Saints and sinners of Jordanhill's 165 years

21st June 1996 at 01:00
Teaching the Teachers: a history of Jordanhill College, Edited by M M Harrison and W B Marker, John Donald Publishers Pounds 15

In their preface to Teaching the Teachers: A History of Jordanhill College of Education 1828-1993, the editors acknowledge the pitfalls. Whether to write a scholarly work that chronicles the growth and development of the college, or a hagiography that celebrates the contribution of the many famous individuals who have worked there over the years, was clearly a dilemma the editors found impossible to resolve. As a result, some excellent scholarship sits uneasily beside some very partial, and partisan, accounts.

Some of the difficulty is, of course, unavoidable. The span of 165 years is massive, and the decision to go for comprehensive coverage by a series of contributors inevitably leads to a fragmentary approach. Some of the fragments are very well researched, allowing the reader with an interest in particular aspects of the work of Jordanhill to find something new and of value. The first six chapters give an overview, as the editors explain, of the history while the other 10 deal with the various aspects of the work of the college.

White's chapter on David Stow is meticulous in its detail and Hills's contribution on "The Church Years" allows the reader to follow events with great clarity. The rest of the first part of the book is written by Marker, and it is here that the roll-call of names begins to reach hagiographic proportions. People are referred to by name as if the reader should recognise who they are, and therein lies another, avoidable, problem. The decision to include as an appendix a biographical index of college staff as mentioned in the text was surely a mistake. Omissions, first of people mentioned (W Inglis), and second of those who have made important contributions (a list too numerous to mention), seem likely to give unnecessary offence.

It is in this section too that we get some interestingly historical comments on contemporary events. The Primary Memorandum is dismissed in one sentence: "In an attempt to loosen up the rigidities of a curriculum thirled to the 3Rs, this swung to the opposite regime and put forward the view that the needs of children could be discovered by research and the curriculum then based on them." With a similar grand sweep, the issue of the incidence of staff having, in the main, been taught at Jordanhill themselves, is illustrated by reference to the brief influx of "outsiders" in the 1960s: "The outstanding 'outsider' was Lawrence Stenhouse but other figures - Round, Butts, Mangan, Marker and Wright - came from south of the Border and made their mark on the college. " Such a forward line, and before the days of the three-foreigners rule.

The second part of the book will, no doubt, be dipped into by many people who have attended the various parts of the college, from FE to community education; from social work to speech therapy. Some of the names have changed, and some have disappeared entirely, like the Scottish School of Physical Education.

It is in Small's chapter on the school that the book comes to life a little. It is an impassioned, if partial, apologia with some bitterness over the closure: "In retrospect, Jordanhill might have shown some more political awareness by moderating its pursuit of sporting excellence in favour of the more fashionable 'sport for all'." This is tinged with pride: "Whilst they were proud to be called Jordanhill students, there was never any doubt about their being different."

There are omissions within this eclectic approach. There is no chapter on research, none on the contribution of subject departments and nothing on the college's links overseas. But perhaps the greatest disappointment is the lack of the student voice, a failing recognised by Catherine Adams in her chapter "The Student Experience."

The magnitude of contribution of the college may well be impossible to capture in one volume. This may be the reason why the whole turns out to be a little less than the sum of its parts. The title is indicative of its limited vision. What of the influence the college, and its staff, have had on educational policy in Scotland and internationally over the years? The political dimension is strangely muted (with the exception of Mortimer's chapter on in-service training and Kirk's on the training of secondary teachers) and the cumulative effect is a little inward looking.

But a history of Jordanhill was long overdue, and Harrison and Marker are to be congratulated. The reader who wants to find out the detail of the history of Jordanhill will find it in abundance.

Brian Boyd is co-director of the Quality in Education Centre.

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