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Working towards PGCE and Masters qualifications

‘PGCE students learn about teaching partly by reflecting critically on their practice. This is modelled in a style of course that encourages them to ask themselves critical questions, to evaluate their own practice and to reflect on their reading to enable them to modify their practice’

Clare Brooks, GTIP Think Piece – Writing at Masters level

Topics on this page:

  • Why follow a PGCE programme?
  • Why follow a PGCE programme?
  • What will PGCE assignments expect?
  • How is the PGCE assessed?
  • Reading

Why follow a PGCE programme?

When you apply for ITE geography training, you make a choice whether to opt for a course that offers the QTS only or one that also provides a post-graduate teaching qualification. This is often known as a post-graduate certificate of education (PGCE); there are alternatives offered too such as the postgraduate diploma in education (PGDE). You will find the details about the qualifications offered on the ITE provider’s websites.

Therefore, a PGCE, or equivalent programme leads to more than Qualified Teacher Status (QTS); you are getting a postgraduate qualification as well. The PGCE is a demanding programme and expects you to engage with academic study in addition to developing your skills in the classroom.

Studying for a PGCE brings benefits. It helps you become critically aware of broad issues and theories in education that are beyond your school placements and immediate teaching concerns. Gaining a PGCE demonstrates that you have academic rigour and have undertaken study that will benefit your teaching. Also, having a PGCE qualification can be important for employment opportunities and career development.

A PGCE programme challenges you to explore professional issues, reflect on education theory and make sense of your experiences through lectures, reading, working with peers and written assignments/presentations. Completing a PGCE needs commitment; it requires Masters level writing and you must organise your time to fit it in with teaching.

What will PGCE assignments expect?

Trainee teachers often find it difficult to understand why they should be writing academic essays when they are on a course that leads to a teaching qualification. But, a PGCE is a Masters level qualification which means that you must undertake reading of research and critically discuss it – and complete assignments.

A key criterion for success is that you demonstrate intellectual scholarship appropriate to Masters level, so your assignments will need to show depth, breadth and independence of thought. You are expected to engage with theory and present critical understanding and coherent argument backed up by evidence and extended reading. You should directly link academic and school-based experiences to demonstrate your understanding. This means a writing style that may be different to how you have written in the past.

You will be expected to present your assignments professionally with good grammar and spelling and ensure anonymity for students, staff and schools by removing names and obvious references. You must follow the conventions of academic writing and references to books, journal articles and research findings so you should use the referencing system adopted by the university that is awarding the PGCE.

Two common themes for geography PGCE assignments are:

  • Planning a teaching unit, justifying and evaluating your teaching with reference to academic reading about teaching and learning in geography
  • A research study to investigate and assess an aspect of learning in geography, linking academic reading directly to your own classroom practice and the impact that it has on learning.

Such assignments are more than academic writing. They are valuable in aiding your reflection on teaching and can be of benefit not only to you, but also to the geography department in which you are undertaking your training.

How is the PGCE assessed?

Assessment includes both practical teaching and written assignments. Practical teaching is assessed in line with the Teachers’ Standards and it is this element that leads to the award of QTS.

Your written work will be marked by university tutors and they will provide written feedback that will provide formative guidance and advice. Acquaint yourself with the university’s guidance and criteria for the assignments before you embark on writing.

Should I study for a Masters?

Successful completion of a PGCE will lead to ‘credits’ towards a Masters qualification. There are different tariffs for each PGCE which vary according to the awarding university. You can take these credits forward to completing a Masters degree.

You can study for a Masters in different subjects e.g. a Masters in Geography, Education or Cognitive Science. The choice is yours because it depends on your prior education and experience and where you want to take your career.


  • Brooks, C. (ed) (2010) Studying PGCE Geography at M level, London: Routledge. (This introduces perspectives and debates on key themes and ideas in geography education and provides practical guidance on the skills involved in undertaking M level work.)
  • Brooks, C. Thinkpiece on Writing at Masters level, Sheffield: Geographical Association.
  • Jones, M. and Lambert, D. (eds) (2018) Debates in Geography 2nd edition, Abingdon: Routledge.

For further reading references refer to our reading list for geography teaching.