Class in the craftroom

19th November 2004 at 00:00
When I was learning to teach in the early 1970s, there was a book by Michael Marland, esteemed headteacher of that era, called The Craft of the Classroom. It filled in all the gaps where my PGCE course had concentrated on theory more than on practice. The 12 probationary teachers who started with me at Speke comprehensive in Liverpool relied on its pearls of wisdom.

Problems with lining up your class before lessons? Consult Marland. Your blackboard technique under fire? What did the book say?

Today's new teachers have a more practical approach. Particularly now that so many start their training in schools. The graduate teacher programme has been a huge success: from 89 guinea pigs in its first year, 1997, it now trains 6,000, more than one in seven of the 40,000 who start on the road to the classroom every year.

The idea was that graduates changing career would build up their expertise, taking parts of lessons - plenaries, warm-ups and so on - alongside an experienced teacher, gradually move on to whole lessons, then a take on a full teaching timetable.

However, for design technology teachers there was a problem: the body of knowledge is so specialised and the safety procedures so comprehensive that they cannot be learnt on the job. Which is why Tony Lord, former head of design technology at Lord Williams's school in Thames, Oxfordshire, runs a weekly course to fill in those gaps.

Together with Trevor Sampson, a genial consultant who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the world of chamfering, jigs, dog chucks and pantographs, he gives trainees hands-on experience of and advice about every aspect of the workshop. It is important that, before trainees deal with pupils' demands, they should have experienced the processes themselves.

Take Juliette Orton. Her degree is in silversmithing and she worked in the jewellery trade. Now 34 with a young family, she was looking for a change and found a place to take the GTP at Beaconsfield high school, Bucks. She is easing her way into teaching, but enjoying every minute of it. "For someone with my background, the metalwork side comes easily," she says.

"But this course has enabled me to master the woodwork side without feeling too much pressure. I love the whole workshop environment."

Later in the year she will be swapping ideas and lessons with Steve McInally, a PhD who worked as a research systems engineer at University College London. His experience lecturing to Ministry of Defence employees means Steve, 46, has quickly taken to teaching full lessons at Chalfonts community college, Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire, where he began in September. "It's been a bit of a culture shock," he says, "but I've not come across anything that's fazed me. I love the idea of teaching and I love my subject."

The course at Lord Williams's is popular. Last year there were nine students; this year there is a maximum of 12 with three others being catered for on a separate course. "There is no teacher training in this subject within miles of us," says Tony Lord. "We felt there was a need to do something for our area."

The graduate teacher programme seems likely to continue growing. The enthusiasm it engenders is heartening: Steve and Juliette independently indicated their desire to work until they are 70. From workshops to workhorses.

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