I’m really proud to have started as a Headteacher this term. I’m particularly proud of my new school – Cottenham Village College.
The whole experience has been a whirlwind and I’ve barely had time to return to my blog – though I am hoping to more regularly. Its been 57 days of work so far, and I’ve loved every minute.
I’ve had my eyes opened to many things on top of what I was expecting: I hadn’t anticipated the extent to which local newspapers would take interest; the local television station turned up; dealing with parents less happy with changes to the school; managing a wide variety of staffing issues; public relations; and most recently an OFSTED inspection have contributed to my personal learning.
But I have to blog about some of the recent changes to Initial Teacher Training (ITT).
As I said to the staff on my first day in post, I want my school to be world-class. I want it to deliver a knowledge based, knowledge rich curriculum encompassing the best humanity has passed through the ages to all pupils, regardless of background or ability. To paraphrase Matthew Arnold, our pupils are entitled to the best that has been thought and said. It is in this arena that I agree with Michael Gove. And I feel like I always have to repeat this: I have never voted Tory and never intend to.
I also know that this is a challenge. Teachers often arrive in schools predisposed to promote ‘child-centred’ progressive ideology. This is still, in my experience, the primary perspective of many ITT courses.
However, I have found that many of those colleagues in my new school who understand this and can challenge these orthodoxies have been trained at the Cambridge Faculty of Education’s secondary history PGCE. This course, I have learnt from trainees and ex-trainees, promotes a knowledge led curriculum and is highly subject-specific in absolutely the right way – in a way that assists me as a Headteacher to promote a knowledge rich curriculum. Lee Donaghy writes about this here.
This is the sort of course I want to be training my teachers: one that is challenging; recruits the very best graduates with the best qualifications; one that is unapologetic in expecting exceptional subject knowledge and subject pedagogy; one that, frankly, makes a difference to the schools it works with as well as expecting the school to make a difference with the trainees. Two weeks ago, I cancelled an SLT meeting to attend a seminar on whole-school curriculum leadership run by the same people who run this course – knowledge based, challenging of the orthodoxy, and related closely to school leadership I have already used this seminar to direct our leadership of my school. This sort of opportunity would not exist without this course. One of the Assistant Headteachers at Cottenham Village College works, mentors and delivers seminars on this course. This course is one of the main reasons the History department at Cottenham Village College is so strong.
Last week, I was aghast when I discovered that caps on admissions to university based ITT would mean this course closed. It would mean that the network of Cambridge history mentors in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Suffolk and Hertfordshire schools that I have been lucky enough to find myself in the middle of, would wither and die. It would mean that the task of batting back some of the damaging orthodoxies of generic skills and dubious pedagogies becomes harder. It would mean that my school, and I, would be more isolated in Cambridgeshire and the argument for a knowledge rich curriculum would be harder.
There was widespread disgust in the staffroom on Thursday morning as we met to discuss the OFSTED inspection over the previous two days. Certainly, amongst some, this was more of a topic of conversation than the inspection. There had been similar disgust on twitter the night before. There is similar disgust about Oxford’s History PGCE closing. And this course would be closing because they’d been discerning about who they interview and had taken their time to get the best possible graduates into teaching.
Since then, the course appears to have a stay of execution. The course can now recruit 11 new teachers under a rule that says it can recruit 75% of the candidates it recruited last year. But that’s 11 (last year was already down to 16 due to all HEI institutions having had 33% sliced off). I don’t know, but I speculate that we’re missing out on a great deal of knowledgable graduates – who could walk into other better paid occupations but have chosen to go for one of the most rigorous courses to enter a truly noble profession – who will be going somewhere else. And what does this mean for next year? The way that university based ITT has been attacked and continues to be (and I get the reasoning) means that this course could be collateral damage. It really could just be a stay of execution.
And what if there were (say) 10 great candidates interviewed on the first selection day? The climate this ridiculous rush has caused means that not offering to all 10 would risk losing them to another training route. But what if there are more candidates the next selection day? What if they’re even better?
Finally, what of the history mentors who have helped to shape this very school-based, subject-specific course, and made it their own? In two years’, that team of history mentors will have been halved.
The fact that this course is under threat at all has got me beyond angry.
The fact that recruitment for this course is a mess, through no fault of the brilliant people who run the course, has me fuming.
The fact that this is very likely to make developing a knowledge rich curriculum (that I know ministers would approve of) in my school more difficult makes this a disgrace, and a massive own goal.
The recent shifts to save the course, possibly for one year only, are not enough. I hope that the storm, on twitter and elsewhere, doesn’t die down until proper moves are made to save this course.
Please note: I am not saying there are not other courses that deserve saving, just that the Cambridge Secondary History course aligns with our agenda for our school and is nearby.