the route which you are going to get the most out of. You only have one year to train, and every minute needs to benefit your development as a trainee teacher.  On a similar note, you will hear of positive and negative experiences for each route and provider and whilst it is useful to get and “insider’s view”, don’t let these dictate your decision.

In terms of applications and interview, firstly, be confident in your knowledge and experience, really sell yourself and for everything you write question “why is this important and what did I learn from it?” Secondly, use Careers. I cannot stress how useful the Careers team were in my application process, from helping me to perfect a personal statement which was twice the character limit, to providing interview guidance and practice. The application and interview process is scary and stressful, but it’s important to remind yourself that you are interviewing to be a trainee teacher. Providers are looking for potential and passion not a ready-made outstanding teacher!

5) Leanne Scarborough, Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) at Archbishop Holgate’s School, York. PGCE Mathematics at University of York 

I really enjoyed all aspects of my PGCE, including the lectures and university side/M-Level study, as well as (obviously!) the school placements. I feel that it prepared me really well for my first job, as it allowed me to teach a range of ages, abilities and topics; keep up to date with education, especially the new curriculum updates and develop an understanding of the importance of being a reflective practitioner. The PGCE was hugely enjoyable but equally challenging, especially the workload and the distance between my house and my main placement school (aka 5 months of 5am starts!). The light bulb moments and “thank you Miss” comments from the pupils definitely make it worth it though.

My advice to future PGCE students would be to keep organised – it can be very difficult to do this due to the overwhelming amount of paperwork, but it does make everything so much easier and you are able to feel more in control! And make the most of the invaluable peer support.

See the Careers website for further information on Considering teaching as a career and routes into teaching (click on the virtual presentations link and log in).