Prince inspires without spires

9th June 2006 at 01:00
A redbrick Cambridge college is the heir to the throne's unlikely choice of venue to host his annual summer school

Robinson college, is not the kind of venue you expect the Prince of Wales to use for his annual education summer school.

A Cambridge university college it may be, but punts, dreaming spires and ancient quadrangles are noticeable by their absence.

The college's own publicity describes its 1970s' redbrick architecture as "striking and functional". It is what HRH used to call a carbuncle. So had the heir to the throne reached a new accommodation with the modern world? Not if the speech he made to the 110 or so state school English and history teachers, and to the great and the good of literature and academia, was anything to go by.

"There is a need to revisit the fundamental principles that drive our educational beliefs, to re-inspire teachers, to question the notion that equality and accessibility are best served by reducing the range and quality of work that pupils undertake," the Prince told them.

He said that, as with so many other aspects of 21st-century Western lifestyles, there was also a need to "put a stop to what might be termed the 'cultural disinheritance' that has gone on for too long".

He said that for too many pupils, teaching had omitted to pass on a deep knowledge of literature and history to the next generation.

There had also been a loss of autonomy which, he said, had "led to some of the magic becoming lost from the relationship between teacher and pupil".

It was the kind of stuff that has grabbed the headlines at his summer schools for the previous four years. But, beyond the annual attack on trendy teaching methods, the events have allowed teachers to receive the kind of training they are often denied, focusing on subject content rather than classroom practice.

It is a concept that the Government has now bought into through a pound;50,000 Teaching and Development Agency grant, announced by the Prince this week.

In partnership with Cambridge university, he is launching The Prince's Cambridge Programme for Teaching. Partially funded by a new charity set up by Prince Charles, the programme will provide regional events, an alumni network, website and one-day courses and seminars, alongside the annual summer school.

Lord Wilson, the master of Emmanuel college, Cambridge, who is chairing the charity and programme, said: "There is a gap in the market for more teaching career development which focuses on the content of what is taught in the classroom, rather than on professional skills."

This year's event was attended by primary teachers for the first time, as 30 Cambridgeshire staff mixed with secondary teachers for an opening day focusing on story-telling.

Members of a star-studded discussion panel were asked which books had most influenced them as children.

Robert Harris, the historical novelist, admitted that he became fascinated with Elizabeth I through reading the Ladybird books. "I developed a curious fascination for her which was perhaps Oedipal and not healthy," he said.

The first novel he remembered was Great Expectations, which he read as a 10-year-old, and later as a Cambridge student.

Stephen Fry, who called on teachers to make children think they were born into an aristocracy of language through having English as a first language, said he developed an early passion for Greek mythology.

He also recalled becoming the youngest member of the Sherlock Holmes society at the age of 10. Later he got into the three Ws, Wilde, Wodehouse and Waugh.

Melvyn Bragg said an illustrated Robin Hood and Kidnapped were among his love in literature, while Michael Morpurgo, former children's laureate, said he preferred rugby to books.

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