Get the lowdown on what it takes to become a top teacher

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The Independent Online

What is a PGCE?

A postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) is a teaching qualification for graduates. Once successfully completed, you will receive qualified teacher status (QTS), which is needed to teach in state schools. PGCEs generally last one year and are run at universities and further education colleges.

In addition to lectures and seminars, PGCEs include a considerable amount of time spent on placement in schools. These allow you to gain experience of the classroom and practical understanding of how pupils learn, how teachers teach, and how schools are organised. The format of placements varies: they might consist of three days a week for four weeks during your first term, before increasing to a full-time 11-week placement by the end of your training.

Entry requirements

To teach, whether you take a PGCE or not, you will need to have the equivalent of at least a C in GCSE maths and English. If you want to teach in a primary school, or up to key stage 3 (age 14) in a secondary school, you will also need the equivalent of at least a C in a science subject.

As the PGCE focuses on developing your teaching skills and not on the subject you want to teach, you will be expected to have a good understanding of your chosen subject, usually to degree level. If you want to teach secondary maths, physics or chemistry but don't have a degree in those subjects, one solution may be an intensive pre-teacher training enhancement course. They are run at a number of universities and colleges and allow graduates to enhance their subject knowledge before beginning teacher training. Similar courses are available in French and German for graduates with a degree in only one foreign language, allowing you to have two foreign languages, which is preferable for a teacher.

From 2007, extended PGCEs are also being introduced for potential maths and science teachers.

Funding

If you do a PGCE, you will be eligible for a non-means tested grant of £1,200 and be able to apply for an additional means-tested grant of £1,500.

In addition, you will be entitled to a tax-free bursary of £6,000 (£150 a week). If you train to teach maths, science, English (including drama), ICT, design and technology, modern languages or RE it increases to £9,000 (£225 a week).

When to apply

You will need to apply to the graduate teacher training registry (GTTR) from September for courses beginning the following September.

Teaching is popular, so it's important that you apply early with a carefully constructed, well-presented application. It is also important that you demonstrate some experience of working with children, through volunteering in a school or with a youth group, for example.

Becoming a teacher

There are many ways to find your first teaching position. You may be offered a position at the school where you completed your PGCE placement. Alternatively, you can contact your local authority or consult teaching recruitment websites and local and national newspapers for vacancies.

Starting salaries from this September are in excess of £20,000, or more than £24,000 in inner London. This can rise to over £34,000 (or £40,000 in inner London) for good, experienced classroom teachers. Further incentives are paid to teachers who are considered excellent and to those who take on management or other responsibilities.

If you take up a position in a state school after completing your PGCE, you may be eligible for a "golden hello" at the start of your second year of teaching, once you have successfully completed your induction period. They are worth £5,000 if you teach maths and science, or £2,500 for English (including drama), ICT, design and technology, modern languages, music and religious education.

CASE STUDY

Shane Walsh, 23, is studying a PGCE in secondary maths

After my degree, I had work placements with accountancy firms but it just didn't grab me. I'd considered teaching when I was a student and planned to do it after working somewhere else for five to 10 years, but I realised that it was something that I actually wanted to do now.

I really like the challenge. Working for someone else just didn't appeal, but as a teacher you can have a real, profound effect on people. You can make kids' aspirations come true. Teaching is one job that lets you bring in your outside interests. I'm hoping to use my economics background to start a Young Enterprise scheme and I love golf, so I'm going to try to set up an after-school golf club.

WEB WATCH

* Training and Development Agency for Schools

More information about becoming a teacher

www.teach.gov.uk

* Teachernet

A teaching recruitment website

www.teachernet.gov.uk

* Graduate Teacher Training Registry

Advice and contacts

www.gttr.ac.uk

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