PGCE in Outdoor Activities

This has been sitting in my draft folder on WordPress for months… I completed the course in June this year and wanted to do a write up of it. As you can imagine, with nearly twelve months of training the write up will be long (I’ve deliberately kept some areas brief) but I thought it would give an opportunity for others to understand the PGCE. The course format has changed since I attended, but still, this might be an interesting read for some…

Starting out…

I’d been working in education as a Lead Teaching Assistant for Complex Needs for over eight years; the school I was at wasn’t able to offer me teacher training due to my degree being in an unrelated curriculum subject; so I decided to look around. I’d made the decision to train to become a teacher because I wanted a change of career, a boost to my emotional wellbeing, continue working with young people and to overall teach a subject I was passionate about.

I decided to attend the PGCE Secondary in Outdoor Activities (QTS) at Bangor Uni; partially because of it’s location, it’s reputation, it’s subject but mainly because I felt a really good atmosphere when I arrived there for my interview – I liked the course tutor, the PGCE content and felt that I could do well here; so I applied, went to interview, got accepted and eagerly awaited August 2018!

Below is a brief outline of the PGCE course for readers to find out about it and a few considerations at the end. I am happy to speak to anyone if they have any questions about any aspect of the course.

The 2018-2019 cohort. 

At the start of the course there were nine trainee teachers for ODA; I was the oldest one within the group (34 isn’t old really…) and the rest, bar one other and me, had previously undertaken the Outdoor Education degree route at either Chichester Uni or University of Wales Trinity St Davids Uni and this was a follow on year from that for the majority. The tutor will accept people based on prior experience – I certainly had years of it with DofE, Scouting and John Muir Award; so don’t think you might not have enough experience, call and speak directly to the tutor to find out.

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Some of the PGCE ODA group

Term 1

Term 1 – activities and assignment basically sum up this term.  Our tutor planned outdoor activities and visits to interesting locations so we knew what to expect on placement – Stand Up Paddling boarding, canoeing, mine exploration, caving, climbing, mountain biking etc.

We had professional development lessons and our first assignment was on teaching and subject methodologies. Overall, this was a good introduction to subject content and teaching practise.

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Fun day in the mine!

Placement 1

My first placement was in an English-medium mainstream school in North East Wales. I’d known for a while where I was going so could make arrangements accordingly for accommodation etc. The rest of the ODA cohort, bar two, was sent to schools (some outdoor centres might not have many groups visiting during December so placement was usually a school…) around North Wales. I shared this placement with four other trainees from Bangor (one dropped the course during the placement), one from Aberwythsmith and three others from Chester.

I was based in the P.E department with another trainee from the course – it was great that we had each other for support as it was one very hectic and busy department! My mentor had over 25 years of teaching experience, was the head of the department and overall a nice guy. He allowed for me to have a lot more autonomy than I was expecting; he knew where to give support and when to allow me to discover when the mistakes were made, also, he helped identify the areas of development that I really needed advice with. I had some good conversations with him about the changes in the curriculum over the years, especially around outdoor education and the PGCE course (“the tick box exercise“), and where teaching is progressing. He wasn’t one for lesson plans much (though saw the value in them), the content and quality of the teaching was the most important aspects I gathered. You could tell he genuinely cared for his ODA cohort, even the challenging members, and thoroughly enjoyed teaching even after so long. I learnt a fair bit from this placement, not only about the course content of adventurous activities within the P.E curriculum but more so about keeping its high profile to keep it running within schools! The adventurous activities I taught were kayaking, navigation, hill walking and orienteering.

 

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Teaching in the swimming pool

 

I think one of the best things I loved about this placement was the attitude of the young people and the teachers; having the mountains, rivers and trails as your backdrop, rather than the concrete jungle I’ve been used too, changes your perspective on life and activities – the young people I met, I felt, were more ‘wholesome’ individuals with mature attitudes as they’ve had to take responsibility, such as getting buses from villages, at a much younger age. Whilst the school was rated “good” it seemed more important to the teachers that the young people had experiences, rather than worry about grades.

 

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The first placement’s folders.

 

Side note: one of my managers at my current workplace was an ODA student of my mentor from years ago! Small world, but due to his lessons he gained a life long passion for outdoor education which continues to this day!

Term 2

Heading back to university after Christmas saw fewer numbers than before but excited and energised trainees ready for the next placement. The first couple of weeks consisted of ensuring folders from placement 1 were up to date, then finding out about the Action Research Project in placement 2 and submitting proposals to peers for review. Alongside this, we had a couple of outdoor activity sessions.

 

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Outdoor climbing session

 

Placement 2

The second placement was in a council-owned outdoor education centre in Snowdonia national park. All the teaching staff had the PGCE in Outdoor Activities qualification (with one studying an MA in Outdoor Education) and the freelance staff, which joined occasionally, were all highly skilled and experienced.

Having been used to a heavily target driven curriculum-based school setting the centre was fascinating to be a part of as it felt more like family than other placements; the support was strong and the teachers insightful, encouraging and motivating.

This placement consisted of an adventurous, educational packed programme for Key Stage 2 students from a large city and activities included (but not limited to): gorge-walking, high and low ropes, climbing and traversing, canoeing, mine exploration, biking and mountain walking.

 

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In the mine with a group

 

Whereas the first placement taught me about curriculum content, I felt this one taught me more about myself as the outdoor practitioner, group management, motivation and self-confidence and how integral they all are to the outdoor education of others – more fluid and flexibility is required than a classroom-based curriculum, which made for some very interesting and enjoyable sessions! Have I the opportunity again, I would like to do a lot more centre based work – it’s long and hard working days but more immediately rewarding.

This was the longer of the two placements, with the same requirements as the first; lesson planning, weekly teaching reviews and professional development sessions but I completed an Action Research Project during this placement which is graded at a level 7 (Masters).

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out on the water

Term 3

I say ‘term 3’, it was more like 2 weeks of finishing off the paperwork required for the portfolios but also doing some outdoor stuff. At this point, everybody is flagging, willing it to be over, wishing it wasn’t so, excited to move on to the next thing or just wishing it could last longer; a really mixed bag of emotions but overall, just grateful of the experience. Interested eyes scan the room on the first meeting back to see who has made it through and who has left the course; polite tutors confirm/deny suspicions and detail the tasks still yet to complete.

At this point, if your folders aren’t sorted and in the correct areas then be prepared to spend a lot of time doing this, especially the Record of Professional Development!

Lastly, was the graduation ceremony and the goodbyes to fellow students; having now shared similar experiences each one looks to the future; for some, they have secured teaching jobs, others decide teaching isn’t for them and some, like myself, were still looking for employment at this stage.

 

After the course

There are a lot more opportunities that one would imagine for Outdoor Education/Activities teaching after the course however, there are a few things I’d like readers to know.

If you’re considering freelancing or a summer placement – freelancing isn’t too bad, I found companies were very keen to have me on their books with the PGCE qual (although NGB qualifications were still a must) so getting work for July/August wasn’t an issue at all. Summer placements are a different matter as you’ll still be on the course when the majority of centres start employing for April/May but some were happy to have a shorter summer stint from July to October if they needed someone.

Teaching supply is also a consideration (one of our trainees is going down this route), and you can still complete your NQT year if you’re on long term supply (best check with the school first as they will need to support you. Applicable only to Wales TT I believe). I’ve known a lot of supply teachers in my time and if you build a good reputation then you’ll be the first to be offered jobs and can negotiate for more pay; some even went on to be employed as full-time teachers.

If you’re considering full time teaching from September – there are jobs out there! I have seen a lot of part-time job for Graduate Assistants in Independent/Private schools (one trainee has gained employment at a private school) and these are great if you want to build up logbook/qual experience in a school setting (and they often come with the added benefit of accommodation and food provided).  I saw a lot of joint P.E/Outdoor Education teaching roles for NQT and, after speaking to some schools, they’d like for you to have experience or quals in officiating/umpiring either football/netball/hockey (athletics is a bonus!) as you will teach P.E lessons but these quals are easy to obtain.

There’s also teaching roles within SEND/SEMH residential places (of which one trainee has gained employment in) to consider if you’d like to work in those areas; I found lots of advertisements for this pathway. Hard work but very rewarding through creative educational lessons.

If you’re considering overseas – I’ve not heard a bad word about overseas work yet, and I am attracted to it but circumstances at the moment prevent it sadly… however, be mindful that, especially in the Emirate areas, the summer term begins 1st August and applications open in April – a lot of schools require ML, RCI, Paddlesport Level 3, Powerboating Level 2 as a minimum – the centres overseas are more flexible and many just seem to offer you training in one area (usually ERCA I found) but provide accommodation and food (within a school you’ll probably have to source your own accommodation but get a little extra pay for this). It’s also worth noting that within certain places, like the US, you can be sponsored to join outdoor teaching programmes (need a minimum of a Masters to teach in a school in the US, outside of this the PGCE is just fine) and will have to do their equivalent NGBs as UK ones aren’t always counted sadly. I’m sure there is a lot more to overseas outdoor education work, this is what I found and thought I’d share.

Alternative jobs – I found quite a few that were teaching based, such as Educational Officers for charities and group tour guides, all over the UK, whilst they might not be able to help you with you NQT induction year they’re still worth considering (I met a lot of centre teachers who hadn’t completed their NQT year and it didn’t seem to matter much really as there’s no time limit in Wales) as the more varied experiences will look great on your CV. Consider also looking at county councils that are outdoor-focused, I have gained employment in this area in their Outdoor Education team.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, it’s some info for your consideration when you apply for the PGCE course as to what opportunities are available afterwards. The majority of jobs can be found advertised on IOL job site, Linkedin and TES – I would advise looking at all three of these sites as many companies are still unaware of IOL so don’t post there! To make job-hunting an easier process I set up weekly job searches to be sent to my email. Recruiters did not really help me to find jobs, so I wouldn’t recommend.

My advice for anyone considering the course is to sit down and consider what type of outdoor work you’ll be interested in and be prepared not to gain employment straight away in that area. I knew from the outset that I didn’t want too much SEND as I’ve had years of it, nor did I want to go back into a mainstream school setting; what I do want is overseas but family commitments mean that’s one that will have to wait a little while longer… but, if you know what type of job you’re looking for then you can build on your experience and qualifications during the PGCE.

 

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Still missing these Welsh views!

 

Please be mindful that this blog post relates to the PGCE course from 2018 -2019. There have been changes for the 2019+ cohorts (of which, when described to us we thought were fantastic!) and I would strongly urge you to speak to the course tutor. The opinions expressed within this blog post are all my own and not the opinions of my course colleagues, tutor or the university. 

If you have any questions, I would be happy to try to answer them!

– Just Joanne

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