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

Snowdonia Slate Trail: Part 1 – Bangor to Llanberis

I heard about this Trail late 2017 on social media and thought I’d love to walk it. Starting in Bangor and walking a ‘leaf-shaped’ route (including stem) the route passes through several well-known areas within Snowdonia – Llanberis, Bethesda, Nantelle, Llan Ffestiniog etc.

I decided, as I only had one day, that I’d walk the first two sections Bangor to Bethesda and on to Llanberis before getting the bus back to Bangor.

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I’d love to have walked the complete 83-mile route but time will not allow this year and I just wanted to get out and walk.

The trail starts at Porth Penrhyn, near the castle, along the quiet tree-lined cycleway along Lon Las Ogwen river.

There’s no official starting monument, but one is planned. Waymarkers show the way.

Along the first part of the route, there are several signs to explain about the slate trade and how horses were used on the viaducts to move large quantities to the port for shipment elsewhere.

The first part of this route is low level, flat and absolutely beautiful. I met a couple of dog walkers and runners but it was peaceful overall. There were a couple of geocaches along this route, in fact along all of the routes, but none connected to the route. Hopefully, someone will decide to plan a series along this part connected to the trail as I passed a lot of opportunities for them to do so.

So I happily strolled along, following the guide book’s instructions until I reached the A55. Now in the book, it states that you keep the A55 to your left… which I did, and ended up at the A5/A55 junction! Only then did I look at the map within the guidebook and saw that it should have said ‘Right’, not ‘left’. Luckily, I’m a good navigator so it didn’t take long to cross and field and rejoin the route where I was meant to be. Later on, looking at the website and just about the email the error, I found that they already knew about it:

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I learnt two lessons that day. One, check the map as well as the description and two, check the website before travelling out! Rookie mistakes.

Continuing on, I found a good geocache and crossed Afon Ogwen, where I took a moment to admire the bridge’s structure and the river views.


Moving on, I followed various signs that took me through a small village then into Bethesda high street where everything was closed as it was Sunday! So, no cup of tea for me at Caffi Coed y Brenin (king’s wood cafe), which the guide recommended.

This section didn’t seem like it was the 6.3miles the book suggested it was. I suppose because I was enjoying the countryside so much and making detours to find road junctions and geocaches my mind wasn’t aware of the distance.

I pushed on the Llanberis. As I had left Bangor at 8am I knew I would have time to walk both these sections in a day and get the bus back without hassle.

At the High Street, I continued on to walk along the river and up the road towards Mynydd Llandegai. Here I passed one very noisy dog who was awoken from his guard duties at my presence outside his area.

Passing through the small hamlet of Gefnan, I was now on the access ground and into open moorland. It was at this point that the clouds decided to open and rain (gently) upon me. The cows I encountered took one look and wandered off, probably in search of dryer ground elsewhere.


So, plodding along and crossing many bogs and streams (that seemed to find my feet easily), I pondered about the slate trade around this area. It is evident to see the impact it has had on the countryside due to the heavy quarrying, with large chunks missing, but also its usefulness in terms of building houses, fences etc.



My GPS decided to die on me so it didn’t record all of the route sadly. I’m surprised it even managed 5 hours. I have yet to find where I have packed the charger in my van so it may stay dead for a little while longer…

Near the end of the route, it takes you through parts of the 800 acres, Padarn Country Park with some stunning views over Llyn Padarn, a 3 mile long, 30m deep glacial formed lake that we visited a few days before on the course.

Totally found a geocache at this point.
The country park is dotted with ruins of old buildings belonging to the workers that once used the railways there.

On the boundary of the county park, I found the Quarry Hospital – a museum housing the restored ward, operating theatre and various gruesome 19th Century hospital equipment that once served the slate miners who were injured in the nearby quarry.

I didn’t have time to properly look inside the Slate Museum. I arrived at a leisurely pace at about half-past three, taking in the various geocaches, museum and old buildings whilst on route, and the Slate Museum was only open for another half an hour, so decided that I’ll come back another day to look inside and ride the Llanberis Lake Railway (though I did have a sausage roll at the station).


The bus ride back was simple enough. The buses don’t run late in Snowdonia I found out, so made sure I was there on time. A bargain price of £3 one-way 50-minute journey from Llanberis to Bangor with bus wifi! It took a very scenic route through some very tiny villages (never have I been on a bus that needs to reverse to turn around).

So, that’s my first weekend in Bangor done! This upcoming weekend the entire PGCE trainee group is off to a residential centre, so I’m sure that will be fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself on this route and will look to complete the next section Llanberis to Beddgelert (20miles) another free day.

Just Joanne

Parkrun and Penrhyn Castle

I had to decide what to do on my first weekend in Bangor as I couldn’t go back to Swindon (I’d never leave if I did), so I decided on checking out the local park run at the National Trust owned Penrhyn Castle, then take a wander around the castle itself… after all, I have a National Trust membership card and I’m going to use it whilst I’m here!

What is so unique about this parkrun is that it begins in the courtyard of the castle and you run around the grounds in two large loops, passing the walled garden and the gorgeous views of the mountains, before circling again but this time in two smaller loops. Just starting and finishing in the castle makes it memorable.

I haven’t been to many park runs (but I am determined to get my 10 runs shirt whilst I’m up here) and this one was the tiniest one I’ve attended – only 166 runners, of which about 20-30 were first-time tourists on holiday to the place (I chatted with a guy from Cambridge and a woman from Norwich). I’m not even going to tell you where I placed, it’s embarrassing (but I wasn’t last) but I did it. I’m building back up to 5K, just because I do enjoy running and have missed it so much.


The starting point of the parkrun.


I really did enjoy this run. You begin by running down a hill but what goes down must come up… then you do it again… and again… and again! When I have a Saturday free next I’ll come here again (I also want to run Conwy, Newborough Forest and Nant y Pandy park runs)


Map of the castle. It’s huge!


Penrhyn Castle is a 19th-century neo-Norman castle that sits within 24.3 hectares (60 acres) of grounds (which include parkland, an exotic tree and shrub collection as well as a Victorian walled garden) between Snowdonia and the Menai Strait in Bangor.

The grounds are open from 10:30am yet the castle is open from 12pm, which is unusual. After my park run, which started at 9am, I decided to find the geocaches on site and look at the collection of trains in the stables to pass the time whilst I was waiting for the castle to open.


The railway museum


The trains on display were ones that ran on narrow gauge railways that ran close to Penrhyn Castle to and from the Penrhyn slate quarry at Bethesda. The locomotive, Charles, was one of the three remaining steam locomotives working on the quarry railway.  I enjoyed reading about the history of the trains and getting to look inside the carriages and locomotives.

Penrhyn Castle was the home of the Pennant family (from 1840, the Douglas-Pennants), owners of the Penrhyn slate quarry at Bethesda and is beautiful inside. You can see why it took 20 years to build! Each piece of stone and wood is hand-carved.

So the interior designs were by architect, Thomas Hopper, who expanded and transformed the building but left the original spiral staircase from the original property (pic above left).

As mentioned, the owner who commissioned the work was George Hay Dawkins-Pennant, and it isn’t until you read the information signs that you realise all of this was built on the money of his cousin Richard Pennant (who owned it before George), who had made his fortune from slavery in Jamaica and local slate quarries. So, essentially the castle was built on the money he made from buying and selling slaves. Doesn’t seem such an appealing place anymore…

Many of the rooms were very grand in size and decoration – with wallpaper that was hand painted in China and shipped across and specially designed Norman-style furniture, including a one-ton slate bed made for Queen Victoria when she visited in 1859.


The grand bedroom with hand paint wallpaper. Just for show, no one actually slept in here. The castle has several ‘just for show’ rooms.


To the side of the castle, but still within its grounds, are the Victorian kitchens and dining area. I’ve loved how they’ve recreated the layout so you get a sense of how they once originally looked.


Dining area.


I’ve always been drawn to Victorian houses and their contents, especially the kitchen area as they’re so grand in scale in these country houses/castles.

So my Saturday was interesting. After the parkrun and the visit around the castle, I sought out the local laundrette and washed some clothes (how grown up!), then planned for the next day’s activities…

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