Report: Who’s prepared to teach school English?

English across the sectors

Overview

This report, commissioned by CLIE (the Committe for Linguistics in Education) and funded jointly by the Subject Centre and five other organisations, investigates the admission criteria for PGCE secondary English courses and, more broadly, the nature of the academic ‘preparedness’ expected of and useful for teachers of English in secondary schools. Julie Blake and Tim Shortis of King’s College London surveyed tutors from 35 of the 54 English PGCE courses in England, and conducted in-depth interviews with nine course leaders. A short summary follows the download links below.

Authors: Julie Blake and Tim Shortis
Published: March 2010
ISBN: 978-1-905846-15-3

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Report summary

This report is the first to investigate in detail the admissions criteria for PGCE secondary English courses in England. The authors surveyed tutors from 35 of the 54 English PGCE courses in England and conducted in-depth interviews with nine course leaders.

The report finds that admissions criteria vary considerably and that it is not always clear how admission choices are made. Applicants are often unable to tell which first degrees are considered suitable by a given course provider. The report argues that PGCE courses need to be clearer about what they consider an appropriate background for an English PGCE candidate, ‘especially in the context where those students may have incurred substantial levels of debt in order to complete their first degree’.

The report also recommends that the government and course providers make it clearer that BA degree programmes do not provide students with all the subject knowledge necessary to work as an English teacher, concluding that ‘It is not a case of any student beginning their PGCE course with all the necessary content knowledge and spending the year learning how to teach; rather, all students need to spend the year both supplementing their content knowledge and learning how to teach’.

While all courses recruit graduates with good degrees – 88% of students had at least an upper second class in their first degree – preferred first degrees are not always the same from one PGCE English course to another. 37% of English PGCE students have English Literature degrees. Most tutors consider that this prepares aspiring teachers to teach English Literature to A level. No respondent, however, considered that English Literature graduates are adequately prepared to teach A level English Language topics. Student teachers with English Language or combined English Literature and Language degrees are considered better equipped to teach language topics, but they are thought to need support in some areas of literature, and in media and drama.

Tutors report that many beginning student teachers themselves are anxious about teaching language topics. The report also found that ‘students with a lack of experience of poetry (including some with Literature degrees) are anxious about teaching poetry’.

PGCE courses supplement students’ subject knowledge in ways ranging from pre-course teaching through peer support to online work, but time pressure means that tutors seldom have time to network and share practices. The report calls for ‘a project to pool ideas and resources for content knowledge support, and to make them available to the community of PGCE English providers’.

The report was commissioned by the Committee for Linguistics in Education (CLIE), a grouping of UK associations interested in the place of language and languages in education. It was funded by the English Subject Centre, the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (LLAS), the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL), the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB), the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) and the Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellowship grant of Dr Catherine Walter.