Writing a Teaching Personal Statement
This advice can be used for both undergrad (leading to Qualified Teacher Status) and postgrad statements, apart from where it specifies a difference. There is a short separate section on education degrees that do not lead to QTS.
Some of the advice here will be mirrored in the general PS writing guidance as well, particularly in the extra curricular section and the style advice. Both applications through UCAS (undergrad) and GTTR (postgrad) have the same limit - either 4000 characters or 47 lines, whichever limit gets passed first.
Start writing your personal statement early as many people will get through a huge number of drafts before they are happy with their PS. This is the general format for a PS and some good advice (you don't have to use this format, just make sure you include all the sections).
If you know where you want to apply, make sure you have a look on the websites for any specific advice on what they want to see in your personal statement as different universities may have different things they want you to include. For primary, think about what subjects they offer specialisms in (less of an issue for postgrad unless applying for MFL/to Exeter).
Remember, all universities will interview before offering you a place on either postgrad or undergrad courses, so don't include anything in your PS you wouldn't be happy to expand on at interview, as they may well use your PS to base some of your questions on.
All PSs will have an introduction in some form. This needs to start in an interesting way, to draw the reader in straight away. Remember that admissions tutors will read hundreds, if not thousands of them! 'I am applying to study BA/BEd Education' is (a) a waste of characters, as the admissions tutors will be from the education department and (b) a very boring way to start a PS. Avoid cliches such as 'I have always been interested in' - technically that can't be true, as it would have not been the case as a baby! Also, it is best advised not to use quotes in your PS - it is meant to be personal to you, so the admissions tutors want to know what YOU think, not what someone else does.
Use the introduction to possibly talk about HOW you got interested in teaching/education and why. It's a vocational course (when accompanied with Qualified Teacher Status), so you need to show your enthusiasm for doing something that is meant to be your career. Don't talk too much about any experience in school in your intro, save the detail for later. It should focus on the age range/subject you are applying for, e.g. why primary/secondary? Why English?
As already mentioned, this is important for vocational courses, as it shows you are making an informed decision in your career choice. This can be working as a TA or volunteering in a school; experience with children in a non-educational setting (e.g. Brownies) is also useful, but the main focus should be on experience in schools. However, it is not important to name the school, or mention the location - 'primary/secondary school' is enough. It is also a waste of space to mention that this experience increased/cemented your desire to teach - if it hadn't, you wouldn't be applying for the course! Use this space to reflect on what you saw/discussed with the teacher, such as:
- Behaviour management;
- Teaching styles, including ways to answer questions;
- Teacher-student interactions;
- Differentiation/special educational needs and EAL (English as an Additional Language), including groupings (mixed ability vs. set, individual vs. paired vs. group work);
- Assessment and recording;
- Resources (including displays);
- Transitions/routines: e.g. how does the teacher get the students in and out of the class, issue equipment to them, change activity. Procedures for smooth running of the class;
- Lesson objectives and success criteria, including how they are told to the students. How plenaries are used;
- Deployment of additional adults (and the teacher);
- Cross-curricular links/creative curriculum/EYFS (more relevant for primary);
- Talk to pupils, look at how engaged they are.
Teaching is not easy and this will help you show (briefly) that you know what you're letting yourself in for! What worked and why? How could you use this in your teaching? They obviously aren't expecting you to be the finished product when you arrive, but some awareness of the issues that teachers face is crucial.
One example of reflecting on your experience would be: 'The teacher used positive praise effectively with individual children when they were listening. This improved the behaviour of the children who were not behaving properly, as they wanted to be praised as well.' The first sentence describes briefly what the teacher did (or indeed, what you did if that's the case!); the second explains WHY it worked, which shows reflection.
Something else that is good to mention is any recent educational issues (e.g. the Rose/Cambridge reviews, sex education, MFL in KS2) and provide your take on it. You can get info from newspapers or the Times Educational Supplement, which you can find online or buy a paper copy of every week.
You also need to show that you are a good candidate for teaching: having the right skills/qualities for teaching. It would be a good idea to link this with what you've seen in the classroom (although to make it flow, it would be better to have a separate paragraph for it). It would be better to bring these in through your experience in schools (e.g. when you've supported children in their learning), but can be done through other means (even experience with adults, although school-based is more preferable).
Academic content should come next, although this isn't as important. I suggest (if applying for primary) showing you are capable in the core subjects (maths, English and science) along with your experience with ICT. However, this could even be implied through any teaching methods that require good subject knowledge (if relevant to you). If you have done a degree, say how it's helped you with your subject knowledge that you can bring to teaching. With secondary, if your degree is directly related to the subject you are applying to teach (e.g. BSc Physics for a Physics PGCE) then this is less important, but if it isn't (say a BA Sociology/RE for a PGCE in Citizenship) then you need to show your subject knowledge. Talk about what you enjoy related to the subject - after all, you will be involved in the same subject day in, day out! You may also want to include ICT competency, as you would use ICT a lot in schools whatever the subject.
You could also talk about your knowledge of how children learn if you've done a subject like psychology at college, although this is by no means essential, even if you did the subject.
This section is for anything that is not specifically related to your interest in teaching, and is FAR more relevant for undergraduate applications. In fact, I would say that unless any of the extra curricular activities are particularly pertinent to teaching or skills related to it (e.g. activities related to your secondary subject; running a netball club for primary teaching; or you can demonstrate a skill here that you cannot mention anywhere related to teaching), PGCE applications should avoid it completely.
This part should be short, a maximum of 1/3 of your PS. It can include things from school/college as well as in your free time (including a part time job). For school/college, you may want to talk about peer mentoring, prefects. Keep everything relevant - in the last TWO years (i.e. don't go talking about being a prefect when you're applying for a PGCE!). Remember to keep your sentences short and snappy. If they're long, people get bored and stop reading. Cut out all unnecessary words. Don't start your sentences with verbs unless absolutely necessary (e.g. “Being a prefect” is too informal). Say what you did/do, then what you learned from it, and sometimes explain why that is useful, but not at the expense of it being interesting. Don't repeat things you learned- you only need to demonstrate characteristics once each throughout the statement. You don’t need 3 examples of how you can handle responsibility! Other characteristics you can talk about are team work, communications skills, leadership, confidence, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t include them all. If it is just going to sound fake and boring, it’s probably better not to bother. You do not need to relate everything to teaching - you are allowed to have a break from it, even at university!
As for your interests outside of roles of responsibility, keep it very brief. Sport and musical interests are generally good ones to include and just briefly say why you enjoy it. Less important are things like 'I enjoy going down the pub with my friends/shopping/going to the cinema' etc. As long as you have SOMETHING written about your extra-curricular activities (if just to show you exist outside of college), it doesn't matter how many. Quality is better than quantity, and you want this section to be brief, so there is no point in listing a load of activities. Think about how they've helped you. You could also say how you can bring these into your teaching, although this is more relevant when applying for jobs (e.g. for running a lunchtime or after-school club).
If you are deferring entry, it would also be useful to include any gap year plans and say why you are doing that.
Your final paragraph should conclude why you are a good candidate and why you want to teach. Although you should be confident that you are a good candidate, it is important not to sound arrogant (e.g. 'I will be an amazing teacher'), as it's very off-putting. You shouldn't include any new information in the conclusion, expect possibly career plans (e.g. headteacher/SENCo), but these are less important in a vocational degree such as this. Don't refer to the university directly ('your university') as this comes across as very insincere considering you're applying to 4 or 5 universities for undergrad, or using the same PS should you be unsuccessful at one university for the PGCE.
Education Degrees Or Joint Honours With Education (non-QTS)
Only degrees with QTS are vocational; for the others, you would need to do a PGCE afterwards to qualify as a teacher. For degrees that don't lead to QTS, your experience in schools is less important, so you should talk more about the theory (e.g. learning styles) and why it interests you, rather than showing how you have the skills to be a 'good teacher'. However, you may have opportunities to observe/volunteer in nurseries, schools etc during the course.
For this, like other academic degrees, academic content should take up approximately 2/3 of your PS. It can be split into two: college academics (A Levels etc) and academic interests/activities outside of your formal education. The latter is obviously more interesting, as it shows more motivation to know more about the subject you are wanting to spend 3 years studying. However, you may not want to separate them that crudely - for example, covering something at A Level may have enthused you to discover more about that subject, so put it together.
This is not the place to list your A Levels and what you've done in them. It is also not the place to try and link everything to education, no matter how tenuous the link. Try and avoid saying 'Studying English literature has improved my essay writing skills and helped me construct concise arguments/Mathematics has helped with my data analysis skills'. These will be pretty self-evident and a waste of characters. Instead, talk about what in your A Levels (related to education) has interested you and why. Don't just explain concepts/theories - reflect on them. You're not trying to teach the admissions tutors, you're trying to show your interest in the subject. The most important question to come back to is WHY (WHY is this interesting?).
The second part would be far more interesting. This can come in a variety of forms: reading undergraduate level text books/reading academic journals (including those aimed at college students)/work experience. If you are talking about school experience, you don't need to mention the name of the school, just say 'a local primary school' (e.g.) and relate your experience back to theory. If talking about books you've read, like above, talk about WHY it is interesting and see if you can provide some sort of evaluative comment (e.g. how it can be applied, strengths/weaknesses of the theory etc). Look for what kinds of modules you'll be studying - e.g. there isn't much point in saying you're interested in areas that your chosen universities do very little (or none) of.
If you are applying for a joint honours course (with education), it is important to balance the amount of space dedicated to each subject. Note the difference between "Education with X" and "Education and X"; the first implies a 67/33 split between education and the other subject, while the second implies a 50/50 split. The amount of space in your PS spent talking about each subject should be adjusted accordingly. You should if possible avoid mixing choices of straight education and education joint honours. Any indication that you are not 100% committed to the course admissions tutors see you applying for can count very strongly against you. Think carefully about what you want to study for the next three years before you apply! You also need to show a link between the two - answering the question 'why do you want to study them together?'. Remember you will most likely have to do a dissertation that covers both, and while you don't have to have an idea about what you'll do at this stage, you need to show interest in both and how they link together.
When you've written your PS, read and reread it. Read it aloud to see how it sounds. It's surprising how many times you can notice poor grammar/repeated words close together when you hear it, rather than reading it silently! Get other people to read it - teachers, parents, friends, siblings. Try and keep things up-to-date. If applying for undergrad, generally things from sixth form only, although a brief mention of things done during GCSE years may also be OK. For a PGCE, keep everything ideally since you started university, or in the last couple of years if you graduated a while back. Check the universities' requirements for the recency of any school experience, too.
Keep your sentences varied - don't start all your paragraphs/sentences with the same format (e.g. 'I did X/I did Y' or 'My A Level in...'/'My studies of...'), as it doesn't flow very well and sounds very boring. Also, one sentence (or even two) do not make a paragraph!
Don't have ANY sentences that put yourself down- even if you try to turn it round, it's better not to say anything negative to start with.
You are writing formally- “Can’t” should be “cannot”. “Doesn’t” should be “does not” etc. Do not include digit numbers- write them out. "I did two weeks..." not "I did 2 weeks". Do not include brackets- (...), they are too informal. Be careful not to miss out words like "have", "I", and "that", like most people do in spoken language. It is safer not to use exclamation marks at all. Look up 'how to use commas and semi-colons'. Spelling and grammar can make or break a PS.
Some words and phrases are extremely cliché: Passion, fascination, love, aspiration, intrigued by, broadened my knowledge, enhanced my skill, affirmed/confirmed my decision. Use these words with caution. If you're using alternatives, be careful not to sound like a thesaurus.
Using phrases such as "quenched my thirst for" or "sparked up my interest" also don't read anywhere near as well as you think they do.
There's a tendency to use "also" all the time, when it's not needed. Be concise! Unnecessary linking words like "Futhermore" and "As a result" get used too often. A few of them are OK, but only a few. Remember to use commas after these linking words and phrases.
Don't use complex words in extremely long and convoluted sentences. People lose interest (and it makes you look somewhat pompous). Keep it short and make it flow.
Capital letters: NOT needed for subject names, teacher, secondary school, etc. Be careful where you use them.
Article by TSR User on Thursday 15 February 2018
Your Ucas personal statement is one of the main ways universities will assess your application. It needs to be based what you’re good at, why you’re good at it, and how that makes you an ideal candidate for the course. So what exactly should you write and what should you avoid? We asked admissions tutors for their dos and don’ts.
- Don’t waffle. “Use one sentence for the intro and conclusion. The rest of the personal statement should focus entirely on the criteria they’re looking for,” says Simon Atkinson, who interviews medical students at Bristol.
- Do keep it simple. In some cases, personal statements are read numerous times – particularly at results when a student misses their required grades. “The admissions director needs to read them swiftly. Straightforward and confident language works best,” says Alix Delany, head of admissions at UEA.
- Do get a proofreader. Atkinson advises making friends with your English teacher and having them check it for you. “Show it to as many people as possible – especially if you know anyone with a background in human resources.”
- Do focus on what the university says it wants. Universities usually publish admissions statements which outline what they’re looking for in their candidates. Each uni will be looking for something a little bit different: some will focus entirely on your academic activities, others will also pay attention to your hobbies.
- Do show that you’ll be active at university. Any personal examples of work experience, weekend jobs or school activities can be of use. Almost any hobby can be relevant in some way. Be sure to relate them to your studies. Playing an instrument, for example, shows application, stamina and the ability to study and practice, as well as teamwork if you play with other people.
- Don’t try too hard to be funny – it doesn’t always come across well in writing. “You’re not a professional writer and the person who reads it won’t be looking for that. All they’re looking at is whether you fit their criteria,” says Atkinson.
- Don’t bother with quotes. Julie Tucker, from the applicant services team at Falmouth University, says the statements that get an academics’ attention are less formulaic. “Avoid using well-known quotes from famous people, and avoid stating the obvious,” she says. “If you are applying to join a fashion design course, steer clear of Coco Chanel quotes. If you’re applying to study film, don’t open by saying you’ve watched films from a young age.”
- Do use your own voice. “Personal statements are largely scored in an objective way. You need correct English, without looking like you’ve swallowed a thesaurus,” says Atkinson. “I would avoid grandiose or highly idealistic statements such as ‘from the moment I was born I was destined to cure people’. That’s the kind of thing people write. Keep it prosaic and to the point.”
- Do be honest. For courses that interview their applicants, academic teams often use the personal statement to guide their questioning. “With that in mind, applicants shouldn’t use anything they’re not comfortable talking about in detail,” says Tucker. Dr Sam Lucy, director of admissions at Cambridge, agrees. They often refer to personal statements at interview. “We’re checking that their enthusiasm is genuine. In particular, we should get an idea of where within your subject this enthusiasm lies.”