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PGCE vs QTS: What's the difference?

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Researching the various types of teacher training qualifications and navigating the many acronyms out there can be a struggle. Although you might already know you want to become a teacher, perhaps you’re wondering which qualification is the most suitable for you.

Some of the most frequently asked questions of aspiring trainee teachers are around the differences between a PGCE and QTS. In this article, we’re giving you a breakdown of each of these qualifications to help you make an informed decision when choosing your teacher training course.

A trainee teacher assisting in a workshop activity with primary school pupils

What is QTS?

QTS stands for Qualified Teacher Status and you can achieve it through either undergraduate or postgraduate teacher training. Having QTS will enable you to teach in any state-maintained school or non-maintained special school in England or Wales, and it’s a legal requirement. You don’t need it to teach in academies, private schools, or independent schools – although it’s often still recommended, as many schools will use it to assess the quality of candidates for teaching jobs. You also won’t need QTS to teach within the Further Education and Skills sector.

How can I get QTS?

You will need a bachelor’s degree to become a teacher, and the undergraduate teacher training courses we offer will allow you to graduate with QTS in just three years. If you already hold a bachelor’s degree without Qualified Teacher Status – for example, if you have studied on an undergraduate course unrelated to teaching but still wish to pursue a career in this field – you may want to consider a PGCE, which you can read more about below. Many of our postgraduate teacher training courses award QTS.

Once you’ve completed your initial teacher training, your university or other provider will send your degree results to the government to prove that you’ve demonstrated that you meet the Teachers’ Standards. If successful, you’ll be awarded QTS. If you live in Wales, you’ll be awarded this by the Education Workforce Council.

How can I get QTS if I'm from outside the UK?

If you’re a qualified teacher from outside the UK, you can work as a teacher in England for up to four years without QTS. After this time, you will need to take one of the four routes available to obtain it. Which route you take towards achieving Qualified Teacher Status will be determined by your own circumstances, for example, where you qualified as a teacher, your subject specialism, and your teaching experience, amongst other factors.

The first option is to apply online via the government website to check whether you’re already eligible for QTS. This is only available to those who have a teaching qualification from a list of specific countries.

If the first option doesn’t apply to you, you may want to consider taking an Assessment Only Route to QTS. This is one of the fastest ways to gain QTS, and you won’t be required to complete a teacher training programme as the course will allow you to demonstrate that you meet the Teachers’ Standards. If you choose to take the Assessment Only Route to QTS at Sunderland, the assessment period is a maximum of 12 weeks which all takes place in the school you work in, so you’ll never need to attend university. As well as international applicants, this course might also be suitable for UK applicants who match the same criteria.

The third possible route is to complete a teacher training course in England which awards QTS, a number of which you can study here at Sunderland as an international student.

The final option available to you if you’re from outside the UK is undertaking an iQTS course. iQTS is a new teaching qualification that is delivered online and meets the same standards as English QTS. The University of Sunderland is one of only six UK providers currently offering a PGCE iQTS, which is internationally recognised and will automatically lead to the award of Qualified Teacher Status when you complete it.

Primary school children sitting in the classroom with their hands up

What is a PGCE?

PGCE stands for Postgraduate Certificate in Education. A PGCE is usually studied full-time over one academic year, but there are also part-time and distance learning courses available. While a PGCE isn’t a legal requirement to teach in England, the deeper understanding of teaching practices, academic theory, and educational research you'll gain can act as proof to employers that you have that valuable additional knowledge. Although having a PGCE doesn’t qualify you to teach on its own, many of them also award QTS.

What are the benefits of studying for a PGCE?

As well as equipping you with additional academic knowledge and skills, there are many other advantages to studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education. One of the key benefits is that a PGCE is internationally recognised, so it could be a worthwhile option to have alongside QTS if you ever hope to teach outside of England or Wales. The Scottish equivalent of a PGCE is a PGDE (a Professional Graduate Diploma in Education).

Another great reason to study for a PGCE, particularly if you’re going down the secondary education route, is that many come with generous bursary or scholarship opportunities. The amount you would qualify for depends on the subject you’re aiming to teach, however, you’ll usually be eligible for a higher bursary in subjects where teachers are in shorter supply, such as STEM-related disciplines. Read more about this in our teacher training funding article.

Lastly, undertaking a PGCE will also allow you to gain credits to put towards a master's degree, so if you’re thinking about continuing your studies once you graduate, it could be a great option for you.

What are the entry requirements for studying for a PGCE?

If you’re considering enrolling onto a PGCE course, you'll usually need a bachelor’s degree of a 2:2 or above to qualify. You'll also need GCSEs in Maths and English at Grade C/4 or above, as well as a GCSE in Science at Grade C/4 or above if you want to teach at primary level.

If you’re choosing to study for a PGCE which will allow you to teach at secondary level, having an undergraduate degree related to the subject you want to teach is preferable, however, this may not be essential if you already have the relevant skills and knowledge. You can find out more about Sunderland’s specific entry requirements by visiting our Education course pages.


Whether it’s QTS or a PGCE you need will largely depend on your own circumstances and career aspirations. To put it in simple terms – you only need QTS to teach in England or Wales, but a PGCE will certainly come with many additional benefits, making you stand out as a teacher and opening up your opportunities even further.

Published: 20 March 2023