Post-graduate certificate of education: modern foreign languages

Author: Mike Grenfell


This entry gives detail of the Post-graduate Certificate of Education in Modern Foreign Languages in Britain.The number and names of leading institutions is listed. The context for the PGCE is given in relation to the main organisation and quality assurance of teacher training courses. The content of the PGCE is described together with a rationale in terms of the National Currciculum for MFLs in Britain. Reference is made to the Standards against which trainees are trained and assessed. Recent trends are set out along with possible future developments. The entry ends with a list of salient documents and publications. Web based sites are listed and details of research into MFLs teacher education.

Table of contents


The Post-graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) remains the principal means for training modern foreign language teachers in England and Wales. Since the creation of the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) in 1993 there has been a wide range of alternative routes: for example, licensed teachers, articled teachers, school centred training, graduate training schemes. However, those undertaking a PGCE far out-number the rest. There are currently a total of 83 service providers of Initial Teacher Training in foreign languages in the UK.

Some Institutions, including the Open University,offer a flexible PGCE through distance learning based around CD-ROM, Video and training modules.

OfSTED inspection reports for each of these can be obtained from the agencies listed in the reference section below.

The PGCE is a compulsory qualification for all teachers of MFLs in secondary schools. It is a one-year (36-week) training programme leading to Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). Its main organisation and structure are set for training institutions according to the statutory requirement of the TTA. Trainees must be based in school for two-thirds of the year. They must also be assessed according to 62 Standards set by the TTA; a revised and streamlined set of Standards was introduced in 2002 covering the same areas in 47 statements. Compliance with these requirements is monitored through periodic inspections by the Office for Standards in Education (OfSTED), and training recognition is withdrawn if institutions are deemed to be 'non-compliant'. All trainees have also to pass skills tests set by the TTA in Numeracy, Literacy and ICT.

The PGCE and the national curriculum

The PGCE in Modern Foreign Languages is required to teach the English National Curriculum (NC). Trainees are therefore taught to think of secondary school language teaching in terms of two Key Stages (KS3 11-14 years; KS4 15-16 years), to teach according to the Attainment Targets (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing), and their levels (1 - 8). At KS4, GCSE takes over as the main curriculum structure, although many aspects of its philosophy and practice remain the same. The NC Programme of Study covers both Key Stages and deals with the Knowledge, Skills and Understanding of language learning and teaching as well as the breadth of study. The former includes: Acquiring knowledge and understanding of the target language; Developing language skills; Developing language-learning skills; (including Dictionary skills); Developing cultural awareness.

The PGCE curriculum

Trainees are taught to develop these aspects of language learning with pupils and to assess according to them. The content of institution-based training deals with lesson planning and implementation. The use of the target language and developing grammatical awareness form a focus for pedagogic planning. Trainees are taught how to present language and practise it with pupils, as well as creating the conditions for independent production. A range of classroom exercises is presented to trainees, which covers activities in speaking, listening, reading and writing. Trainees are taught how to set up these activities, to differentiate according to learners' individual potential and differences, and to assess performance. A number of more specialised approaches are also covered, such as drama, autonomy, and cross-curricular work.

Trainees are instructed in the use and application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) (See ICT requirements for Qualified Teacher Status) in their own work management; as a data source; and directly with pupils. A number of broadly professional aspects of being a teacher are also covered: for example, the law, links with parents, health and safety.

Assessment for the PGCE

In most cases, trainees work with institution-based tutors and school base mentors. Between them, those in these roles have the responsibility to instruct and support trainees. A number of one-to-one feedback sessions are held where a trainee's progress is addressed and targets set. Lessons are observed periodically, and this can include detailed and formal comments and assessment. Trainees are required to self-evaluate every lesson and to use their own reflections, together with colleagues' observations and pupil assessment, as part of their subsequent lesson planning.

Assessment is continuous and involves the TTA Standards. These Standards are grouped under the following rubrics:

  • Knowledge and Understanding
  • Planning
  • Teaching and Classroom Management
  • Monitoring, Assessment, Recording, Reporting, and Accountability
  • Other Professional Requirements

A portfolio of evidence is collected to map onto each statement under these headings. Trainees must pass all Standards in order to pass the PGCE, which allows them to gain QTS. Newly qualified teachers also leave with a Career Entry Profile, which lists their main strengths and targets for further development. They take this into their first school as part of their induction year, where specific needs are addressed.

Developments in PGCE

Teacher training is today a fast changing field. Those coming into training increasingly originate from European countries other than England. Most trainees are given a 'golden hello' as a financial incentive to train to teach. Although required numbers of MFLs teachers have not been met overall, the fall in recruitment has slowed down and stabilised. Increasingly, we look to ICT to deliver all aspects of the training, aside from actual classroom experience. Furthermore, there is a trend to accredit parts of training at M-level, thus giving trainees a start on the professional development ladder.


The most recent book-length discussion of research on the training of modern language teachers in Britain is:

Grenfell, M (1998). Training Teachers in Practice. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

The most up-to-date and comprehensive book on the content of MFLs teacher training is:

Pachler, N and K. Field (2000). Learning to Teach Modern Foreign Languages in the Secondary School. London: Routledge.

Related links

The main sources for information on teacher training in the UK are:

The Teacher Training Agency:

The Department for Education and Skills:

The Graduate Teacher Training Agency:

All training courses are subject to periodic inspection. The reports arising from these inspections can be accessed from the OfSTED web site:

The Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT) offers a range of information services to support MFLs teacher training. They have a review - Links - which is dedicated to MFLs teacher training and is published twice yearly. They also hold details of current and recent research carried out in the areas of language teacher education. These can be accessed from their website:

The journal of the Association for Language Learning (ALL) - Language Learning Journal - also includes regular articles of ideas and research dealing with second language teacher training: Email:

A research project on recent developments in the training of modern foreign language teachers in Europe includes an entire national report on the United Kingdom:

Referencing this article

Below are the possible formats for citing Good Practice Guide articles. If you are writing for a journal, please check the author instructions for full details before submitting your article.

  • MLA style:
    Canning, John. "Disability and Residence Abroad". Southampton, 2004. Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies Guide to Good Practice. 7 October 2008.
  • Author (Date) style:
    Canning, J. (2004). "Disability and residence abroad." Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies Good Practice Guide. Retrieved 7 October 2008, from