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First encounters

Fran Hill panics at the prospect of a group interview

An invitation to a PGCE secondary English interview arrives in the post with a list of things to take, some of which I don't yet possess - such as a GCSE maths certificate and proof of my English degree. I'm studying for both. I got a "U" for maths 23 years ago because I drew elaborate cartoons on the papers instead of answering questions. I was disappointed with the mark; they were first-class pictures. I'm not planning to repeat this strategy.

Hopefully, if I take my English O-level certificate, polish my shoes and visit the hygienist to get the brown bits off my front teeth, that will make up for everything.

There's no other information on the letter so I ring up to see how long I'm likely to be there. An hour? Two hours? Three days in a jungle with nothing but a bag of rice and a copy of the national curriculum? A tired voice tells me I'll be there for the afternoon and it will be a group interview. She can't tell me more.

I've heard rumours about these group interviews and I'm nervous. Someone at university says they get you talking about an educational issue and then watch to see who leads the discussion, who has original ideas, who dominates the conversation, and, presumably, who goes white and faints when asked to give an opinion.

I visit the TES website to see if there is any consolation in the teachers'

chatroom. There is, but it's mainly in the form of entertainment derived from reading volleys of vitriol about someone called Merl and nothing to do with PGCE interviews. At last I find some advice. What is this, though? Essays? Lesson plans? Surely not without warning. A careers officer at university says I should ring up and ask to speak to the tutor who is conducting the interview. But will this prejudice my case? Will they put a black mark against my name for being forceful?

I decide to take my chances. If I turn up on the day and find that I'm asked to plan a five-year scheme of work and write 3,000 words on faith schools, I can always draw cartoons, then reassess my career plans.

Fran Hill is a mature student studying for her English degree at St Mary's College, Strawberry Hill, Middlesex

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