Leave PGCE off your hit list, Mr Gove

2nd July 2010 at 01:00
It isn't the role of government to dictate on training - or to fix what ain't broke

Is nothing sacred? Another week, another cow lined up for slaughter in the education abattoir. First Becta and the QCDA, then the GTC and now the PGCE joins the line of awkward abbreviations the Coalition has marked for execution or a lingering death. Michael Gove's proposal last week to shift students "out of college and into the classroom" has induced much campus lamentation, with predictions that it will "kill off" the PGCE and "wipe out" university departments. Academics haven't been so exercised since Noam Chomsky had that spot of visa trouble in Israel.

Many on the right will be unsympathetic and delight at the demise of education departments, which they see as little more than Marxist madrassas - expert at overloading their students with irrelevant theory; useless at preparing them for life in the classroom. Why encourage them to doze off over Dewey when they could be learning to house-train the little buggers on the job? Teaching, as Mr Gove reminded us, is a "craft", not a never-ending argument. The entry grades for some courses are laughably low, while educational research can be ludicrous. "Children who study in oxygen-deprived classrooms tend to have their learning impaired." Fancy.

In-school training, on the other hand, is eminently practical. Behaviour management is best acquired in the classroom. Embedding continuous development within schools not only benefits newcomers but also veterans, who learn from mentoring. While for many graduates, learning on a job with a salary, which more likely than not will become permanent, is a far more enticing option than taking a punt on a PGCE course that is guaranteed to stack up the debt but not to land them a job.

And yet what seems so commonsensical at first glance looks dodgy on reflection. PGCE students already spend most of their time in schools, not lecture halls. In-school programmes are more expensive than their college equivalents, while even the best practice can benefit from a little theory to put it in context. As Policy Exchange, a think-tank close to the Conservatives, said of PGCEs: "There are some excellent courses and some potential recruits might be put off if the only available routes were entirely school-based." Quite.

Of course, Mr Gove's statement may have been designed to rebalance teacher training rather than annihilate the college route, as university doom-mongers fear. But at the very least his careless dismissal of teaching as a "craft" insulted professionals who had assumed they had a vocation, not a handy skill like carpet-fitting. And at worst it betrayed a shocking illiberality. Why should the state assume there is only one good way to train a teacher? Why should it and not schools and students decide what works best? And why would the state waste time, energy and potentially large amounts of money fixing a system that all parties agreed before the election has produced the best teachers in a generation?

As Edmund Burke almost certainly would have said if his grammar had been less impeccable: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Gerard Kelly, Editor


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