Professional and postgraduate courses: what's the difference?
Higher education qualifications awarded by universities and colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland fit into a national framework of five levels. In ascending order these are the certificate, intermediate, honours, masters and doctoral levels. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) is responsible for designating these levels, which help to ensure parity of standards across the sector. The acronym PGCE has traditionally stood for postgraduate certificate in education. The QAA, however, has ruled the term 'postgraduate' should only describe courses pitched at an academic level beyond an honours qualification. This means that a course can now only be described as 'postgraduate' if it is pitched at masters or doctoral level.
Is a professional graduate course at a lower academic level than a postgraduate course?
It usually corresponds to honours level – the final stage of an undergraduate degree.
If I follow the professional graduate route will I be disadvantaged when applying for jobs?
It's impossible to know every school's stance on this, but it seems very unlikely. There is an increasingly diverse range of routes conferring QTS. In addition to PGCE courses there are undergraduate degrees and programmes such as Teach First. Schools show less interest in the different routes than in selecting new teachers based on their potential.
Why would anyone choose to work at a higher level, especially when we're regularly told how busy initial teacher training courses are?
Many teachers are choosing to gain masters degrees as a way of undertaking professional development. If you already have a postgraduate certificate you're a third of the way to gaining that important qualification. Moreover, traditional PGCE courses, while thoroughly practical, have always demanded a high level of analysis from students. You may have already made the jump to the next level without realising it. In the final analysis it will be a matter of personal choice.
Roger Woods is an expert in teacher education and training and a former emeritus professor at Birmingham City University.