Must teachers go to school?

Back to the classroom training could mean less academic status for the profession.
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The Independent Online
THE ADVERTS tell us that nobody forgets a good teacher. But few people know what is involved in becoming a teacher, or the shifts in thinking as to how to train teachers. For this has been dogged with controversy and argument throughout the 20th century.

As a broad rule, primary teachers qualify by taking a four-year undergraduate course leading to a BEd, while secondary teachers take a subject-specific degree first before doing a Postgraduate Certificate in Education. In what is known as the partnership model, schools and higher education institutions share responsibility for educating prospective teachers. This model has been attacked recently by the Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead. His attitude is that teaching is best learnt in the thick of a classroom. But what is most interesting is his belief that trainees should be kept out of the clutches of the educational establishment.

The wheel, it would seem, has turned full circle. At the start of this century, the bulk of teachers were trained in teacher training colleges, which were "...grim, harsh, authoritarian places," according to Dr David Crook, lecturer in education at the Institute of Education. The minority were trained at the universities, but these lucky few were bound for the elite grammar schools.

However, the turn of the century saw the creation of a number of red- brick universities. The need for new money meant that these universities began to involve themselves in teacher training. However, as Dr Crook points out, their attitude was still frosty. "New education departments were seen as adding very little to the status of universities, because of their lack of 'academic worth'."

During the 1920s, the Chief Inspector of Schools, Herbert Ward, began to change the attitude towards the training of teachers, making the connection between the academic standing and status of teachers. "Teachers should be trained to do their work, not following blind tradition, or even immersed in the particulars of technique, but with some knowledge of the philosophical bases of teaching and education."

This shift in attitude was cemented by the 1944 McNair Report, which called for teaching to become a specifically academic profession. Teacher training colleges were to train the post-war generation and 180 new colleges were opened, providing the new teacher training certificate (TTC). There were few problems in filling the expansion of places as teacher training began to be seen as an alternative form of higher education.

A number of the new colleges began to offer a Bachelor of Education, validated as a degree by some universities. Parallel with the TTC ran a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) which fed those aiming for work in grammar schools.

The Robbins Report of 1963 furthered the progression of teaching towards full academic status, but the end of the baby boom led to decreasing numbers taking up places in training colleges. In 1972, there were 78,000 applicants for 48,000 training places. By 1982, these figures had plummeted by nearly 70 per cent. In order to survive, many of the new colleges were taken over by universities.

Teacher training became inextricably linked to higher education. Educational theory now gained precedence over practical training. Theories such as those espoused by Jean Piaget became popular. The idea that "nothing is known, everything can be discovered" will send shivers down the spines of traditionalists today, but educationalists were tripping over themselves to justify their new-found academic status.

The death knell for many TTCs came in 1972 when the then education secretary, Margaret Thatcher, produced "Framework for Expansion", which closed more than half the remaining ones. By 1982, teaching had been declared an all- graduate profession, and the BEd became an honorary degree, to run alongside the PGCE.

Most universities and colleges of higher education now run specific teacher training courses in both primary and secondary education. With teacher training in primary education split between lower, general and upper primary level, and secondary education being split into specific subject groups, the choice is vast: from the Universities of Wales, Aberystwyth and Wolverhampton to higher education colleges from Bishop Grosseteste, Lincoln, to Strathclyde.

Now the wheel has turned once again, and school-based training is in vogue. The process, started by John Patten's White Paper in 1992, is taking teacher training firmly back into the classroom, and the latest Labour Green Paper barely mentions higher education in its proposals for training. A number of ideas are involved to try and stem the present-day crisis in recruitment, especially in the secondary sector where the problem is particularly acute. Employment-based routes into teaching and school-based teacher training are being designed to "make initial teacher training more flexible".

University dons from the end of the 19th century would no doubt approve of this shift in emphasis, and the views of Chris Woodhead and the Labour Government. Whether Herbert Ward would share that approval is very unlikely.