Written by Andrew Jones (Goffs School). First published by the Guardian on 19th January 2015.
Over the last few years, the government has encouraged schools to take more control of teacher training, as part of their plan to move towards school-centred initial teacher training (Scitt) rather than the more traditional routes provided by universities and higher education institutions.
There are now two main graduate routes into teaching: the School Direct path, focused on being paid to train within schools; and the traditional Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), which is based at universities. Although some School Direct fee-paying courses can lead to a PGCE, in general providers distinguish the two as “School Direct” and “university based PGCE routes”.
The thinking behind the move towards schools administering teacher training is that they can provide more practical, hands-on preparation overseen by experienced teachers – rather than university lecturers, who may be more removed from everyday school life.
However, the reality is more complex than this. As a lead practitioner, I’ve been co-ordinating the School Direct programme at my school this year. While it has real benefits over the PGCE route, there are also additional challenges particularly around affordability, application procedures and the all-important in-school experience.
An obvious benefit is that School Direct trainees are employed as unqualified teachers and can be paid. Salaries start from around £15,000 and go higher depending on experience.
Many PGCE students have to take out additional student loans, however. I am still paying off mine after nine years because I took extra to cover my PGCE too. And bursaries are available for some PGCE courses, but often limited to certain subjects.
In terms of the application process, both School Direct and PGCE candidates need to pass the skills tests (in numeracy and literacy), have at least a C at GCSE in English and Maths and a good degree (we specify a 2.1 or 2.2 with experience). In addition, the School Direct salaried route also requires three years’ paid work experience in any occupation. This can deter people straight out of university or career changers who may have to take a pay cut.
Once a candidate fulfils all the basic criteria, with School Direct there’s more leeway for schools to appoint a trainee of their choice. Although applications are made via Ucas, schools shortlist, conduct interviews and assess the experience and skills of candidates in relation to the needs of the school. With a PGCE, there’s a more general interview process and school placements may be made after the candidate is accepted by a university.
The most important element for new recruits is the school experience itself – and this is where the two courses differ more widely. One of the benefits of School Direct is the immediate immersion in school life. Unlike a PGCE course, where you often start with lectures before going out on shorter placements, School Direct allows trainees to participate as active members of the community from the off . Working from the of September through to July allows trainees to build lasting relationships with students and colleagues.
Despite being thrown in at the deep end, trainees are gradually introduced to teaching through an initial period of observations before starting a timetable of six hours a week and finishing with 18 hours a week. There is also a second placement lasting up to six weeks and a day each week spent at the school’s higher education partner – often a local university.
PGCE courses tend to offer two placements lasting up to two thirds of the course between them. This means you gain experience in schools and will move from a placement if it is not entirely suited to you; School Direct trainees are stuck unless they resign and leave the programme. You also have more time at university, which means more time for studying and reflecting on your progress as well as spending far more valuable time with peers in a similar situation.
I valued my time away from school as a PGCE trainee and made some lasting friendships with colleagues beyond my own place of work. I also liked the academic focus of being university based and appreciated the gradual immersion into the classroom. But those who just want to get on with the practice of teaching might prefer the School Direct route, especially if you have the confidence to jump in at the deep end and/or experience of working schools. Both routes lead to qualified teacher status and are followed by a probation year and cover the same key standards.
You can apply for School Direct and PGCE courses through UCAS.