Welcome to our eight-part series on the Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE). In part one, we advised aspiring teachers to resist the intuitive feeling to take a part-time job if they are worried about funding their studies, instead favouring the many forms of financial aid available. In the second part of the series, we’ll be focusing on the academics behind the PGCE and why they are important.

Practice over theory

In the world of teaching, practitioners are quick to point out that those things that work in theory don’t always pan out so well when put into practice. While this may, in the long run, become your own experience, it is impossible to achieve the PGCE without paying close attention to the academic side of things.

The academic theory provides the solid foundation that you need. The PGCE is, for many, an opportunity to expand your knowledge and prove to school leaders who will employ you that you are both knowledgeable and capable.

Teachers in England: The Professional Skills Test

Those of you in living and studying in England will come up against your first academic trial before you even embark on the PGCE. This trial comes in the form of the Professional Skills Tests, also known as the QTS Skills Tests. They are computer-based assessments that test your literacy and numeracy skills, essentially checking your fundamental aptitudes. These have to be passed before you enrol in your PGCE.

Why the modules matter

The academic side of the PGCE is rigorous and demanding. It will teach you in modules that include content such as:

· Key issues in teaching and learning like pedagogy, behaviour etc.

· Current and past theories and practices in your specialist field

· Reflecting on what you teach in the classroom and why you do it

· Engaging in research linked to your specialist field

· And much more

In short, it teaches you the knowledge base that any teacher needs to be a reflective, professional and well-informed specialist. Of course, the practice of teaching is learned during the school placement element of the program, but that doesn’t detract from the importance of the academics.

Here are some more points to remember:

· As a teacher, you are a source of authority in your school and the wider community. While nobody expects you to be a Nobel laureate, it is still expected that you “know your stuff,” and that means a strong academic background.

· The best classroom practices will mean nothing if you can’t support them with a strong foundation of knowledge and expertise. Reading answers from a textbook doesn’t cut it in the dynamic world of modern education.

· The academic side of the PGCE provides you with a kind of “teaching sat-nav.” Understanding your subject in great depth gives you proper perspective, and will help you better guide students from their beginnings in a subject to a genuine and meaningful understanding.

Become an "active" living educator

One of your top goals as a teacher is to help students become lifelong learners. One way to help achieve that aim is by becoming an active learner in every way you can. That means that after your PGCE is done, you continue to dedicate a portion of your time to reading up the latest theories and developments in your chosen field; to writing and reflecting about your work to try and continue your own professional and personal growth.

In this way, you become a living embodiment of that learning philosophy. All of this starts with your PGCE studies. When you dismiss the academic side as “mere theory,” you are rejecting the very thing you want your students to adopt --- the acknowledgement that we are always learning, growing and developing, and the journey never stops.

Don’t miss the third part of our series

In the third part of our series on surviving and thriving in the PGCE, we will be looking at how to organise both your time and your practical learning. If you’ve never been organised, the PGCE will put you on a steep learning curve.