Everyone in my department (except one) was taught how to teach history by two people – Kate and Jayne. Kate and Jayne run the Bristol University PGCE course and they do it brilliantly. We are all excellent practitioners because of them; the quality of guidance, advice and mentoring we received during our university based training made us who we are.
The same could be said of a plethora of other great practitioners around the country – not that they were all taught by Kate and Jayne (!), but they are excellent practitioners because of the rigorous university based course they received during their PGCE. They had their equivalents of Kate and Jayne – Dean Smart at UWE, Terry Hadyn at East Anglia, Christine Counsell at Cambridge, Richard Harris at Southampton, Katherine Burn at Oxford – I could go on.
Yet, last Thursday came news that most history PGCE courses around the country will be cut by a third in the next year to give space to the new school based routes into teaching. Many PGCE courses have already shut in the last two years and with this news many more will follow. The Historical Association, of which I am a proud member of it’s Secondary Committee, wrote a piece which details the facts far better than I can, so read it here.
The Historical Association piece is rightly measured. I don’t want to be. This is genuinely the most significant threat to the history teaching profession that we have seen since the change of government four years ago. Stuff the ridiculous February curriculum; this is issue we should be angered by. This change could mean that in a generation the majority of new history teachers will not have had the subject specialist grounding and training we have received. History is currently taught very well, OFSTED say that. I cannot see that this will be the same in ten years.
Below are my biggest gripes. I am sure I am missing some and if I am do comment below:
1.) We are going to create a raft of new teachers who do not have the subject specialism that we have had. History is a funny beast, we’ve got our curious second order concepts and our quirky substantive concepts. If you aren’t a specialist you don’t realise this. You think that it’s just like English as its all writing, or it’s just learning the facts. If the trainers don’t realise this then their trainees won’t either. As a result we’ll have weak practitioners.
2.) School based routes into teaching are a gamble. Some places ensure you have the right subject support and are doing it well and are producing some great practitioners. For example, the ever wonderful Neil Bates is currently offering support to school based trainees around his neck of the woods, but this level of specialist support isn’t the case everywhere. Some academies I know of give their trainees ‘in-house’ support. Great if the department is strong, rubbish if the department isn’t.
3.) School based routes do not offer the space or time for reflection. Think back to your PGCE year. It was grim I am sure. It’s stressful and hectic. Yet the university based routes build in more time for reflection and to keep you calm. This is crucial. They also provide a network of other people who are going through the exact same experience. Having one or two other trainees doing a different subject to you in a school based route cannot provide the same support.
4.) University based courses are grounded in theory. This is important. We need to be a profession that is based on academic theory, progressing due to the research that others are doing. University course leaders have the time to read up on this material and share it with their students. I like to think of myself as reasonably well read, but I know nothing when compared to Kate and Jayne at Bristol. This is simply because I do not have the time in school to do so.
5.) The most skilled, most specialist, most knowledgeable people in our profession, the Kate and Jaynes, will unfortunately lose their jobs due to this change. These people cannot slip quietly back into the classroom. Very sadly, they will be too expensive. This means we have lost this resource as a profession.
I worry it may be too late to do anything about this. I’ve moaned at Tristram Hunt on Twitter and has pestered my local MP. I advise you to do the same and cross your fingers for a change of government that might actually decide that decent teacher training matters.
UPDATED due to great Twitter responses from the following: @LesleyMunro4