ACEs high;Career development

19th February 1999 at 00:00
Eric Radford recalls the early days of the Advanced Certificate of Education, forerunner of today's MEd

Is that Dr Raadford?" It was a languid, learned voice."Yes, how can I help?""Vice-principal, Birmingham College?" "Yes..."

"Come for interview as inaugurator and supervisor of Oxford's Advanced Certificate of Education, tomorrow, say 10am." This was a command.

"But you wrote me, saying you had appointed a paragon."

"Yes, we forgot to interview his wife and she's turned us down."

It was September 30, 1964. The drive down to Oxford was idyllic in rosy sunshine, through Shakespeare's country, and into the Institute of Education, hidden in a shy enclave of the city's northern, Victorian mansions. Here, ambrosia ended. There was nothing of academia about the interview. The director's secretary did most of it. Clearly the director was a delegator.

"You've been an education officer, trained as a teacher, war service with an award; and taught full-time," he said. "Here you select as students, teachers of five years' proven experience - Part I is a one-year residential course that concludes with four examination papers; Part II is a paper of, say, 15,000 words. It is on a practical theme and is produced after they've left. You begin Hilary term. Oh, course numbers - 10 men a year, Oxbridge."

Appointed in five sentences while taking coffee from a silver pot in Crown porcelain cups, semi-recumbent in winged armchairs.

"Thank you, director. Salary?" "Raadford, this is academia. We don't deal with that - see The Chest. Whatever you get, we'll do much better."

Promptly, at start of term, I arrived at the institute. There was a heap of applications. Top-most was Margery, head of Windsor's most prestigious preparatory school. Next was Pat, a former air-gunner. And, Tom, head of a junior school - no degree, but a talented goal-keeper. None fitted the director's guidelines. I took all three.

Bravely, I doubled the annual intake to about 22-25 mature people. They established themselves in Oxford's largest Middle Common Room, where they could corner Cabinet Ministers or the humblest of Piaget teachers in a club-like setting. We averaged five to seven women yearly - it was difficult to attract more.

Practicums each term were easily arranged. Michaelmas: two weeks' teaching in a school. Hilary: a fortnight in an education sector of their choice - provided it was overseas. Trinity: 14 days in the type of promotion post they were seeking.

The foreign travel helped stimulate debate and vision. Two members went to Moscow, three to New York, one had the green carpet rolled out in Dublin's DES.

We liaised with Henley Business College and interchanged staff. Course members also spent time in offices and factories such as Allied Aluminium.

America and Canada had not been shy of BEd or MEd, but Britain looked askance at those degrees in the Sixties.

Oxford even called one of its great convocations when the Government dared to inflict a BEd on it. Witticisms flowed freely about opening the door to BO (Orthopaedics) and BP (Physiology).

The gavel was raised to take the rejection vote. Then a tall figure rose and said six words; it was The Master of University College, Lord Redcliffe Maud: "I hear Cambridge has rejected it!" That was enough for Oxford to accept BEd. In time, half-a-score of universities reacted to this development by transforming existing Advanced Certificates of Education into MEds.

Bristol was first to adopt ACE courses in 1962, Oxford second. In my six years there, Oxford awarded 105; all members went on to promotion, from nursery headships to the DES, enhancing the whole education service with their richer expertise.

We should not forget these ACE students. Although they gained diplomas by a year's residence and a dissertation, they were never accorded a higher degree. Nevertheless, they were the founders of Britain's higher degrees in pedagogy. And the first injectors of standards throughout the education service.

Old Aces (Oxon) should contact schoolbooks author Rod Hunt, at "Brooklyn", Wilsham Road, Abingdon, OX14 5HP,01235 529032. Fax 01235 534192. E-mail

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