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More research needed

The aggrieved research scientist who was denied a PGCE place to train as a secondary teacher (TES, May 3) should not be too downcast, so long as he's prepared to learn from the experience.

I hope the writer is looking elsewhere for a place where staff are more sensitive to applicants, where there's a smaller cohort of students and a caring ethos. He could start by calling or writing to me.

We welcome prospective students contacting the admissions tutor before interview and we give advice. If candidates have promising qualities but only limited recent experience of secondary schools in this country, I am likely to suggest they at least do some observation. This is particularly important if we suspect that, by virtue of only having taught at university level (which is how the Talkback writer describes his experience), the candidate might lack sensitivity to the needs of average or lower ability students.

Applicants who come to us only having done, say, one-to-one private tuition are similarly nudged to at least observe whole class management. Being a parent and bringing up children is helpful, but it is not sufficient experience.

For scientists, another issue is the preparedness to teach all three of the sciences at least up to GCSE. That is what our partnership schools want from science teachers and from students in training.

I was slightly surprised that the Talkback writer seemed only to have been interviewed by "a tutor", since in my experience the practice is to include a schoolteacher from a partnership school in interviews. The schools are the final arbiters in our decisions.

A more general concern about mature students is their awareness of the responsibilities that teachers have outside their subject: pastoral care for pupils, the form tutor role and the ability and willingness to contribute to extra-curricular activities. Some need reminding that it is children they will be teaching and that managing learning is very important.

Occasionally, mature students seem unaware of quite how stressful teaching is, and even of how demanding the training course can be. Their over-confidence can be interpreted as a lack of the openness to learning which we consider essential to the training process. Sometimes they are ignorant of the need for teamwork.

I would encourage the Talkback writer not to give up but to look further afield - after all, many teachers spend significant time travelling to and from school. He should discuss the likely interview format with admissions tutors and prepare by visiting a school - having a go, or at least observing, some subject teaching. Other tips include finding out about the national curriculum and current issues in science education and looking at the other roles of teachers in the school community. All this, with the qualifications and personality apparently possessed by the writer, would make a candidate almost irresistible.

Robert Vertes is PGCE (Secondary) admissions tutor at St Mary's University College, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham.

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