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The Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) – A Guide

Written by Ben Taylor

A Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) is one of the main qualifications that allows you to become a teacher. Offered in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, most PGCEs give you Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and make you eligible to teach in countries across the world. A PGCE is not a Masters, but modules taken during a PGCE can count towards a full Masters degree.

There are many PGCEs available, each designed to prepare you for life as a different kind of teacher. We’ve put together a guide to some of the PGCEs on offer, and what you need to know before you apply.

If you’ve already decided that you want to apply for a PGCE, you can begin the search for your perfect course with us. Alternatively, you can read our guide to the different types of PGCE funding.

What does PGCE stand for?

PGCE stands for Postgraduate Certificate in Education. It is a postgraduate qualification designed for prospective primary and secondary teachers. You'll usually graduate with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), which is a requirement to teach in most English schools. PGCEs give you substantial teaching experience through school placements, along with a grounding in important educational theory.


Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)
Type Taught / Professional
Subjects Education
Qualification Level 7 (NQF)
Length 1-2 years
Credits Value Usually 60 CATS
Availability England, Wales and Northern Ireland

There are PGCEs aimed at different subjects and each stage of the school system, so you can pick a qualification that’s tailored to the learners you want to teach:

  • Lower Primary Education, ages 3-7 – The youngest learners are the focus of this qualification.
  • Primary Education, ages 5-11 – These courses generally concentrate on the core primary curriculum, although some programmes allow you to specialise in a particular subject.
  • Secondary Education, ages 11-16 – Secondary Education PGCEs are centred on specific subjects.
  • Post-16 and Further Education – Completing one of these PGCEs means you can apply for Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QLTS) status, a separate classification to the QTS you need to be able to teach in primary and secondary schools.

Is a PGCE a Masters?

PGCEs award up to 60 postgraduate credits at Masters level. This does not mean you'll graduate with a full Masters (which is worth 180 credits), but you'll often have the option to transfer your credits to a full Masters in Education once you've completed your PGCE.

Read more about the difference between a PGCE and a Masters in Education.

Types of PGCE courses

As well as these options, you’ll also have to decide whether you want to take a university-led or a school-led course.

As you might have guessed, university-led teacher training courses are based at a university, but offer plenty of practical teaching experience. You can expect to:

  • Spend a minimum of 24 weeks on placement at schools
  • Receive QTS and a postgraduate qualification (usually a PGCE)
  • Learn about pedagogy (the theory of teaching)

Meanwhile, school-led teacher training courses, delivered by school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) providers, differ in a number of ways and won’t always offer a PGCE (although many do). With these programmes, you can expect to:

  • Gain the QTS you need to teach in England and Wales
  • Get first-hand experience from day one of your course, working with and learning from colleagues at your placement school

If you already have three years of work experience (not necessarily in education), you could also be eligible for a salary while training with School Direct.

Both university-led and school-led programmes come with the possibility of generous Government funding.

How much does a PGCE cost?

Most PGCEs have tuition fees of £9,250, but there are lots of funding options available in the form of bursaries, scholarships and loans, as well as paid salaries. We’ve covered the different funding routes you can take.

PGDE vs PGCE

A Postgraduate Diploma in Education is a completely different qualification to the Scottish Professional Graduate Diploma in Education, even though both are referred to as a PGDE, somewhat confusingly!

The main difference between a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) is the fact that the Postgraduate Diploma in Education gives you the opportunity to gain 120 CATS credits – twice as many as a PGCE. This means that if you want to convert your PGDE into a 180-credit Masters, you have fewer additional credits to complete than if you’d done a 60-credit PGCE.

A Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) is an ideal option if you plan on putting your credits towards a Masters qualification. Most PGDEs take one year of full-time study to complete – the same as a PGCE – but with the additional CATS credits you’ll be earning, you can expect to spend a bigger proportion of your time on academic rather than teaching work.

Scottish PGDE vs PGCE

A Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) is effectively the Scottish equivalent of the PGCE.

PGCE entry requirements

You’ll usually need at least a 2:2 degree in the subject you want to teach. In some cases, it may be possible to apply with a joint honours degree, provided 50% of your time at university was spent on your PGCE subject.

Similar requirements apply if your degree subject (and experience) is broadly related to the area you wish to teach in.

For example, if you’ve studied a maths-heavy degree like engineering, you will normally be eligible to begin a PGCE in Secondary Maths. Or, if you studied German at A-level but French for your degree, you should be eligible for a PGCE in Modern Languages. These requirements differ from university to university and course to course, however, so always make sure you read the application guidelines carefully.

You’ll also need to have achieved the following to begin teacher training:

  • GCSE grade C / grade 4 in English (or equivalent)
  • GCSE grade C / grade 4 in Maths (or equivalent)

Finally, some courses will require you to observe teaching in a classroom before you apply. Even if this isn’t a stated requirement, it’s worth doing. Read some tips for arranging school experience.

What is the PGCE application process?

Once we’ve helped you find the right PGCE for you, you should begin the application process through UCAS. You’ll need to write a personal statement, find suitable referees and pass professional skills tests in literacy and numeracy.

If your application is successful in the initial around, you’ll be invited for an interview, before finding out if you’ve been offered a place on the PGCE course.

What’s it like to study a PGCE?

The variety of PGCEs on offer means that no two courses are the same. If you’re studying a university-led PGCE, you’ll spend around two-thirds of your time on at least two school placements. You’ll gradually take on more responsibility, working closely with an experienced teaching mentor before giving your own lessons.

These placements will offer you a window into different learning environments, allowing you to broaden your educational horizons.

Back at university, you’ll take modules covering topics like the pedagogy of teaching and curriculum studies, learning from academics and attending lectures and seminars with your coursemates.

If you choose a school-led PGCE, you’ll benefit from being placed in a school right from the start of the programme. This might sound like a worrying prospect – being dropped in at the deep end, so to speak – but you’ll be eased into classroom life gradually. Significantly, many PGCE trainee teachers are offered a job by the network of schools in which they complete their qualification.

School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT)

Interested in school-led teacher training? Take a look at our guide to SCITT courses.

What can I teach with a PGCE?

If you want to teach a subject that you don’t have a degree in, you may have the option of completing a subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) course to top up or improve your understanding of a certain area. These courses are fully funded and aimed at people who:

  • Have a degree in a subject that is closely related to the one that they want to teach
  • Hold an A-level in the chosen subject
  • Want to refresh their knowledge of the subject
  • Know how to use their professional experience in the classroom

SKEs are excellent if you want to teach a subject that is eligible for a bursary, but don’t have the particular degree needed to do so. Find out more about these bursaries, along with other funding options for PGCEs.

Where can I teach with a PGCE?

A big advantage of having a PGCE is that it will widen your opportunities for a career overseas. A PGCE is an internationally recognised qualification, so you'll be able to seek work in countries such as America, Canada and Australia – to name just a few. A PGCE is not strictly required to teach in England and Wales (a QTS alone will technically qualify you for this) but if you want to teach outside the UK – or even in Scotland – you'll probably need one.

What are the other advantages of studying a PGCE?

Although PGCEs aren’t the only way to become a teacher, there are some benefits that set them apart from other options.

As we've already covered, having a PGCE allows you to seek work abroad. It can also be the ideal springboard for those seeking to complete further postgraduate study. Many PGCEs allow you to gain up to 60 credits at Masters level, which can then count towards a full Masters qualification once you’ve finished. You could put these credits towards a Masters in Education, for example.

Other ways to become a qualified teacher

A PGCE isn't the only route to Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). You can read about other options in our guide to postgraduate teacher training courses.

PGCE Funding

Funding for PGCEs works a little differently to other postgraduate courses. You won’t be able to use a Masters loan for a PGCE, but you can benefit from various bursaries and scholarships specifically intended for postgraduate teacher training.

PGCE bursaries

The UK Government offers tax-free bursaries to graduates looking to teach certain, in-demand subjects. Trainee teachers in these areas could receive bursaries of up to £22,000.

This kind of support is currently available in:

  • Chemistry
  • Maths
  • Physics
  • Computing

Students with a sufficiently high degree classification (and / or a Masters or PhD in their subject) may also be eligible for additional funding. This can offer between £7,000 and £10,000 in the following subjects:

  • Biology
  • Classics
  • Languages

PGCE scholarships

Scholarships are another funding option for gifted candidates. Offered in place of a bursary, scholarships are supported by professional subject associations and give additional benefits such as access to extra resources and networking opportunities through your training. Scholarships of up to £26,000 are available in the following areas:

  • Chemistry
  • Computing
  • Maths
  • Physics

If you train on a School Direct (salaried) programme, most of which offer a PGCE, then you can earn a salary as an unqualified teacher.

Student loans for PGCEs

Even if you receive a bursary or scholarship, you can still apply for a tuition fee loan or maintenance loan through Student Finance England. The tuition fee portion isn’t income-based, but the maintenance loan part is.

This is part of the same student finance scheme run for undergraduate degrees, not the postgraduate loans we’ve covered in detail elsewhere on FindAMasters.com. For more information on these student loans, please visit the Government’s student finance page.

There are many PGCEs listed on FindAMasters.com

Find the one for you – start your search now.


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Last updated: 17 June 2024