Updated: Aug 5, 2021
This is a question we get asked a lot! How important is it to go for a PGCE qualified teacher when choosing a tutor?
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a PGCE is a teacher training qualification offered in the UK which takes around 9 months to complete full-time, and involves academic study concerning the theory of teaching combined with school placements involving actual school teaching, which is observed and assessed by professionals. A proper overview is outside the scope of this blog post but a good one can be found on the Prospects website: click here.
Now, full disclosure: I am myself a PGCE holder, so I am naturally predisposed to have positive things to say about them. I had an exhilarating and rewarding experience on my PGCE course, and learned a lot of useful things. For example, the importance of never making assumptions about prior knowledge, which I just demonstrated in my previous paragraph! (I also wrote a blog post about avoiding assumptions in teaching, which you can read here.)
However, do I think I would be unable to tutor without having a PGCE? Not for a moment! There is a famous saying, "Teachers are born, not made" — and I strongly believe this with every fibre of my being.
A PGCE can't teach you to be a different person: if you're not naturally patient, if you're not a good communicator, if you're not passionate about your subject, and if you don't like working with children, then you can 'study teaching' as much as you like, but you'll never be a good teacher. When recruiting candidates onto a PGCE course, decision-makers will of course be looking for these qualities, but do all patient, passionate communicators pursue PGCEs in the first place? No — there are many individuals with a natural aptitude for teaching who are keen to pursue it part time in conjunction with other interests. They have just as much teaching potential as those starting out on PGCEs, and because of their personalities they will readily imbibe key teaching concepts with a small amount of practice and a healthy dose of common sense.
As a side note, this belief in 'natural born teachers' is the reason we have two price bands at Titanium Tutors dedicated to undergraduates/graduates from top universities who are new (or fairly new) to teaching/tutoring. When they come to interview with us, we observe them teaching and we ensure they demonstrate a natural command of the most important teaching ideas which a PGCE would encourage students to grapple with. Those who make the grade in our thorough selection process are brought onto the books for clients to consider alongside our more experienced tutors. For many of our clients, our Band 1 and 2 tutors represent great value for money, seeing that they have had to meet the same standards at interview as our more expensive experienced tutors.
A PGCE (or equivalent qualification) is, of course, a 'nice to have' for private tutors: it is a fantastic opportunity for budding teachers to deepen and widen their knowledge of the UK education system, and for them to discuss and explore different teaching methods for their particular subject speciality with inspirational colleagues and mentors. All PGCE courses involve going into schools, observing experienced teachers in action, being observed by them in turn, and hearing their feedback. It's a brilliant process and one which can only improve someone's teaching abilities.
However, it is important to remember that the context of private tutoring is a very different one to the classroom. PGCEs and similar teacher training courses such as Teach First and School Direct focus entirely on the classroom environment, and it won't surprise you to hear that teaching a group of 20+ students at a time is very different to teaching someone one-to-one. In private tutoring, one can draw from many of the same concepts such as those I've touched on earlier in this post, but at the same time there is a lot of content on PGCEs which won't be directly relevant to private tutoring. For example, the technique of 'differentiation': the art of tailoring lessons and teaching resources to a wide variety of different learners in the same class. There are also lectures and group discussions about topics such as behaviour management — this issue is rarely difficult to deal with in a one-to-one environment, since you are able to give your student individual attention and they don't have peer pressure tempting them to act out. Formal training in behaviour management may be essential for someone who will be dealing with hoards of children in the same room on a daily basis, but is less immediately relevant to the majority of private tutors.
One-to-one teaching is by its very nature much more about the individual relationship between tutor and student, and less about the scientific principles of teaching. If the student and tutor don't get on very well, the tutoring is doomed to fail — and, on the flip side, if the pair get on brilliantly, then the student will want to work hard for the tutor and will see them as a mentor. This is arguably much more valuable than any theoretical teaching knowledge the tutor could have picked up, because the student's enjoyment and attitude to learning is paramount in one-to-one sessions. If the student is truly inspired and keen to work hard, and if the tutor's subject knowledge is sound, then progress is inevitable one way or another.
I therefore always tell parents who ask about the importance of PGCEs that it certainly wouldn't hurt for their tutor to have one, but that it's by no means the only or even the most important factor they should consider. The main thing to focus on is finding a tutor who truly 'gets' their child and to whom their child will readily respond. If the tutor also happens to have a teaching qualification and/or a lot of private tutoring experience, then great — this will stand them in good stead and may offer a certain peace of mind for parents, but it won't be the factor upon which the success of the tuition sessions ultimately hangs.
To end on an analogy from an entirely different industry, going to a drama school like LAMDA or RADA may be useful training for an aspiring actor and looks good on an acting CV, but on its own it's not enough to make someone a great actor — the most important factors are natural talent and hard work. That's why many actors who don't attend drama school still go on to achieve great success. It's also why Titanium Tutors works with non-PGCE-holders as well as PGCE-holders — and with new tutors as well as connoisseurs. Everyone has to start somewhere. Laurence Olivier was still pretty good early on in his career, right?
Blog Post Crafted by Joe
Subjects Taught: Latin, Ancient Greek
Background: Joe Hytner owns and runs Titanium Tutors, managing our assessors and staff. Joe graduated from King’s College, Cambridge in 2009 with a degree in Classics and then trained as a teacher at Queens’ College, Cambridge, graduating in 2010. Whilst setting up Titanium Tutors he taught Latin on a part-time basis in three schools — Parkside Federation, Impington Village College and South Lee School (where he started up the Latin department from scratch). Joe has also taught Latin and Ancient Greek to numerous Cambridge University undergraduates.
Fun Fact: Joe has read Harry Potter in Latin from cover to cover.