The University of Cambridge history PGCE is the go-to course for many headteachers when recruiting history staff. Some of the leading practitioners in the subject in England have been trained on it, which is why I was horrified to learn yesterday that the course could close as a government cap on recruitment nationally looked set to be imposed – before Cambridge had taken on any students.
The Cambridge course, which I completed, is unique in the way it has created a wide community of practitioners who have developed professional dialogue and literature (for example the journal Teaching History, which is shared with all schools by the Historical Association). The course has been the motor behind the history teaching community. It has always had a clear social justice message as it works with partner schools to encourage them to teach history to pupils of all abilities and all socio-economic backgrounds.
The course has always accentuated the development and love of subject knowledge in and for itself to make history accessible for pupils of all abilities, rather than narrowing down or closing their options. The really high expectations it sets made me focus on the importance of subject-specific knowledge in terms of pupil success. This clear sense of a love of knowledge and understanding of a wider world is at the heart of everything on the training course and is at the heart of the West London Free School that I now lead.
I understand the government’s desire not to create an over-supply of history teachers but there has to be much more of a focus on making sure the highest quality initial teacher training courses remain in operation, in particularly those at Cambridge, Oxford and the UCL Institute for Education. These courses have a really long track record of outstanding success in creating very knowledgeable practitioners and have a clear commitment to social justice, by encouraging staff to work in the state sector and bringing history to pupils of all abilities.
There has to be a focus on quality and not just on capping numbers for those who haven’t already handed out offers, because they have rigorous strategies rather than focusing on recruitment.
Today, I heard that Cambridge and Oxford will be allowed to continue recruiting students. But it is ironic that when the government is trying to make sure history is taught in as many schools as possible – using the English Baccalaureate measure to drive this – the best history training courses are threatened in this way.
Hywel Jones is the headteacher at the West London Free School and completed his history PGCE teacher training at the University of Cambridge