What is a PGCE degree?

Ben Maples  · Dec 19th 2023  · 9 min

A PGCE degree is a higher education course that is run in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is a course that is aimed at students who are looking to become teachers. Let’s learn a bit more about what it includes!


Teaching training qualifications are some of the most popular in the UK. The PGCE degree is designed to help students who are looking to work in the world of education and beyo.

What is a PGCE degree?

What is a PGCE?

PGCE stands for Postgraduate Certificate in Education and is a popular teacher training qualification in the UK. PGCE courses are usually one yearteaching qualifications for graduates in specialist subjects. For example, a graduate of BSc chemistry could take a PGCE to become a qualified chemistry teacher. Studying a PGCE involves learning the theory and techniques of teaching and pastoral care, alongside completing school work placements under mentorship.

The PGCE itself is a route towards QTS (qualified teacher status), a requirement for teaching in English state schools. It’s not the only route to QTS, but it’s a popular option and also includes the academic credit of the PGCE with QTS.

If you study full-time, a PGCE degree is a year-long course, typically running from September to July. It is also possible to study as a part-time PGCE over the course of two years.

What level is a PGCE?

A PGCE is a 60-credit postgraduate qualification studied at level 7. These credits are earned at the Master’s level and can later be transferred to a Master’s of Education.

Credits are not always offered, however. In a scenario where Master’s credits aren’t offered, the PGCE is called a Professional Graduate Certificate in Education and offers you the chance to use this as a formally recognised qualification.

What PGCE age range can I qualify to teach?

There are several PGCE course age categories. The youngest group you can qualify to teach is through PGCE early years courses for working with children aged 3-7. You can also focus on the upper end of primary school, from age 7 to .

One of the most popular routes is to go through primary PGCE courses to teach the full primary span of 5-11-year-olds. The other common type is secondary PGCE courses, where trainee teachers qualify to teach 11-18-year-olds in their specialist subject.

Some universities offer PGCE middle years programmes for teaching 7-14-year-olds. There are two schools of thought when it comes to this qualification: language, music or maths specialists might see it as an opportunity to double their chances of securing a job by applying to both primary and secondary schools. However, schools often prefer teachers to have experience across their whole stage’s age range, making it easier to timetable staff without worrying that they can’t manage the littlest kids or academically stretch the oldest teens. You’ll need to think carefully about which age range you want to teach and weigh up which course is right for you.

What PGCE subjects are available?

Every subject in the national curriculum has a PGCE to prepare teachers to teach it. From drama PGCE courses to PGCE design and technology courses and PGCE art and design courses, your undergraduate degree needs to bear 50% relevance to the school subject.

Students who hold joint honours in English and history could apply to either PGCE English courses or PGCE history courses. If someone studied environmental science and geography, they could apply for geography PGCE courses, but if the subject is less than 50% related, then they can’t. For example, a student with a degree in physiotherapy with sports science could not apply for PGCE PE courses.

What is a University PGCE degree?

How does a PGCE work?

A typical PGCE programme involves one day a week in university, studying teaching techniques and theory of education, plus four days a week on a PGCE placement. The teaching placement includes a designated mentor who will observe your lessons, give you feedback and support. There are usually two placements, around a term in length each, and sometimes also opportunities to spend shorter stints in institutions that form the transitions on either side of your age range. For example, a few days in a primary school and a further education college if you’re training to teach the secondary stage.

There are presentations and written assignments on a PGCE, creating the academic assessments, along with lesson observations and a portfolio to present at the end. These all allow you to demonstrate that you have met the Teachers' Standards required to become a teacher.

Can you do a distance PGCE or part-time PGCE?

Yes, PGCE part-time courses are available at many universities across the UK. If you’re looking to study in the capital, part-time PGCE courses in London options include study at Goldsmiths, St. Mary’s, Birkbeck, and Greenwich, amongst others.

There are also PGCE courses online and PGCE distance learning courses. All Open University PGCE courses were withdrawn in 2014, but you can search for other distance learning providers here.

Do any PGCE courses start in January?

Rarely, you might find a PGCE course that starts in January. Bath Spa University, for example, has part-time PGCE courses which begin in January and finish in May of the following year. The University of Cumbria runs a full-time primary PGCE at its Lancaster campus, which also starts in January.

What are the PGCE entry requirements?

You typically require a good degree in a subject directly related to an area of the curriculum. The entry requirements will vary depending on where you apply and when. All PGCE course providers want to see that you have some kind of experience with teaching or working with young people.

It’s essential to get work experience of some sort before you apply. There will be a check against your criminal record, and there may be a mental health and physical health questionnaire to complete. It’s important to be honest in these screenings so that you can be given the necessary support during your training period.

While studying a PGCE (and being a teacher) can be fun, rewarding, and satisfying, it is also a demanding, intense experience. There’s a notoriously high drop-out rate among trainee teachers (10-20% quit their PGCE before completing), so the tough entry requirements are there to protect you as much as the course providers and the schools. There might be different criteria for online PGCE courses. All universities have their own criteria, so you should always check directly with the course provider.

What is a Uni PGCE degree?

PGCE interview: what to expect

In a PGCE interview, you may be asked to plan a short lesson, or bring a resource based on a given briefing. There will likely be a group task to demonstrate your team-working, speaking, listening and communication skills. There will also be a formal interview, probably with a panel of interviewers, including the university course lecturers and a current school teacher.

How to apply for a PGCE

Search for universities and PGCE courses to find your perfect fit, then apply for UCAS PGCE courses in your UCAS Hub account. You can apply for up to three courses in the first application cycle (Apply 1). Make sure you rank them in order of favourite and apply as early as possible: places fill up fast on popular courses.

You’ll want your PGCE application to shine, so be sure to look at our PGCE personal statement examples and handy hints. Don’t worry, if you’re unsuccessful, you’ll have a second shot in Apply 2.

How many PGCE courses can I apply for?

You can apply for up to three PGCE courses (UK). It’s possible to change your choices, but it has to be within 7 days of applying, and you’re only allowed to make this change once, so plan carefully! If you’re unsuccessful in the first round, or you’ve declined your offers, you’ll have a second chance through Apply 2. In this round, you can only make one choice at a time.

Can I get funding for a PGCE?

Yes, there is a variety of funding available to cover your fees and living costs, as well as extra financial support and incentivised training bursaries. Check out our complete guide to PGCE funding to find out exactly what you’re entitled to.

PGCE bursaries

There are a number of PGCE bursaries available. The government will generally offer students anywhere up to £22,000 if they are teaching specific in-demand subjects.

Generally, support is offered in areas such as:

  • Chemistry
  • Computing
  • Maths
  • Physics

You can also receive additional funding if you have studied a master's or a PhD. This can be anywhere between £7,000 and £10,000 and is generally provided for students studying biology, classics or languages.

PGCE scholarships

PGCE scholarships are equally popular for students. These are traditionally offered by professional subject associations and will grant students additional benefits, through networking events, continuing professional development advice and access to better resources.

However, you should bear in mind that not all PGCE courses are paid PGCE courses. From 2019, PGCE further education courses no longer carry a bursary, although these post-compulsory PGCEs (16-19) are still eligible for tuition fee loans and maintenance loans.

What is a PGCE degree at University?

How competitive are PGCE courses?

The country’s top PGCE courses are the most competitive, and for oversubscribed areas such as secondary English, or primary teaching, it will be even more important to stand out from the other applicants.

Set yourself apart by gaining as much experience as possible, doing some wider reading on the profession, and following our helpful guide on writing an excellent PGCE personal statement.

How is a PGCE assessed?

You’ll have a number of lesson observations on each placement, carried out by both your teaching mentors and your university lecturers. You’ll submit academic essays and end up simply with a pass or a fail for the PGCE. Furthermore, you will also be judged against the Teachers’ Standards to be awarded QTS.

What is QTS?

QTS stands for Qualified Teacher Status and is a requirement for you to teach in state schools in England and Wales. It’s possible to pass the academic component of a PGCE but fail to meet the standards to earn QTS. It is also possible to bypass the PGCE altogether and earn QTS differently, such as through the GTP or School Direct.

Whilst the PGCE is linked to a subject and age range, QTS itself is not. Technically, you can teach any subject or age range in England with QTS, although in practice, most schools prefer subject specialists and teachers experienced in the relevant age range. It’s not unheard of, though, for English teachers to take history classes or Maths teachers to be seen in the PE department. Some teachers move stages, going from primary to early years or secondary to primary. It’s harder to go in the opposite direction, e.g. primary to secondary, due to the specific academic knowledge required to help older children succeed in their exams.

Further education (FE) teachers who train via a post-compulsory PGCE have QTLS (Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills) rather than QTS. This means they would need to retrain to get QTS if they wanted to move into secondary or primary teaching.

In Scotland and NI, the equivalent of QTS is registration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland or the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland. These countries do require an academic teaching qualification such as a PGCE or PGDE, but QTS alone is not sufficient to teach in Scotland or Northern Ireland, even though it’s enough in England.

What happens after a PGCE?

In the final months of your PGCE, you can start searching for and applying for NQT positions. To continue teaching in state schools, you must pass your NQT year. You can do your NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year in a permanent post or a fixed-term year-long post, such as maternity cover.

You can’t do it as a cover supervisor, TA or supply teacher, though: you must pass your NQT year just as you passed your PGCE, and it’s only possible to meet all the standards through demonstrating long-term planning, relationship building, assessment and progress in your own classes. You’ll also have extra time off-timetable, a mentor, and extra lesson observations to support you throughout your NQT year.

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