Half a day on humanities - 'it's not enough'

25th September 2009 at 01:00
History campaigners demand more detailed subject coverage for trainees

A government review of teacher training prompted by the Rose primary curriculum review should ensure students spend more than just a few hours on subjects, campaigners say.

Some primary PGCE courses feature just half a day on humanities, despite worries that lack of expertise leads to less interesting lessons.

The Historical Association is to campaign to encourage universities to spend more time on history. The association will use a major survey to try to gauge teachers' confidence level in the subject.

The Training and Development Agency for Schools will be reviewing initial teacher training this year following the Rose review, which recommended major alterations to primary school lessons - including more cross-curricular work.

"We have serious concerns about primary training, particularly when we hear some universities spend just half a day on humanities," said Historical Association chief executive Rebecca Sullivan.

"Of course we don't expect primary teachers to be specialists, but half a day is not enough. Some trainees might not have taken history GCSE, so this is their first experience of the subject since the age of 14 - then they are expected to teach it."

The survey will be sent to teachers in the spring. It will ask their views on a reasonable length of time for history training and how much will be required to teach the new primary curriculum.

"Teachers will need a greater depth of understanding of history if they have to use it in a cross-curricular way and we would like those changes reflected in training courses," Ms Sullivan said.

The length of time allocated to humanities varies between courses, but it is thought that half a day is the average. The TDA does not stipulate the length of time for each subject.

The introduction of languages to the primary curriculum led the TDA to set up primary training for specialists. This has now been extended to maths, but some universities, such as Exeter, run specialist courses for primary PGCE students in most subjects.

James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said more specialist primary courses could cause recruitment problems.

"The PGCE is very crowded and there's a lot to fit in, but we must remember most primary teachers are trained as generalists. What's needed is more of a link between initial teacher training and continual professional development."

Jacquie Nunn, TDA director of training and development, said: "The TDA will be working with the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, teacher trainers and subject associations to review initial teacher training and to consider the adaptations that will be needed in light of the recommendations of the review.

"We recognise the importance of high-quality subject teaching complemented by challenging cross-curricular studies."

An Ofsted review of history two years ago said most courses gave primary staff a "very limited" experience.

"Because of their limited training and subsequent lack of confidence, teachers have been unwilling to be innovative with the curriculum," it said.


PGCE courses focus on teaching skills rather than subjects.

They cover the national curriculum, planning and preparing lessons and "setting learning objectives" as well as classroom management and minimising bad behaviour and disruptions. It also covers ICT and "professional values".

To achieve QTS status, students must spend a minimum of 18 weeks (primary) or 24 weeks (secondary) on school-based courses. On undergraduate programmes, school-based training is only 24 weeks, or 32 weeks on four-year degrees.

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