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Campus-based PGCE or School-based PGCE?

Some Postgraduate Graduate Certificate of Educations (PGCE) are designed to prepare for placements in school through intensive campus-based training. Others permit trainees to spend more time in setting, learning the same curriculum, but through a flexible blend of learning opportunities. Let’s look at the two types of PGCE experience; explore the differences between them and hear first-hand from teachers what they are like.

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If you already have a degree, you can choose between a number of routes into teaching. One of the main routes is a PGCE. Most PGCEs are one-year courses that see you train for a minimum of 24 weeks working in schools – this is split across two schools, working towards Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). QTS is the professional qualification for teachers. It is required to teach in state-run primary, secondary and special schools. The entry requirements for PGCEs are mostly the same across providers, they require you to have at least a GCSE grade C in Maths and English, and in Science for primary, and – for most institutions - a 2.2 or above in any undergraduate degree. However, PGCEs can vary between provider and even within a provider's training offer.

Trainee maths teacher and two pupils work at the whiteboard

Campus-based PGCE

A Campus-based PGCE is university-led, with training located in both school and university. The university, not the school, oversees the curriculum for the trainees. Trainees go on teaching placement within schools for around two-thirds of the year. During this time, you are in school from Monday to Friday, nine to five. The other third of your time is spent in university developing the knowledge to teach successfully, developing an understanding of topics such as inclusion, behaviour management, planning, assessment, approaches to learning and teaching and current issues in education. Trainees also cover the broad subject knowledge needed to teach their specialism, typically learning in mock classroom environments that are set up with all the equipment found in a regular classroom. Campus-based PGCE combines an academic focus and school placements with getting to experience wider university life.

School-based PGCE

A School Based PGCE enables you to undertake more of your training in school. You will learn the same curriculum as campus-based trainees, but flexibly through a blend of University days; learning on the job and learning from specialist school staff. Whilst the campus based course also contains these elements, on the school-based course more of the learning is completed in your setting and with our school partners. The school based route may be suited to you if your are confident in your ability to take responsibility for your learning; able to throw yourself into the life of a school and to seek out the information you need to develop yourself.  Trainees on this route, typically, benefit from being in school in the very first week of the year. 


Bursaries and student finance are open to trainees on both the campus based and school based PGCE routes. You can apply for student finance to cover your tuition fees and cost of living, and potentially for teacher training bursary too (if one is available for your subject).

What is the difference between a Campus-based and School-based PGCE?

In many ways, your teacher training experience will be similar with a school based or campus based PGCE. Both combine substantive in-school-training supported by intensive study of how to teach. 

At first glance it’s tricky to tell what the differences are so we asked Giles Freathy, school-based PGCE programme leader at Plymouth Marjon University, to explain: ”a school based PGCE is best suited to trainees who can work on their own initiative. It is great for independent self-starters who already have some work experience in education and schools, people who already know enough to hit the ground running. Campus based PGCE trainees tend to come straight from university, or they might have had a year out, but they receive more structure and more University based subject knowledge development.” 

"I'm a tutor for our Lead Partners, who recruit to and work with us to offer our school based courses. We often interview together to work out what is going to work best for the candidate. If I think they haven't got much experience then we recommend that they compete the campus-based PGCE. If they're flying already, they know a lot about teaching and learning and have school experience, then they may be more suited to a school based course. They will still get support from the university but will have the chance to go into a school earlier and for longer”. 

School based courses can be a good option for trainees who would like to work in their placement school once they are qualified. While this is not guaranteed, schools will often take trainees on in subjects where they know they have a shortage or they anticipate that someone is leaving, so there is sometimes a chance of a job at the end. 

Likewise with a school based course you’re part of the school team as you’re there most of the time, so you’re that bit more integrated and well positioned to find out about job openings. 

When choosing between a campus based and school based PGCE ask the various training providers and their Lead Partner schools/organisations about whether subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) courses are available, and any associated costs. SKE courses can either be used to update your knowledge of your core subject or to add a second string to your bow. 

Back to Giles to explain how SKE courses can make trainees more employable: “Subject knowledge enhancement is all about employability. When my trainees are secure in the core subject they want to teach, they might then think about doing another subject. Take PE teachers for example, there are many PE teachers, all competing for the same jobs. If a PE teacher can also offer a shortage subject like maths, science, or languages, and they have some experience of teaching it in school, they’ll have more to offer the school than just the one subject. It makes them way more employable."

What to expect on teaching placement

Teaching placements are fundamental to both Campus-based and School-based PGCEs. They are carefully structured to gradually take you from trainee to teacher as the year progresses. This is how it works:

  • Class observation. You start out by sitting in on the classes you will soon be teaching so you can get to know the pupils and see the dynamics of how they work together.
  • Teacher observation. You watch expert teachers so you can see how they deal with things like behaviour, questioning, instructing, assessments, and working with teaching assistants.
  • Pupil pursuit. You follow a pupil for a day to see first-hand how they experience all their different subjects and teachers.
  • Team teaching. The class teacher begins the lesson, you teach a section of the lesson and then the teacher wraps it up.
  • Solo lessons. You are responsible for the class. The class teacher is present but only steps in if you ask for help, or if they feel the need to. If you're teaching secondary school then your first solo teaching class will likely be with Year 7 and you’ll observe the older year groups for longer before teaching them.

Get the inside track

Daisy Briggs is an Art and Design teacher who completed a PGCE at Plymouth Marjon University. We asked her why she picked a campus based PGCE over a school based PGCE, and how it turned out. Over to Daisy...

"I picked campus-based PGCE because I liked the fact that placements were separated by university study time. This meant that there was plenty of time for reflection in between placements which I think helped me to understand my areas for development going into the second placement. It also helped me with my nerves in relation to going into schools, especially as someone starting teacher training with no prior school experience.

"Going into uni before the first placement helped me to prepare for school life and clearly understand the expectations for me as a trainee once I was on placement.

"The campus-based PGCE is great because you get to know others on the course and can benefit from sharing experiences and feel you have a diverse network of support from other students and lecturers. 

"The only drawback I can think of is with placements, you only get a relatively short time in school and so you don't get a complete picture of school life and the whole school year. It's also slightly more challenging as you aren't introduced to students in September, when they are used to meeting new teachers and this can make it harder to set expectations and build relationships."

Michael Johnson is a primary teacher who trained on a school-based course with Plymouth Marjon University and one of our Lead Partners. We asked him why he picked a school based PGCE over a campus based one, and how it turned out. Let's find out... 

“I chose a School-based PGCE because I was used to being in school. Also, as you go to your placement school as early as day one, everyone treats you as a member of staff. 

"There were clear set times for placement then other times focused on university work and subject knowledge. Another positive thing with School Direct was that my placements were not far from where I live, meaning my commute was never more than 30 to 40 mins. 

“There are only a couple of drawbacks to the school-based course relative to the campus-based PGCE, such as not receiving as much support and contact time with university and tutors, which for me was further impacted by training during Covid-19. Plus in the first term it felt that PGCE students had more time to focus on their assignments whilst we were planning and delivering lessons as well as studying.”

You can rest assured that employers do not look more favourably on any one course over the others, as they all lead to the same qualification. However, they may ask you why you chose the training course you did so it’s helpful to do your research so you can speak clearly if this ever does come up. 


Looking for a course? Plymouth Marjon University offers the following PGCE courses:

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