Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Interviewing potential PGCE students

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be on the interview panel for prospective PGCE science students at Leeds University.  The University regularly asks for us to go along, they like to have a university tutor and a teacher doing the interviews, but some schools are reluctant to let staff out, with all the cover implications.  I was lucky, I had a class that could be left to get on with some work and a year 12 class who were loaded down the day before with past examination questions, so cover was minimal.  So off I went....

I met up with the university tutor about half an hour before the start time.  Again, I was lucky, one of my ex-colleagues and lovely friend works in the school of education, and I was paired with her for the afternoon.  We caught up on a lot of news in between things!

There were four candidates, two for chemistry and two for biology.  Obviously I can't say what each of them was like, or what the outcome was but I can say that their passion and commitment to science and teaching was amazing.  Obviously they were a bit naive-sounding at times, but nearly all had spent at least two weeks in a secondary school and knew what they were expecting in terms of workload.

My friend gave them a quick introduction to the course, and then they were sent off to do a written test, a reading test and prepare a two minute talk on some effective teaching they had seen.  We interviewed two candidates and then got them back together for the presentation and group discussion part, and then did the remaining two interviews.

I learnt a lot. I was worried about whether I would know what to say or do - again, interviewing is another new thing for me this year - but I had a list of questions to follow and did a lot of encouraging, reassuring nodding and smiling.  Above all I enjoyed it. I loved meeting these enthusiastic people and trying to find out if they had the personality and skills to train to teach.  Apparently I was calm and confident, and I got an answer out of one candidate that might have sealed it for them!

Some top tips then if you're thinking of applying:

  • Get into a school. Get into several different types of school. You're looking for at least a fortnight.  Spend time with staff and pupils and make sure this is really what you want to do. 
  • Go into it with your eyes open, yes teaching is rewarding but not all the time.
  • Remember, your experience as a kid in school is probably very different to what happens for most kids in most schools.  Not everyone is going to want to, or be able to do A level sciences and save the world from global warming... what do these kids do?
  • See a range of subjects. You might really want to teach biology but what does your average pupil do in maths and english? How is science different?
  • When you see good teaching try and work out why it was good. What was the teacher doing? What type of person was the teacher? What were the pupils doing?
  • Obviously you will want to prepare for an interview but please get off your script. Rehearsed answers that you've learnt off by heart sound just like that and don't allow your personality to shine through.  You won't be able to script all your lessons.
  • Read up on things about teaching, for example in the news.  You might want to look at some educational policies but be careful - chances are the interviewer knows more than you do and you don't want to get things really wrong.  If you know it all now, why do you need a place on the course?
  • Good luck.  The PGCE is possibly the toughest year of your life, there will be highs and lows like you rarely experience anywhere else.  You will always be tired and there will never be enough time to do everything you want to do (let alone need to do). You will survive and the staff in your placement schools have all been there too - we all want to help you.


  1. Some excellent ideas there, not like when I applied for my PGCE all those years ago.

    "Do you want to be a teacher?"

    "Yeah, kinda."

    "Congratulations, you've got a place."

  2. What great advice for potential PGCE students, particularly the advice of looking at other subjects to understand what else goes on and how they are different - or similar.

  3. Thank you for sharing these tips. I had been looking to start a PGCE this year, but felt on reflection that despite being fluent in the target languages I wish to teach, I need far more exposure to schools, modern teaching techniques, and most importantly the classroom environment.

    In my IT disaster recovery career to date, I've always held close the mantra "train hard, fight easy". It's time to put that into play myself.

    Thanks for posting this.

  4. I am lucky enough to have my interview for PGCE Chemistry at Leeds University this Tuesday so found this post extremely helpful!

    An excellent set of top tips, you have (ever-so-slightly) eased my interview nerves! Thanks