Lecturers are no experts on teaching, say heads

19th October 2012 at 01:00
Milburn's 'misplaced' advisers could alienate well-trained staff Irena Barker

University lecturers parachuted into schools to give "intensive training" to teachers might get a frosty reception from those who already have top-flight degrees in their subjects, headteachers have said.

They spoke out as the government's social mobility tsar, Alan Milburn, prepared to publish a report this week containing a raft of measures designed to increase the number of pupils from poorer backgrounds attending leading universities.

At the time of going to press, the former Labour Cabinet minister was expected to suggest that lecturers should go into schools in deprived areas to help improve teachers' subject knowledge and awareness of the impact of subject choices at GCSE and A level. He was also expected to call for schools to offer greater support - such as mock interviews - to those students applying to university.

Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School, a comprehensive in Bury St Edmunds, said that to call in lecturers to "teach" teachers was misguided. "The problem is not that we don't know our stuff. I really find it hard to see what they would teach us," he said.

He added that it was a "dismissive stereotype" to suggest that staff in schools didn't know what universities were like. "There is always a case for better school and university links, and better information about the admissions process, but good schools will be doing all this already," he said.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the proposal risked alienating staff: "Teachers could get quite annoyed by university lecturers coming in to talk to them about what they have top-class degrees in already. Teachers are skilled and well-trained individuals; they know their subjects.

"It can be useful...to get university specialists to come in and talk to pupils about specific subjects, such as the Weimar Republic," Mr Trobe added. "But actually coming in and giving training to teachers might also be quite practically difficult as well."

The best way to enthuse pupils about higher education, he said, was to arrange campus visits and allow them to experience university life first hand.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he doubted that university staff had anything to teach teachers in terms of pedagogy. There was currently "a lot of activity" surrounding university and school links, he said, but whether they were effective was "another question". "A lot more needs to be done to lift the veil of secrecy. Every university has outreach but it needs to be more than a PR exercise."

Mr Hobby has pressed for more university and school links, such as The Brilliant Club, an organisation that arranges for PhD students to give tutorials to talented pupils in secondary schools.

In his report, Mr Milburn will claim that poor GCSE and A-level results remain the biggest barrier to higher education, and will call for universities to improve links with schools and intervene at an earlier age.

Institutions, he was due to say, are wasting their money offering bursaries and fee waivers as a means of attracting poorer students because the main problem was poor performance in school.

His most controversial proposal was expected to be for universities to be given more funding for every deprived student they recruit. They should also routinely carry out background checks on pupils, allowing lower entry grades for students from low-performing schools.

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