'Why PGCEs still matter for FE lecturers'

11th August 2016 at 18:03
Studying for a PGCE is about learning to 'understand' education, writes an English and psychology lecturer

I suppose it is forgivable to ask the question: "Who does a PGCE these days?" For a Teach Firster, a PGCE may seem like an unnecessary qualification. For me, working as a qualified librarian in schools for 14 years was pretty close to teaching already – without, perhaps, that little bit of evidence-based training.

I have questioned my decision to study for a PGCE in post-compulsory education many times. Did I take on unnecessary work? What about those university fees? Did I burden myself with a student loan, only to end up at the bottom of an increasingly wonky career ladder?

It has to be said that going to university was my personal "go-to" plan when things stalled in my career. With changing times and shrinking budgets, my librarian post had become a mere administrative role that paid scant lip service to my education. Witnessing teaching and learning for such a long time, across key stages, subjects and in various types of schools – as well as seeing the latest trends in teaching – I had accumulated a fair understanding of what education looks like. What I was not so sure about, however, was why education looked like this and whether this was what it should look like.

'Something to aim for'

Studying in higher education is very much about asking questions, drawing on experience, researching and taking the time to read and reflect on the philosophy and principles at the very heart of our profession. I will admit that I knew nothing about the great educationalists before my PGCE. Now some of them have become my allies in explaining the pressure cooker I find myself in, and my advisories in making things better for my students and myself. Their ideas give me the resilience to get through a challenging teaching day, in the knowledge that I am not alone; that education is bigger and, in its idealistic nature, better than what happens in my classroom.

Teaching, if you’re in it for life, is not just about "doing it". It is very much about understanding the philosophies and ethics behind it – the evolution of education, its political nature, and the bigger international picture in which we operate. Yes, I probably could have walked into a classroom and done a decent job at getting students (and myself) through a meaningful learning experience without writing essays on curriculum design. But in addition to gaining practical experience during my placement, my PGCE has given me direction, and something to aim for – even if this ideal seems pretty elusive in the majority of my lessons. It is not so much about what I do, it is what I am aiming to do that matters – certainly in the long haul. As I start my NQT year with a scarily packed timetable, I count on that philosophy to see me through. Wish me luck.

Annike Dase is a lecturer in English and psychology at East Kent College in Dover

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