First Step - Home delivery

22nd January 2010 at 00:00
If you're not ready to fly the nest, distance learning may be the best way to complete your teacher training

If you are thinking about embarking on a teacher training course, location is one of the factors you will need to take into consideration. It may be easier and financially more viable to remain in your home town to study, as you may have accommodation and a good network of friends.

Or your course might only be available at one institution - you need to decide how flexible you can be. If you have a family you will have additional concerns. If you did move, are there good schools and accommodation nearby?

Many would-be teachers who find themselves in this position decide to get their qualification through distance learning. Not only does this allow you to choose where and how you study, it also makes the course easier to finance, particularly if combined with full or part-time work.

Emma Culbert, a student from east London, worked in a music shop full-time while studying for her PGCE at the Open University. "I always wanted to be a teacher - being able to study while working full-time has enabled me to get the qualification I need," she says. "It's been tough but very rewarding."

If you do decide to choose distance learning, you will need to consider the practicalities of juggling study with work, particularly if you also have family commitments. Some students find part-time and distance learning courses harder - they may not be as structured as full-time modes of study.

Miss Culbert was worried about not having the camaraderie of studying alongside like-minded people.

"I thought it would be a lonely experience, but the reality has been very different," she says. "The OU offers plenty of support and my tutor was very helpful. I'm currently working as a temporary teacher, which is giving me a great variety of experience and allowing me to develop my skills further while working with pupils of all abilities."

According to Martin Ferns, award manager for the Open University's PGCE course, it's important to know that you are not on your own. "A comprehensive support system is in place with an allocated tutor who is in touch throughout your course via email, phone and during school visits," he says.

"There are day courses that look at subject-specific practical issues and whole-school issues. Students are also assigned a school mentor to support, provide guidance and act as a critical friend throughout each school placement. And, not least, students support each other through the online networks - keeping in touch with people in similar positions is a great help."

The placements on a distance-learning course are similar to those on a traditional course. "Across the three-year course, students would do 26 weeks of placement in schools," says Kath Middleditch of Open University.

"We can arrange the school placements but if the student has links to a school or suggests a placement venue, the course team would look into this. Students can have previous experience taken into account, which may change which elements they need to do."

You can also train in a school by completing a programme of school-centred initial teacher training (Scitt). Taught by experienced, practising teachers, and often tailored towards local teaching needs, all Scitt courses lead to qualified teacher status. "Many, though not all, will also award you the PGCE, validated by a higher education institution," says Miss Middleditch. "If you prefer to spend more time training in the classroom, putting theory into practice and gaining confidence through increased contact with the school environment, then a Scitt programme may be a good option for you."

Things To Think About

- Studying part-time or by distance learning can make a course easier to finance.

- Students support each other through online networks so you don't miss the camaraderie.

- The placements on a distance-learning course will be similar to those on a traditional course.

- Some find part-time and distance learning courses harder because there is less guidance.

- As an alternative, you could train in a school by completing school- centred initial teacher training.

- Visit the Training and Development Agency for Schools website for more information.

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