29th January 2010 at 00:00
My mentor has been so unsupportive that I have decided to leave my PGCE placement. I'm worried about my career. What are my options

The relationship between a mentor and a trainee can be critical to the success or failure of a placement. If things are difficult and relationships strained, remember that you must attack problems, not people.

Making things personal nearly always ends badly. If you walk out on a placement, you put yourself at a disadvantage. You will be deemed to have terminated the placement and that could jeopardise your place on the course, so talk to your tutor before you do anything rash.

If you do leave a placement, it doesn't necessarily mean an end to your prospects of becoming a teacher. The first thing to establish is whether or not your provider feels that you have withdrawn completely from the course. It is unlikely, but check the regulations in your handbook. Normally, to withdraw from a course you would need to talk to your tutor, perhaps a student adviser and the leader of the course.

The provider could terminate your place on the course if you say nothing and simply leave, but talking to them means that some options may still be open to you. For example, it may be possible to take a break and return to a different school placement, especially if the university agrees that it was the behaviour of the mentor that caused the problem in the first place.

Depending on how much of the placement has been completed, it may be possible for your provider to find you another school, though placements are difficult to come by and providers often struggle to find all the placements they need.

Ultimately, the only option a university has if a mentor behaves unprofessionally and talks, training and intervention fail to rectify the situation is to deselect the school and not send trainees there unless further mentor training takes place, a new mentor is appointed and the school agrees to support trainees.

If you are not happy with the tutor's response to your concerns, you can always refer to a higher level - for example, the course leader, head of department or dean or head of the school. You can ask a union representative to act on your behalf and to help with negotiations (all students should join at least one teacher union as a student member). Within the university, the student union may also provide some help and support.

If you withdraw from a course you will no longer be a student and this can cut off some avenues of help. Your university careers service could help here, as a recent student you are entitled to help. If you and the university agree to a break in studies, sometimes called intermission or intercalation, discussions need to take place about when you may return and if there are any conditions for your return.

Even if you have withdrawn completely from a course, this does not necessarily rule out qualifying to teach in the future. Not all courses suit all trainees. A PGCE may not be right for you, but the GTP - the Graduate Teacher Programme - could be better. You would be employed by a school, work for the full year and earn a salary as well as being trained on the job. Withdrawing from a PGCE leaves the GTP option open to you, but be prepared to explain your decision to withdraw in full.

James Williams is a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex, School of Education and Social Work.

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