Graduate: Back to the blackboard

A postgraduate teaching course isn't an easy option, but it can prove highly rewarding. By Hannah Foxcroft
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The Independent Online
Ask any group of kids what they want to do when they grow up and you can guarantee that at least a quarter of them will say "a teacher". The problem is, however, that as they grow up and begin to notice all the long hours, stress and rumours of meagre rewards that go hand in hand with teaching, many of them change their minds.

It's something that the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) is attempting to change, and of all the routes into teaching, it claims the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) is the best. Given that this month, 18,261 graduates started studying for a PGCE course - a rise of 4.2 per cent since last year -the message seems to be having some effect.

"It's one of the most rewarding jobs I've done," says Jill Chatt-Collins, who completed her PGCE this summer and now works at Harbinger Primary School in Tower Hamlets. She adds that it's a huge benefit knowing that you're in a profession where you can always guarantee work.

In addition, salaries are more competitive than is commonly assumed. As a qualified teacher with a good Honours Degree, you can be looking at a salary of pounds 15,537, which increases to pounds 17,778 with London weighting. Become a head teacher of a large secondary school and you could be on over pounds 60,000.

Don't make the mistake of assuming that the PGCE course, which usually lasts a year, is an easy ride. As Fiona Eldridge, head of teacher recruitment at the TTA emphasises, "It is a course of professional training, not another year at university. It is a very different shift in gear."

You need grade C or above in GCSE English and maths (and science if you were born after 1 September 1979). You will also need a degree that the TTA recommends should "give you the necessary foundation for the subject and age range you teach". If, however, you find that your university course was not specific enough - such as some media studies, psychology and sociology degrees - there are bridging courses on offer.

The most valuable qualification of all, it seems, is experience. "I did some voluntary work going to a school in Islington one morning a week, and working as a classroom assistant whilst doing my degree," says Jenny Donaldson, who is now a history teacher in a secondary school in Lewisham. Without it, she says, you cannot be sure that it's really for you.

In most cases, PGCEs are funded, and due to a shortage of teachers in some areas, if you specialise in maths, science or modern languages, you'll be offered a pounds 5,000 incentive, half of which you get when you train and the other half when you become a teacher in a government-maintained school.

Jill concludes, "The PGCE is hard, but in the end there is something really special about that moment when a child actually grasps something that they have been grappling with."

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