Wednesday, 25 March 2015

My Primary PGCE Application Experience

pgce primary application

My Primary PGCE Application Experience

This is a little different to what I usually post on my blog, but it's something I really want to write. A couple of years ago I decided I would like to become a primary school teacher, and set about trying to find some classroom experience. I was living in Stoke-on-Trent at the time and had managed to secure visiting a year 4 class one or two times a week for as long as I wanted. I was with this primary school from October to April and I absolutely loved it. I went swimming with the year 4s (didn't actually get in the water, that would be weird) and even had a little group of three of the best swimmers to help teach to swim. I felt that I learnt so much from my time here, and the teachers that I observed and helped were amazing and inspiring. This definitely made me realise that teaching was for me. To top up my work experience I asked my old primary school if I'd be able to get a week's classroom experience and thankfully, they let me. It was so weird being back! It was like it hadn't changed even though most of my teachers had left. I was only here for a week but was working with year 1s, so I enjoyed comparing them to the year 4s.  I'd also volunteered with Rainbows for a year and had started with a Brownie group whilst working towards completing my Brownie leadership qualification.

Now all I had to do was wait for October so I could fill in that annoying UCAS application form. If you've ever filled one in, or are about to for the first time you will have an idea of what a faff they are. The process was still pretty much the same as it was in 2008 except that I don't remember having to wait for my references to be sent off before I could submit my application. Is that new, or is it specific to teacher training? The worst bit about UCAS forms is filling in your personal statement. It is the most important bit, however so it should take up most of your time. I'll write a post on personal statement tips a bit later on. After waiting for about 3 weeks for my references to come in, I paid my £19 and my application was off.

I applied for the Primary Education PGCE at Leeds Beckett University, Staffordshire University and Sheffield Hallam University. I should now probably mention the Professional Skills Tests that you are required to take and pass before you start any teacher training courses (whether it's Schools Direct, Salaried, PGCE etc). There are two tests: numeracy and literacy, and you have three attempts to pass each one. If you don't pass them within your three attempts, you can't take them again for another 2 years which is a massive bummer! Fortunately, your first attempt is free so if you pass both first time, it's cost you nothing. After your first attempt, each test costs around £19. You also have to have proof that you have applied to UCAS before you can take the tests.

There has been a lot of outrage at the whole skills test booking process recently, as they have changed providers from Pearson Vue to Learn Direct. With this change, the number of test centres throughout the country seriously dropped. I think I went from having 5/6 in the area to just 3. I also found there was hardly any availability at any of these test centres. I managed to book my literacy test in Leeds but struggled to find any availability for the numeracy test. I ended up searching for centres near my boyfriend's postcode in Stoke but the nearest centres were Wolverhampton and Stockport! I ended up just booking it in Wolverhampton because I didn't want to have to wait months to pass. I know a lot of people are still struggling to book their skills tests, which is annoying as you have to pass these before universities will accept you on to a course. They can offer you a place, but they often put a deadline on you passing the tests. The trick is to make sure you apply to UCAS and book the tests early, or just keep checking every single day for cancellations or the release of new test dates. I booked my tests before I'd applied to UCAS, and if my references still hadn't been received I'd cancel the tests and rebook. Bear in mind that you can only cancel for free 3 days before your tests. If you cancel less than three days before your tests it will cost you and you will lose your free test entitlement. Hopefully Learn Direct will sort this out for the 2015 application process. Anyway, I passed first time which I was so pleased about. Numeracy isn't my strong point.

Whilst I was waiting to take my literacy test, I received an email from SHU inviting me to an interview - I was SO happy as I didn't really know how strong my application was. I'd only just applied to UCAS the day before too, so I was incredibly overjoyed that they'd invited me to an interview less than 24 hours after applying. In the next few days, I also received interview offers from Leeds Beckett and Staffordshire University. I had about a month to prepare for my interviews, and luckily they were all about a week apart. SHU was my first interview and before the interview they emailed me stating what they expected.

PGCE interviews can be a bit daunting, it's not your usual just sit opposite someone and answer questions, you have to do a bit more. They vary between universities, and SHU seemed to be the easiest process out of the three universities I applied for. I was required to prepare a 5 minute lesson that I would have to teach to a small group of other applicants and one lady who also interviewed me. We could either choose to teach a skill to our peers, or teach a lesson we thought would be appropriate for a primary class. I chose to teach origami which I think went down really well although I felt like I'd rushed it. Someone had told me to focus on a learning objective. To state it at the begin and remind them of it at the end. Other people in my group taught us hand embroidery, how to make a paper frog and someone taught us a little bit of German! We then had to take a literacy and a numeracy test. The maths test was really quite simple and I managed to answer all the questions in the 20 minutes we were given. For the literacy, we had to write what steps we would take to try and get a young boy to behave. I found that a little difficult! Then it was on to the actual interview and gosh, I was nervous. I was asked the usual questions like:

  • Why do you want to be a teacher?
  • What skills do you have that you think will make you a good teacher?
  • What do you think the hardest bit about teaching will be?
  • Have you ever been criticised in your life?
  • How did you feel after receiving that criticism?
  • What have you read about education in the news lately?
They were simple to answer and I was confident with my responses. The next day, I got an offer on the conditions that I passed my health check, DBS check and handed in a written reference. After doing all that, I've now got an unconditional offer!

I ended up not going to the Leeds Beckett or Staffordshire interview as I just knew SHU was the university for me. I now can't wait for September so I can FINALLY get on with my career. I know the PGCE year will be extremely difficult and I'm expecting lots of stress and tears, but I know it will be worth it when I come out the other end as a teacher. Only 5-ish months to go!

Rachael Amy
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