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.

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.


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.


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.


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

Back to uni…

I’m slowly working my way back into university life as a leisurely few weeks back at home over the Christmas period, however, all I need to do really is blink and I’ll be out of uni life, on placement and finding all about outdoor centres in North Wales. Time has gone quickly already!

I have been doing a few interesting things on my uni course which I thought I would update this blog with (and avoiding doing assignment work)…

Dinorwig Quarry
A 700 acres (2.8 km2) quarry, Dinorwic Slate Quarry is a former slate quarry located between the villages of Llanberis and Dinorwig in North Wales. It was the second largest slate quarry in Wales, indeed in the world, after the neighbouring Penrhyn Quarry. 

It closed in 1969, after 170 years, due to the result of an industry decline in slate and is now used as a visitor attraction at the nearby National Slate Museum and also as an adventure rock climbing and scuba diving venue. It was a fun day out exploring and looking at the different teaching contexts that could be used here.

Poacher’s Cave

Ogof Hen Ffynhonnau (almost universally known as Poacher’s Cave) lies in the Alyn Gorge in Flintshire, close to Ogof Hesp Alyn.

I really enjoyed this cave (NOT the cave ladder exit, but then I hate the things). A short cave, that can flood from the river it runs over, it was good fun and very mucky in the mud. We even saw a bat down there.

The group visited Tremadog to look at setups again on the crags. When I wasn’t distracted by the views I was watching what they were doing. An interesting ‘double abseil’ was done at the end.

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Llyn Padarn paddling
Another trainee and I went paddling on Llyn Padarn. I’m improving! I’ve joined a canoe club to get out more and learn more – especially feeling a lot more comfortable in a kayak. This is one of my aims this year, to improve and hopefully go for awards.

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Cwm Bychan

We went out as a group to walk Cwm Bychan and look at storytelling in the outdoors. A novel idea involving collecting of items along the way to create a story of the journey/experience. Alongside this, we looked at the ruins of an old mine and Gelert’s Grave in Beddgelert.


As well as visiting Terry for his birthday and finding a train service where I only have to take two trains from North Wales to Swindon rather than five previously (Sadly, the trains only run once every couple of hours but still, saved me nearly 1 and 1/2 in journey time!) I’ve had a good time.

There’s still more to come, environmental education, ICT in the outdoors, reflective practice in outdoor activities, coasteering/sea kayaking, mine exploration and the John Muir Award… alongside an assignment due in soon!


Busy, busy, blink and I’ll miss it!

Just Joanne


First week at uni.

And what a week!

Well, it’s just the usual introductory week so the ‘lectures’ have mostly been information about the course, the campus, it’s facilities, general wellbeing and financial support information and a library visit! So nothing terribly exciting at all.

Bangor is a seemingly nice city (it used the title of ‘city’ by ancient prescriptive right until the Queen made it official in 1974). I’m not sure what to make of it. Apparently, there are 18,000 people here but it doesn’t feel like it because 10,500 of those are university students who don’t arrive until the end of September…

The university site the PGCE students are based on is small (compared to having attended the University of West England) but the University has a couple of other sites located around the town. The town has a couple of large brand name shops (Home Bargains, Next, Argos etc) but several of the smaller shops have shut down in the town centre so it looks rather run down in places. Out lecturer mentioned that independent businesses, unless already established, rarely trade for very long (approx 3-4 years) before either closing for good or relocating to large towns and cities.

The views are lovely though…










Bangor has a pier called, Garth Pier, which is the second longest pier in Wales at 1,500 feet (460 m) in length. It opened in 1893 and was a promenade pier, for the amusement of holiday-makers who could stroll among the pinnacle-roofed kiosks.


Garth Pier entranceway.



Grath Pier, quaint, small and peaceful. No large amusement arcades here.


I quite like this little pier. As you walk along there are a lot of memorial plaques on the seating or barriers, a lot of people also quite liked this pier!

Having a car has been quite useful so far, it’s allowed me to explore the countryside around the area and I took a walk up the hills near Conwy Mountain one evening.


Sheep galore on the hillsides!
The sunsets are beautiful here.


So as part of our next five weeks of training, the ODA group have various outdoor activities to partake in – mountain biking, SUPing, outdoor climbing, bouldering etc. so we’re introduced to what the content of an ODA course might look like in a school or outdoor education centre.

There are nine of us on the ODA PGCE course, two of the group are doing a joint course (R.E and Physics respectively) and the rest just the ODA. There are varying experiences the group members have – from school-based, outdoor education based, university-based – and knowledge and interests, so the next couple of weeks should be interesting as we get to know each other and share information.

On Friday, we took part in paddle boarding on Llyn Padarn, learning how to stand, balance, turn and put another person back on their board. I didn’t fall in often this time like I have done before and my balancing has gotten better (but it’s not great yet), just need to work on getting back on to the board.


Llyn Padarn from Union Rock


Afterwards, we went to Union and Lion rock so the members of the group, who have completed the Single Pitch Award training, can teach those that haven’t/the instructor abseil, top-roping and I forget the name of the other one right now.

I found it all really interesting. I’m not sure how the school utilise outdoor climbing, but I’m sure I will learn in time.


So that’s it for the first week, I will write about the weekend activities in another blog, but right now I’m not sure how I feel at this point about it all. I am homesick, still more so than I imagined I would be and to combat this I have been keeping myself busy. It is more, missing various people and a dog named Bailey, than anything else but I feel that this PGCE will be very demanding and I’ve got to get into the mindset for that over these next couple of days.

Just Joanne 

PGCE Journey

So, anybody who really knows me should know by now that I can be somewhat if an impulsive person and I like to do things on a whim when the fancy takes me… usually I end up either doing something fun or committing to something big… guess which one this blog post will be about?! Sit comfortable and let me tell you this little story…

So, I have been toying with the idea of doing something new with my life for a while now. I very much enjoy my job; colleagues are great, the students are comical and every day is different and I like that, however, I knew I wasn’t being challenged in the way I’d like- sure, challenges were being thrown at me (supporting a VI child with 0 previous experience!) but, Nah, I wanted something different.

But, I wasn’t intentionally looking for anything. I’m a believer in the universe giving you what you need at that time… and I needed something but I was comfortable in my ‘bubble’ doing the same routines day in, day out…

Browsing Facebook one lazy evening I came across a link someone had posted in a wild camping/outdoors group about their mate running an Outdoor Activities PGCE at Bangor University in North Wales… well, straight away there are three things I liked the sound of in that:

  • Wales
  • Outdoor Activities
  • Bangor University.

So, I had a gander at the link.

That gander turned into more looking, that looking turned into more looking and even more looking till eventually, I thought I’d ask for help on applying…

I’m not going to go too much into this, I think I’ve told all that I want to know, but let’s just say I didn’t get the help and support one might expect from their employer if they want to progress… which left me very disheartened.

Still, being of the impulsive and stubborn nature that I have I applied the moment the PGCE applications opened. I thought “What have I got to lose?” (I literally apply that to about 80% of the things I do). I had a small chance- only 4 spaces. Still a chance right?

Getting one of the references took forever- the first came quickly yet the second took a while – I was bugging her PA on an almost daily basis until the PA made my reference a priority (web window open ready for form filling) … With all parts filled in, I paid and I went on my merry way. “What have I got to lose?” (£24 at this point)

The very next day the email stated: “We’ve received your application and wish to invite you to interviewWHAT THE MONKEYS?! I didn’t even have time to console myself that I’ll be rejected at the first hurdle… reply sent “YES OF COURSE I’LL GO!” “What have I got to lose?

Fast forward two weeks of feeling fabulous [darling!] at being offered an interview that quickly I found myself making the journey up to North Wales, sleeping in the car in a lay-by (did I mention at this point how I can sleep anywhere?) and interview the next day…

I should have been more nervous than I was but then I didn’t go into this with expectations. “What have I got to lose?” I just had to be me. I knew my experience will give me lots of talk about and I also knew I would have to explain why I’m not in an Animal Management career as my degree suggests I should be (working with students kinda relates to it right?)…

I was definitely the oldest one there- all the other applicants for Teacher Training in PE, Maths and Outdoor Activities looked very very young… I’m sure have fillings older than them… (I think).

Anyway, the literacy and maths tests- easy. I wasn’t concerned about them (the cocky little bleeder I am at times), then came the interview.

I don’t think the lad before me did well, he didn’t seem joyous when he left and quickly disappeared… “Was it really that bad?” [Edited to say: he did get on the course in the end!!]

My interview was with the course director, Graham and a mentor from a placement school. I liked Graham instantly – I think he’ll be fantastic to learn from and honest in his feedback and also supportive. I had to describe how I would teach a child how to belay- I used the “pinch, slide, repeat” method over the “1,2,3” method and was questioned on this- I suitably impressed and I think it showed that I was conscious about the ability of a learner and the safety aspects!

Yes, the question about my degree not being related to my chosen TT subject came up… I was honest and said that, at the time, the subject matter interested me but what I took away was something far better- independence, self-reliance, etc which had landed me jobs in different fields (eg retail, management). Being honest and learning from your mistakes and recognising that you can grow as a person through varied experiences counts for a lot in my opinion- there’s a big world out there, why not grow with it?

I walked out of them feeling elated. I’m generally a ‘silver lining kinda girl’ and thought that, even if they didn’t want me, I did well in that interview and had good answers to the questions asked and asked good questions to the director. Plus, “What have I got to lose?” (At the point, £24 fee, diesel money & food but I had a good mini adventure to Wales and saw Tryfan again)

Well… the next day this came in an email:


You could have knocked me out with a gentle breeze at this point. I enquire when I would find out the outcome of the interview before my Nepal trip, I just hadn’t expected it in the afternoon the next day.

Naturally, I told my favourite people at work first (although I forgot the tell the one person who told me years ago to “Go For It” when I had various ideas at work and his words have always stuck with me since whenever I question if I should do something. He also wrote my reference and I felt proud to tell him!), then I told others and now I’m writing it on here.

Funding has just opened and I’ve just applied- the declaration has been accepted and now I await, with baited breath, crossed fingers and a rabbit’s foot, that I will be granted the full tuition fee amount and full maintenance loan- without this I may have to defer, which is something I don’t want to happen! I’ve just bought my camper van (another post on this) which will be my accommodation and begun making sure I turn my experience into National Governing Body award certificates for the course.

This journey has only just begun for me. I’ve kept it secret for fear of failure but now I want to be more open and write about it because I want family to be able to follow what I’m up to. It’s not going to be easy. I’ll be out of comfort zone, hours away from family and friends (my dog!!), by myself and having to sort myself out but I’m looking forward to the harsh times and the great times plus I’ll be in Wales and close to the coast…

What have I got to lose?

Just Joanne