Exclusive: Private university launches ‘first knowledge-based PGCE’

BPP course sets itself against 'popular but unproductive teaching methods' favoured by 'progressive' educationalists

Will Hazell

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A private university is launching what it is calling “the UK’s first PGCE to focus on ‘knowledge-based’ secondary and primary school teaching”.

BPP University, which provides law, accountancy and other professional qualifications, will offer its new course from September.

It will be the first teacher-training course to explicitly align itself with the “neo-traditionalist” education movement that criticises “progressive” teaching styles, which often emphasise transferable skills, group work and hands-on learning.

However, critics have branded the move “arrogant” and expressed concern about BPP’s for-profit status.

The course’s programme director is Robert Peal, a history teacher at the West London Free School who was seconded to the Department for Education in 2015-16 to support schools minister Nick Gibb with policy advice and speechwriting.

He said the creation of the new PGCE was in response to a “surge of enthusiasm over the past few years for knowledge-based education”.

Mr Peal told Tes the course would differ from other PGCEs in its reading list, which would focus on authors such as Daisy Christodolou, ED Hirsch, Daniel Willingham and Doug Lemov.

The course website says students will be introduced to “teaching methods that are growing in popularity amongst some of the UK’s most innovative schools”, including “direct instruction, feedback, questioning, modelling, deliberate practice and retrieval practice”.

It also says students will “review the evidence calling into question popular but unproductive teaching methods such as discovery-based learning, minimal teacher guidance, and the tailoring of lessons to pupils’ individual learning styles”.

Mr Peal also claimed the PGCE would differ from other courses because of its “big focus on actual subject knowledge”.

Subject tutors will include writer and speaker David Didau, who will deliver English, Michael Fordham, who will be responsible for history and Bodil Isaksen, the former head of maths at Michaela Community School, who will run maths.

Unlike most PGCEs, 50 per cent of the course will be based on an examination.

BPP’s move has drawn criticism from some people in the university ITT sector.

James Williams, a lecturer in education at the University of Sussex, said its claim to be providing the first PGCE with a knowledge-based focus was “arrogant, boastful and complete nonsense” because it suggested that knowledge is “eschewed by all other ITT providers”.

James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said Mr Peal’s characterisation of other ITT providers was “outdated clichéd prejudice” with “no bearing on reality”.

Concerns have also been expressed about BPP’s status as a for-profit organisation.

Mr Noble-Rogers said other university providers were not in ITT to “make a buck”.

However, BPP deputy dean Paul Evans said he believed the education world would be “absolutely comfortable” with his university’s status.

BPP will not be directly recruiting students for the course because it is not certified by the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) to recommend people for QTS.

Instead, it will be providing its PGCE as a “top-up” for trainees on school-centred initial teacher training programmes.

It will offer about 20 places on its course via the Pimlico-London SCITT in 2017, and plans to roll out the PGCE on a wider basis in 2018 through a partnership with the Inspiration Trust academy chain. 

This is an edited article from the 21 July edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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