How to get a PGCEi Distinction

I’ve just finished a PGCEi through University of Nottingham. I got a mark of 78 for each of the three modules, which basically means ‘your writing is okay, but your stuff’s not really a contribution to the field or anything; solid but unspectacular’. Spot on, I’d say.

Here are the macro indicators for assessment.

The differences between a Merit and a Distinction might seem subtle/subjective – things like ‘broad knowledge’ versus ‘broad and detailed knowledge’, or ‘originality’ versus ‘considerable originality’. However, based on the conversations I’ve had with PGCEi candidates from my own/previous cohorts, I can say there are three clear areas that set your 60s apart from your 70s. They are:

  • understanding academic conventions
  • playing to academic conventions
  • being critical

Understanding academic conventions

A lot of people on the course hadn’t done academic writing for a while. Referencing conventions may be different from what you remember, as universities like to be awkward like that.

It’s essential that you get stuck into the Masters Level Toolkit on Moodle as it’s like a walkthrough really. It gives you all the info you need regarding sense of audience, voice, permissible resources, referencing, editing and proofreading. You might think some of the advice in the toolkit is straightforward or obvious – it’s not. Read it again. Trust me. It might also seem a tad annoying that correct referencing/citations/style, etc is so important. It is what it is I’m afraid.

Voice is the big one when it comes to research into education. The other day I saw a rant on LinkedIn about how personal language has no place in academic writing. Well, that’s just wrong. You are encouraged to write in first person on the PGCEi – if you keep things impersonal then it can be hard to link research to your own experience and professional practice.

Playing to academic conventions

‘Familiarity with the conventions of the academic community’ does at times mean sounding pompous and snarky. If you want to write anything about more student/learner-centred approaches, doing so with a bit of snark is probably the way forward. Adding ‘vignettes’ is another handy technique – they are good way to get your ‘practitioner’s voice’ into play, and the word ‘vignette’ sounds more academic than ‘selective ramble serving to confirm my own viewpoint’.

Two other important conventions to be aware of are hedging and recognising your own limitations. After you’ve critiqued loads of important theories, go back and change ‘is’ to ‘seems’ where relevant. Distance yourself, as making a committed claim regarding any research at PGCEi level might be setting yourself up to fail. After you hedge, then recognise the limitations of your own hedged statements. By saying very little, you actually say quite a lot.

Reading the above, you might think I hate academia. Far from it. All I’m trying to do is save you the rigmarole of taking things too seriously, like I always do. When I read my assignments back, I clearly sound pompous and snarky, they’re full of meaningless vignettes, hedging and so on. But they passed, so that must be valued in some way.


‘You could have been more critical’

‘You have provided a strong overview of the approach, although I would have liked to see more criticality’.

And so on. Easily the most common tutor feedback received by fellow PGCEi grads.

What does it mean to be more critical? I see it as holding the researchers to account a little more. Don’t be afraid to question claims and findings. Pesky academics like to generalise and think they’ll get away with it.

Without a doubt, the easiest thing to call educational researchers up on is sample size. If you have nothing critical to say, just mention flaws like that. Another red flag is a phrase like ‘robust evidence’. That’s a classic smoke and mirrors tactic – it gets you thinking ‘right, well I won’t bother critiquing that approach/claim/etc as it’s clearly been well-researched’. What ‘robust evidence’ usually means is ‘there’s a lot of evidence to back up my claim and I’d share that if I’m questioned. But I’d probably ignore a whole bunch of studies that refute it, and because you’re a teacher you probs won’t have time to seek them out. So, I win’.

Educational research lends itself to critical reading as it’s full of qualitative methods. Loose or leading interpretations and possible confirmation bias are good points to pick at. Also, researchers cut corners at times and fail to frame their studies well. For example, some will fleetingly refer to concepts like ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ like we all share the same definition for them, which we clearly don’t. Get a bee in your bonnet about things like that. Then edit your rant, make it sound fairer (hedgy stuff) and that’s pretty much it – ‘criticality’.

If you’ve made it this far into the post then apologies. By way of compensation, I’m more than happy to share advice on writing PGCEi assignments if you’re struggling. Feel free to get in contact. I can’t promise I can help, but I’ll certainly give it a go!


  1. Congratulations! I think this is really useful for anyone on an MA too – that pretty much describes most of the problems I had with my MA writing in my first NILE module.
    Thanks for sharing Pete, and happy new year!

    Liked by 2 people

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