Q I have a first class honours degree in media and want to do a secondary English PGCE. Because of the lack of English content in my degree, universities have advised me to start from scratch and get an English degree. I'm already a mature student and can't afford to waste any more time. What can I do?
A In my experience, there are always more applicants for secondary English courses than there are places, so it sounds to me as if you have yet to pass through the first, very crude, filtering stage. Given that schools are crying out for good media, or English-with-media teachers, you are an attractive prospect.
To increase your appeal to an admissions tutor, you must show your subject knowledge is up to scratch, that you're well-read, and have an interest in and knowledge about language.
The PGCE is a postgraduate course: you must show that you can succeed at that level of study. Your first-class degree should be evidence enough.
Do you have a passion both for teaching, and for teaching your subject? You can demonstrate both by offering a portfolio of teaching-related activity.
Have you worked voluntarily in schools, or with youth groups? Have you spent time observing what happens in schools, both primary and secondary? Have you strengthened your application by showing that you have researched the national curriculum and GCSE examination specifications?
Are you approaching the right colleges? You may well find a more sympathetic response from one of the new universities.
Are you inquiring by telephone or email? You will be able to say far more, and will gain far more attention, if you write a letter. You could also consider an employment-based route: the GTP (graduate teacher programme), or a Scitt (school-centred initial teacher training)? See website, below*.
Whatever you do, do it quickly - good English courses will be full by late spring.
Q I have an interview for PGCE secondary maths and have been asked to give a five-minute presentation on a topic of my choice. Is it better to pick a secondary-level subject or try to impress them with something from my degree?
A Your interviewer is looking for evidence that you can teach, not for academic pyrotechnics - teaching is about promoting learning. Having the whizziest degree doesn't guarantee that you can do that.
Do some research. Target a specific age group. If it's at key stage 3, look both at the 'Framework for teaching Mathematics: Years 7, 8 and 9', and the national curriculum. If it's at KS4 or at A-level, then find an appropriate examination specification. Identify a topic that pupils are likely to find conceptually difficult - ideally, talk to a pupil in the age range - then, in your five minutes, outline the topic, its importance in learning maths, and suggest a teaching approach. If you can prepare some child-friendly resources to show your interviewer, so much the better.
*Training and Development Agency for Schools www.tda.gov.uk