What qualifies a person to be a teacher? The common-sense view, since the days of Mr Chips, would probably involve knowing the subject and being able to put it across. For example, when Yorkshire and England all-rounder George Hirst retired in 1920, he was appointed cricket coach at Eton and stayed for 18 years. His team-mate, the dour Wilfred Rhodes, was less successful at Harrow, and was replaced by another professional, Patsy Hendron. No-one was concerned about these experts’ lack of a teaching qualification. What mattered were their skills and the ability to impart them.
As I write, Toby Young is explaining on Radio 4 that West London Free School’s head of art, who has a degree in art from San Francisco and two postgraduate degrees, is qualified for her job. Fiona Millar, of the anti-academy Local Schools Network, argues that PGCE is necessary to teach in what she calls “challenging” inner city schools, and brushes aside the interviewer’s reference to “crowd control.” She does not discuss Toby’s art teacher.
Why the fuss? We all know that teachers need to know what they’re doing, and that just having a degree does not make a teacher. Neither does a PGCE. The derogatory term “unqualified” nevertheless provides an hook from which the Left can hang their control of the content of certification for teachers in the state sector, and the Left will not relinquish what they see as a lever of power without fighting to the last round.
Meanwhile, the private sector has its independent PGCE at the University of Buckingham, presided over by the hammer of the progressives, Sir Chris Woodhead, and based almost exclusively on craft of the classroom. It does not confer qualified teacher status, and most of those taking it could not care less. So what else, exactly, does PGCE require?
The answer is that, while some PGCE courses are run by highly-skilled teachers, such as former lead practitioners from the specialist schools and academies trust, others are a vehicle for Leftist ideology and Labour’s bureaucracy, which is still strongly entrenched in most schools.
Let’s begin with the ideology. The secondary English course at Cambridge is “built upon principles of inclusion and equality of opportunity in teaching and learning for all students whatever their potential and achievements.” Trainees “experience a variety of interactive teaching methods including whole class teaching, structured group work, individual or pair work. There is a strong emphasis on learning collaboratively through discussion, presentations, peer-tutoring and group writing, as well as on independent study and research”. This is progressive English teaching in its purest form. Its emphasis is on the group rather than the individual, and there is no commitment to maximise each pupil’s achievement. The national curriculum is not mentioned, and there is no reference to grammar or spelling, far less to standards.
The primary English course plays to its strength in children’s literature, but makes no mention of phonics, and prepares students for the National Literacy Strategy, which was ditched by Labour in its 2009 White Paper, and ended in 2011. The literacy strategy, like the other components of this behemoth, is nevertheless a prime vehicle for Labour’s religion of bureaucracy and paperwork, and if places like Cambridge are clinging to it, it is because it suits their purpose. The teacher standards at PGCE put a lot of emphasis on planning and differentiation, and for those who believe in this approach, the paperwork is a way of enforcing it. The reason Labour inflicted so much paperwork on teachers was that they saw this as a way of building their agenda into everyone’s work. The strategies may have led to a culture of overwork, stress and oppressive management, but it was in a good cause.
The one legitimate element in PGCE is its emphasis on the social as well as the intellectual side of education – neglect either, and children suffer from the lack of balance. Dr Anthony Seldon has developed this idea into a system of eight aptitudes and built them into the architecture of Wellington College in Princes’ Court. For the Left, however, the social element trumps all others. Jonny Mitchell told us in Educating Yorkshire on Thursday that he “refuted” the idea that he was ploughing too many resources into “socialisation and pastoral care”, and that he would plough even more into them if he could.
Unfortunately, you don’t refute something simply by saying so. Mr Mitchell’s heads of year are among his most experienced and better paid colleagues, and they don’t teach at all. His school has just over 700 pupils, and yet he has no fewer than three deputies, three assistant heads and a full time finance officer. The school is doing well in comparison with similar schools on the A* to C comparison charts, though I’d like to see all schools present their results in this format which shows exactly how many pupils achieve what grade in each subject.
However, Mr Mitchell and Fiona Miller are essentially making the same point. Teaching children who are the product of the broken society, and who need “socialisation”, requires skills that are not primarily concerned with intellectual or personal development, but with trying to repair damage, and we have seen more than one case in the series of behaviour that was a significant threat to other children’s education and well-being. The message of Ms Miller to the parents of these children is that they must take what they get.
The message of Toby Young, Michael Gove and the Conservative Party is that they deserve better, and must have it.