Skip to main content

Teacher training

Did you know?

* More than half of all new teaching recruits are over 25; a third are over 30

* About 52 per cent of primary and about 85 per cent of secondary staff now enter teaching through the PGCE route. Only 43 training providers offer undergraduate courses, compared with 123 PGCE providers

* All would-be teachers in England and Wales - regardless of which training route they choose - must have a grade C or above in mathematics and English GCSE. Primary teachers also need a C pass in a science subject

* About 10 per cent of new teachers in England and Wales train "on the job". But they cannot later work in Scotland, where there is no employment-based training. All Scottish-trained teachers are qualified to work south of the border

More than 35,000 people have started to train as teachers this academic year, says the Teacher Training Agency - the most for more than a decade.

Why the turnaround? Increased choice, perhaps. Flexible courses, part-time courses, distance learning, employment-based training and fast track - there's something to suit every circumstance and aspiration. And there's the money. The range of financial inducements includes bursaries, golden hellos and loan repayments - qualify for all three and that's more than pound;20,000. But all this choice can be bewildering. How can you find the right route? What and where will your qualification enable you to teach? And which incentives will you be entitled to?

The undergraduate route

Students study for a degree - a BA, BSc or BEd - while working towards qualified teacher status. These used to be four-year courses, but many providers have switched to three years. With the four-year option, trainees spend 32 weeks in school; over three years it's 24 weeks. Part-time courses take five years. Introduced in the mid 1960s, the undergraduate option was traditionally the preferred training route for primary teachers. But last year, only 6,500 new primary teachers took this route, compared to the 8,000 who opted for a PGCE. The figures for secondary teachers are more stark: only one in 14 picked this path. The declining popularity of "teaching degrees" has been accelerated by the increase in financial incentives for PGCEs - mainly the tax-free training bursary of pound;6,000 introduced in March 2000 - while many training providers have dropped their undergraduate courses because they lose money on them. Only 43 providers now offer undergraduate courses, compared with 123 PGCE providers. "It's a pity," says Professor Ted Wragg of Exeter University. "For primary teachers having to master 10 subjects, a longer course can be a good option."

The postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE)

This is the standard route into teaching for graduates, and the preferred option of 52 per cent of primary and 85 per cent of secondary staff. It combines an academic element with placements in at least two schools - 18 weeks for primary, 24 weeks for secondary. Courses last one year full-time, or about two years part-time. Other variations include flexible or modular courses, and school-centred training. Technically, a PGCE is the academic qualification awarded by the training provider, while QTS (qualified teacher status) is the teaching qualification awarded by the General Teaching Council when you finish your training (and confirmed at the end of induction). Most students achieve both a PGCE and QTS, but you must have QTS if you want to teach in the maintained sector.

Flexible PGCEs

One PGCE provider in four now offers flexible programmes, with more than 2,000 places available next year. They are flexible in two ways: distance-learning packages mean you can fit study around work or family commitments; and courses are modular, allowing you to skip areas you have already studied.

If you have teaching experience overseas or in independent schools, you can attain QTS in a few months. There are mixed reports about the quality of flexible courses, and the concept is being evaluated by Ofsted. Individual learning plans for every student place a considerable burden on initial teacher training providers. A common requirement is that students have daily internet access.

Fast track

Fast-track students take an "enhanced" PGCE tailored towards leadership.

For the next five years they remain under the fast-track programme, receiving intensive professional development and getting an early taste of responsibility through specially created fast-track posts. The selection process is rigorous. The minimum requirement is a 2:1 degree, or 2:2 if accompanied by an MA, MSc or PhD. Candidates also need 22 Ucas points, although allowances are made for those with extensive work experience or other qualifications.

Those who impress at interview are invited to workshops for two days of role play and assessment. The Department for Education and Skills says there is no quota of places; anyone who meets the standard is admitted. But so far this year, only 240 out of 2,500 applicants have been successful.

Financially, fast track offers an attractive package, with a pound;5,000 supplement to the pound;6,000 training bursary, a retention bonus at the end of the first year, and the prospect of rapid promotion. Officials say pound;29,000 is a realistic salary after two years' teaching - and they throw in a free laptop. Sheila King of London University's Institute of Education claims the scheme has attracted candidates who wouldn't otherwise consider teaching. "It's not just the money, it's the prestige," she says.

"We've had career changers from well-paid jobs in the City. They still take a pay cut, but the kudos of being on fast track makes up for that."

Further education

Until two years ago, teachers in the FE sector, including sixth-form colleges, were barely regulated. But new regulations require full-time teachers to be qualified within two years of starting employment - four years for part-timers. The aim is that by 2010 all FE teachers will have QTS or QLS (qualified lecturer status), which will be a condition of employment. Currently, most FE teachers train while working. There are no minimum qualifications - you don't need a degree or a GCSE English and maths - and the courses are generic, rather than subject-based. "It's such a diverse sector," says Norman Lucas of the Institute of Education. "It wouldn't be possible to tailor courses to every subject."

The undergraduate credit scheme

Currently in its second pilot year, this scheme allows students doing standard degrees to spend time in schools. They get paid - as does the school - and they earn "points" that count towards a PGCE, should they decide to go down that route when they finish their degree. "It doesn't shorten the PGCE that much," says Sheila King. "But it gives undergraduates a clearer idea of whether or not teaching is for them. And that will mean a lower drop-out rate."

Employment-based training

The Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) and the Registered Teacher Programme (RTP) offer the chance to attain QTS while working in a school. The GTP (see case study) is aimed largely at those seeking a career change. You must be a graduate, aged 24 or over. Around one in 10 new secondary and one in 20 new primary teachers now come through this route. It usually lasts one year.

The non-graduate RTP lasts two years. You must be aged 24 or over and have completed two years of higher education, typically a higher national diploma. The idea is that you start work in school while finishing your degree. The RTP is much less popular than the GTP; only 150 people took this route last year.

The TTA's figures show that flexible and employment-based training have had a huge impact on the number of mature trainees. More than half of all new teaching recruits are over 25, and a third are over 30.

Juggling the jargon - how is employment-based training run?

By recommending bodies (RBs) or designated recommending bodies (DRBs).

These are usually consortia of schools working with higher education institutions, though some schools operate without a higher education partner. While RBs apply to the Graduate Teacher Training Registry (GTTR) for each graduate trainee they wish to employ, DRBs are allocated a number of places, then decide who gets them. For each allocated place, the DRB receives a pound;4,000 training grant. It may also receive a salary grant of pound;13,000 - to pay the trainee. But if DRBs are willing to foot the bill themselves, they can employ as many GTP staff as they like.

Is it any good?

Employment-based training is as good as the support you receive - and that varies wildly. There's no doubt that some schools exploit the GTP as a low-cost means of plugging recruitment gaps. Some GTP recruits are burdened with 90 per cent timetables, cover periods and full duties. Others teach 60 per cent timetables, aren't expected to cover, and have no extracurricular involvement. The message is clear: if you opt for employment-based training, choose your DRB carefully.

Getting paid while you train is a clear attraction, although the basic pound;13,000 salary, after tax, is only pound;1,800 more than the combination of a pound;6,000 bursary and the taxable pound;4,000 golden hello (for teachers in priority subjects. See below). But many schools top up their funding, and some GTP trainees report salaries of pound;19,000.

The growth of employment-based training in England runs against the trend in Europe, especially France and Austria, of moving towards greater higher education institute input in teacher education. "The job of teachers is to teach children, not to train teachers," argues Ted Wragg. "Employment-based training is conservative because it reinforces existing practice."

School-centred initial teacher training (Scitt)

Introduced 10 years ago into both sectors in England only, Scitt occupies the middle ground between traditional PGCEs and employment-based schemes.

It's run by accredited training groups - usually clusters of schools working with a higher education institution. You are based in schools for around 90 per cent of your training year, but Scitt differs from the GTP because you remain a student, not an employee of the school, and spend time in several schools. All those who successfully complete the training are awarded QTS. Not all training groups award a PGCE, though many do.

Money, money, money. . .

There are three basic incentives: training bursaries, loan repayments and golden hellos. In addition to having their tuition fees paid, PGCE students - primary and secondary, but not undergraduates - receive training bursaries of pound;6,000. It's tax-free, paid in monthly instalments, and does not have to be repaid. It's available to all students from the UK or EU who do a PGCE course in England or Wales. Students on undergraduate courses or GTPRTP schemes don't qualify, and the bursary is not available in Scotland. Part-time students get the full amount, spread over the duration of their course. Bursaries are available for FE training, on a pilot-scheme basis.

The Repayment of Teachers' Loans initiative (RTL), although much publicised, is still a pilot scheme, and there is no guarantee it will continue after 2005. You must teach one of the priority subjects - English, Welsh, drama, maths, ICT, design and technology, modern foreign languages or science - for at least half of your timetable. That effectively limits the scheme to secondary teachers and primary specialists. You must also take up a post within seven months of completing training, your debt must be with the Student Loans Company and you must work in the maintained sector (includes FE and city colleges). To get the whole of your loan repaid, you will probably need to stay in teaching for 10 years. Part-time workers get their debt repaid on a pro-rata basis.

Golden hellos are one-off payments of pound;4,000. They are awarded to NQTs teaching a priority subject (see RTL list above) when they complete their induction. You need to be working in the maintained sector and to finish your induction within five years of qualifying. As with the RTL scheme, the money goes to secondary teachers or primary teachers whose first post is a specialist appointment. Unlike training bursaries, golden hellos are taxable.

For students doing one of the secondary shortage subjects (confusingly, this is a different list to the priority subjects; it includes music, religious education and geography, but not English, Welsh or drama), additional, means-tested funding of up to pound;5,000, or pound;7,500 for those over 24, is available. You apply through your provider. In Wales, bursaries of pound;600 or pound;1,000 (depending on subject) are available for undergraduate trainees, and grants of pound;1,200 for students studying "through the medium of Welsh".

More money

The next incentive on the horizon is the "studentship" scheme, where additional bursaries of pound;5,000 will be paid to top-quality applicants. Currently only half of all teacher trainees have a 2:1 degree or above. It's particularly difficult to attract high-flying scientists, and when the scheme starts in 2004, it will be targeting maths, physics and chemistry - though other subjects could follow.

Minimum requirements

These vary depending on the route you choose. To enter an undergraduate course you need at least two A-levels - though the TTA's performance profiles (teacher training league tables) give a more realistic view of each provider's requirements. For a PGCE you need to have completed a degree, although "degree equivalents" obtained overseas are considered.

Whichever route you choose, guidelines state that all trainees need a C or above in maths and English GCSE (O-level for older candidates). Primary teachers also require a C in a science subject. But ITT providers can waive the GCSE requirements if candidates pass an "equivalency test" set by the university.

Must I teach the subject my degree is in?

Not necessarily. You can apply to do a secondary PGCE in a different subject from your degree, but you need to convince your would-be ITT provider you are up to it. Your provider has the discretion to accept you if it considers you have sufficient subject knowledge. Also, QTS is not subject specific so, once qualified, you can legally teach any subject if your employer deems you competent. Scottish guidelines are more binding and you'll struggle to teach anything that did not form a substantial part of your degree.

Some providers in England and Wales offer two-year, full-time PGCEs partly devoted to boosting subject knowledge. And January next year sees the start of maths and physics "enhancement courses" aimed at countering shortfalls in these subjects - with chemistry to follow in 2005. These are aimed at would-be teachers, including career changers, who have had some elements of these subjects in their first degrees - and some occupational experience in using them - to help them reach the standard required to begin training.

Teaching or textbooks?

Twenty years ago students on three-year courses spent just 12 weeks on teaching practice. Now it's more than double that. But has the pendulum swung too far? Ted Wragg would like to see the time PGCE students in England and Wales spend in schools cut from two-thirds to half. "Valuable elements of the course have been squeezed out," he says. The 50:50 ratio already exists in Scotland, where the term "teacher education" is preferred to "teacher training".

Is training different in Scotland?

There are only seven providers in Scotland, which means less choice. There are no part-time or flexible courses, for example. There is also no employment-based training. The PGCE and undergraduate courses that do exist are similar to English and Welsh equivalents, although with more emphasis on theoretical knowledge, and slightly less time in schools. Entry requirements are also similar, though for secondary teaching you don't need a basic maths qualification, just a national qualifications course award in English at level 6 (or an equivalent).

Crossing over: England, Scotland, Wales

The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) suggests that "a couple of hundred teachers each year" move north of the border, a figure it says has increased since the McCrone agreement of January 2001on pay and conditions.

This guarantees, among other things, a 35-hour week and increased professional development. For most it's just a case of registering with the GTCS. But anyone who has qualified through an employment-based scheme will be turned away. "We don't recognise that route - not enough pedagogy," says a GTCS spokesperson. It's a growing temptation for Scots to train in England, for the financial incentives, before returning north once the golden hello has been pocketed. All Scotland-trained teachers are qualified to work south of the border, and there's no problem moving between England and Wales.

Crossing over: primary, secondary, FE

According to the TTA, QTS legally entitles you to teach in either the secondary or primary sectors in England and Wales. The onus is on you to convince prospective employers of your suitability and, in the case of primary to secondary transfers, to prove your subject knowledge is up to scratch. In Scotland, the rules are stricter, and you will need to take a conversion course, officially known as an additional teaching qualification, and typically lasting one term. FE teachers who don't have QTS should not technically be able to cross over into secondary schools - but they do. "Schools find a way," says Norman Lucas. "They employ them as unqualified staff, then make up the salary shortfall.

Crossing over: independent and maintained

You don't need QTS to work in independent schools, although the Independent Schools Association says employing unqualified staff is much less common than it was 10 years ago. Experienced but unqualified teachers in the independent sector can obtain QTS within three months through modular PGCEs, though they have to do a six-week placement in a maintained school.

First steps

Applications for most undergraduate courses go through Ucas; postgraduate applications are processed by the GTTR. For employment-based training you usually apply direct to the DRB - some Scitts recruit directly - but the TTA will offer advice. It also has details of closing dates for applications, though routes such as the GTP and flexible PGCEs have several starting points throughout the year.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you