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Going mainstream with an iPGCE

This post-graduate course could transform your career prospects, says Melanie Butler

At the beginning of 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared on television advertising the idea the UK was set to become teacher trainer to the world. The courses he was crowing about were the international Postgraduate Certificates in Education, generally known as iPGCE, though different courses have different acronyms: PGCEi is common and, at the University of Bath, PGCie.

The original PGCE is the mainstream state teaching qualification used, with some variation, across the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom. However, the international versions are designed for teachers working in mainstream education abroad, primarily in English medium international schools. The qualification does not confer qualified teacher status (QTS), as national certification to work in the UK state school system is known. For returning Brits, though, it may be possible, at least in England’s school system, to qualify for QTS by working for two years in an English state school.

With more and more international schools employing EFL teachers, or EAL teachers, as they are called in UK mainstream education, and more EFL specialists looking for the kind of well-paid, secure jobs this burgeoning sector offers, the iPGCE route is worth considering, not least because it generally costs the same or less than an EFL diploma and can normally be taken while you are working over one or two years. In most cases the delivery is either entirely online or in a blended-learning form. An additional plus is that the units are credit bearing, which means the university you attend may count the modules you take towards a Master’s degree in the subject.

“The iPGCE route is worth considering, not least because it generally 
costs the same or less than an EFL diploma”

EFL teachers need to look at course descriptions carefully before enrolling, because there is a lot of variation on previous work experience requirements, modes of delivery and content. In general, they fall into two main categories. First there are those that follow the British PGCE model, with a focus on age groups and subjects, and involve a significant amount of teaching practice. Second are those that take a more academic approach, following the principles adopted by countries like Finland, as described by the Finnish teachers union: “Teacher education is research-based and its goal is to educate critically thinking experts and pedagogues” ( english/goals-for-teacher-education/).

Some courses only admit people currently working in international schools and may ask for other teaching qualifications. The iPGCE at the University of Derby (the course costs £2,625), for example, also requires teachers to have qualified teacher status in the country they are working in or be working towards it.

A requirement for iPGCE candidates to be currently working is most common among the institutions teaching practice-focused courses. For example, the University of Buckingham (offers its International PGCE for £4,275) is one among its wide variety of educational training programmes. The international programme is delivered entirely online, but has a personal tutor for every student. Applicants must be working at an international school following either the IB or English National Curriculum. They can choose to concentrate on either primary or secondary age groups with a variety of academic subject areas on offer.

These types may be particularly useful for those from an EFL/EAL background currently working in international schools, often as a teaching assistant, but who want to expand their job opportunities by getting a qualification which allows them, for example, to teach the subject which they studied for their first degree. As the website for the PGCEi at the University of Strathclyde (£4,500) explains: “If you are an EAL teacher and teach full-time (or close to full-time) in school you will benefit from this programme.”

However, those seeking a teaching- practice focused course, but are not working in a mainstream school, should not despair. Some universities which run courses with primary/secondary options accept students who can help them find a placement in

a school and, for some courses, can also access a teacher mentor. Courses for those with placements are available at Queen’s University Belfast (IPGCE, £5,800), the University of Sheffield (£4,333) and the University of Sunderland (£7,455), where the course is called the Independent Distance Learning PGCE.

While teaching-practice led courses are perfect for EFL teachers with a couple of years of classroom experience under their belt, the more research led, Finnish- style courses where reflective practice and action research take centre stage may be more suited to experienced EFL professionals who have worked in a variety of educational contexts.

Established educators make up the student body at the University of Bath, for example, which is as well-known for its long established Masters in International Education as it is for its industry-renowned MA Tesol. Applicants for its PGC in International Education do not need to be currently teaching, but do need access to an educational context where they can undertake the “small-scale action research enquiry” which is a compulsory credit-

bearing element of the course. The course delivery at Bath is also very different from those on the British-style courses: you can opt to study online with live seminars and an online tutor or face to face. There’s also Bath’s on-campus summer school or you can join a (normally) blended learning programme delivered by one of its partner schools in seven countries. You can even opt for a mixture of all three. Fees start at £3,700 for online only.

The PGCEI at the University of Nottingham has always been run with courses at its international study centres, with those in Singapore, Malaysia, Czechia and India currently running online. Fees vary according to the study centre, but £4,333 is the typical figure quoted. Again, the emphasis is on research and part of the assessment is based on a small scale study “in your own educational context”. Then there is the entirely online PGCEi at the University of Leicester (£4,250), which welcomes beginner teachers, covers a wide variety of educational contexts and can help students find placements with a range of partner institutions.

For EFL teachers looking to join mainstream international education, the variety of UK courses which can help them do that makes transitioning much easier to navigate.

Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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