Careers- Psychology teacher training

Julie Bostock looks at the impact of a new initiative

In February this year the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) allocated funding for Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) Psychology for the very first time. This is a brand new PGCE programme for trainee psychology teachers, recognising the growing numbers of pupils studying the subject in colleges and the need for appropriately qualified teachers. I am Course Leader on the PGCE Psychology course at Edge Hill University, and this article I?will explain what this development means for psychology teaching and thus for the profession as a whole.

In the past few years, the number of pupils and students studying psychology in schools and colleges has grown enormously. Over the 11-year period from 1995 to 2007, entries to psychology A-level have increased by 235 per cent from 22111 to 52048 a year. The figures in the table below (taken from show this increase in detail. After English, mathematics, general studies and biology, psychology is now the fifth most popular A-level. In my previous school more than one-third of all sixth formers were studying psychology after the introduction of Curriculum 2000.

For years, a shortage of qualified psychology teachers has been a problem for schools and colleges. The subject has often been taught by unqualified teachers and teachers with a different subject background. Some school managers seem to believe that anyone can teach subjects like psychology and sociology; maybe this has been a convenient answer to the difficulty in finding qualified candidates in these areas. Previously, psychology graduates have only been able to gain a teaching qualification by training to teach a different, national curriculum subject or by studying PGCE social scienceat a small number of higher education institutions with a limited number of places.

Psychology graduates wishing to become educational psychologists also faced a problem because they neededa minimum of two years’ experience as a teacher before they could apply for the master’s course in educational psychology, yet PGCE courses were very difficult to get into without a degree in a national curriculum subject. Despite a shortage of educational psychologists and many unfilled posts, psychology graduates were falling at the first hurdle.

In 2006 the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority recategorised psychology as belonging to the science subjects. All students are recommended to study two GCSE sciences, and psychology is now one of the possible options. Elements of psychology have also been introduced into Key Stage 3 science and ‘How Science Works’ features in both Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) A-level Psychology specifications. It is interesting that psychology has now been designated as the ‘fourth’ science in the national curriculum, especially since one of the topics studied in the A-level syllabus is the debate as to whether psychology is a science. Obviously not everyone agrees about the issue!One good outcome of this decision may be that psychology gains status in schools

Before the new initiative –my experience
In the early stages of my career when I introduced psychology into the sixth-form curriculum I found myself battling against prejudice from some teachers of ‘proper’ subjects and trying to persuade prospective students and their parents that it was not, in fact, an easy option; we would not be sitting around hypnotising each other or palm-reading or even studying the occult (as one group of local parents led by a vicar complained to my headteacher back in 1991!).

I began my teaching career working as an unqualified psychology teacher in a school, and had to train as a science teacher to gain qualified teacher status (QTS). I had studied science A-levels and a significant amount of my degree consisted of biological and physiological modules. But I wanted to teach psychology. My PGCE was a very difficult means to an end, which involved many desperate lunch hours in the science labs practising demonstrations of scientific apparatus and equipment before my lessons. I’ll never forget that little steam-powered engine that worked beautifully at lunchtime and then wouldn’t budge an inch once 30 eager first-years were watching it!

If schools decided to manage psychology in the science department by moving it from social sciences, career development for psychology teachers became an issue. At the moment it is possible for a psychology teacher to become a head of psychology and even head of social science, but I wonder how easy it would be for them to become a head of science as compared with a chemistry, physics or biology teacher?

The new route
At last, psychology teachers who love their subject and want to inspire others can train to teach psychology, and the psychologists of the future will have been taught by psychology graduates with teaching qualifications. Psychology is designated a 14–19 subject with particular training requirements, and Edge Hill University is currently one of five providers to which the TDA has allocated funding over the next three years. In addition to the full-time course, Edge Hill has been able to secure 25 places for an assessment-only route to QTS. This provision is for current psychology teachers employed at state schools in England without QTS. From this September schools are no longer allowed to employ teachers without QTS, so this is potentially a lifeline for anyone in this situation. I am already hearing tales of difficulties getting teaching posts and contracts not being renewed among some psychology lecturers. Edge Hill is also offering a professional development module for psychology teachers with QTS in a different subject, which aims to enhance their subject knowledge and is also a 20 credit gateway module to our master’s programme.

The Edge Hill course
Our first cohort of full-time PGCE psychology students began the one-year course this September. There were many more applications than the 10 funded places allocated by the TDA.

We also had applications from Scottish students, presumably relocating in order to avoid the same situation in Scotland that has plagued psychology graduates in England and Wales: although a psychology degree is fine for primary teaching, the minimum entry requirements for entry to a PGDE (Secondary Education) course are an undergraduate degree that contains 80 credit points relevant to the teaching qualification you are studying for, which does not currently include psychology (see
So what were we looking for in our candidates? During their interviews the successful students were able to show good subject knowledge, the ability to explain psychological concepts and to apply those concepts to explain human behaviour. They were expected to have had recent experience observing teaching in a secondary school and some awareness of issues in 14–19 education. On the course they will study modules specific to teaching psychology in:

I    knowledge and understanding;
I    teaching, planning and assessment;
I    research and enhancement.

The latter will involve a research project into an aspect of psychology education in schools with the aim of producing a publishable article. One area of possible interest is how the subject can be taught beyond the classroom, and we will be visiting Chester Zoo to investigate how their education department delivers psychology workshops for A-level students and how this complements the teaching they receive in the classroom. Trainees will also have visiting lecturers with expertise in different aspects of the modules such as examiners, our adolescent mental health team and teachers with expertise in creative teaching strategies.

These modules run alongside the generic personal and professional development modules that all secondary PGCE subjects study. They will have teaching placements in two different schools covering both Key Stage 4 and 5 (GCSE and A-level) psychology. In the first term the week is split between school and university attendance, then the final school placement is full-time.

Finding out more
Throughout this year the trainees will be encouraged to keep reflective diaries of their experiences and The Psychologist will report later on in the academic year about how they are progressing on this new course. This is such an important and exciting development for psychology teaching in schools, and I have received a great many enthusiastic reactions to the introduction of these courses at Edge Hill.

If you would like to find out more about Edge Hill courses for psychology teachers in schools, please visit

Before joining Edge Hill University in June 2007 Julie Bostock taught A-level Psychology for 17 years, first at Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School and then as Head of Psychology at Clitheroe Royal Grammar School. She graduated in psychology from Birmingham University and gained her PGCE in secondary science with the Open University. She is a member of the Society’s Division of Teachers and Researchers in Psychology, and is currently researching the e-learning of study skills for mature learners and the professional development of the wider school workforce.

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Photo: © John Harris



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