Save The Cambridge History PGCE | @LeeDonaghy

FullSizeRender (1)Lee Donaghy is a former history teacher and assistant head who in February left teaching to be a full time dad. He lives in the East Midlands.

Last night, it emerged via @mfordhamhistory on Twitter that the Cambridge history PGCE was not going to run during the 2016-17 academic year. This calamity was apparently the result of what @samfr described as a ‘technical change’ in the allocation of ITT places whereby university course numbers for each subject were capped, but without allocating specific numbers of places to individual institutions. History reached the university cap at midnight last night, following on from PE, which had reached the cap earlier in the week.

This meant that courses like Cambridge (and other highly regarded courses like Oxford and Roehampton) which refused to accelerate the pace of offers in response to the cap, preferring instead to maintain the quality of those it accepted, would be unable to continue to interview and make offers.

There was a slight tweak overnight when the DfE decided to exempt from the cap those courses that had yet to fill 75% of the places they had last year. This is a small step in the right direction, which helps the Oxbridge courses but, as I understand it, does nothing for Roehampton and others.

If the Cambridge history PGCE course were to close, or even have its viability weakened by a reduction in numbers, it would be a huge act of educational vandalism by a government that has clearly failed to appreciate the potential consequences of the way in which it has attempted to shift more and more teacher training into school based partnerships, a general direction of travel that I support.

The Cambridge PGCE, led by the wonderful Christine Counsell, is without doubt the foremost history teacher training course in the country (humble brag – even if it does suggest a blog of mine as recommended reading in its handbook…). It privileges the acquisition and passing on of historical knowledge as the most important role of the history teacher, something which I’m afraid to say some other history training courses fail to do. This, of course, is one reason why university ITT courses in general have been under attack, but the Cambridge course appears to have become collateral damage.

This placing of historical knowledge at the very centre of its identity is something I am certain Nick Gibb, with his enthusiasm for Hirsch-style core knowledge, would wholeheartedly support and one can only hope that he and his ministerial colleagues will be able to fix the mess that has been made.

The Cambridge PGCE course is also the engine room of the brilliant Teaching History magazine, which is the preeminent teaching journal written by teachers, for teachers, in any subject. The magazine has fostered a rigorous, well-informed and valuable professional dialogue about history teaching (not generic pedagogy that is all surface, no depth) amongst history teachers that makes an immeasurable contribution to the development of the history teaching community – who will take up that mantle if the course closes?

An unfortunate irony in these events is that the Cambridge history PGCE is about as school led as an ITT course it gets, albeit under the guidance of a brilliant team at the university. As Michael Fordham’s blogs about the course show (see his Twitter timeline for links) the school based mentors have real ownership of the course and the extent to which Christine and her team have moulded a shared vision and purpose for the course is really something to behold. In the rush to create a school-led ITT system this aspect of the Cambridge course seems to have gone unappreciated, which is at best irresponsible and at worst reckless.

Put simply, if this course closes or shrinks, fewer very well qualified people will gain a place on a course to become history teachers (weaker courses accepting lesser candidates more quickly will be fine) – candidates of the calibre recruited by Cambridge are unlikely to hang around for a year. More likely, they’ll find another career to begin and may then be lost to our profession forever. In turn, the overall quality of history teaching will suffer, knowledge – so important in particular for those less advantaged pupils who rely on schools to give them powerful knowledge – will become less important and pupils will suffer. Not to mention the impact this could have on the government’s plans for almost compulsory EBACC.

So, finally: a call to action. Tweet, phone, email, harangue DfE ministers as well as Lucy Powell and her shadow team. The Cambridge history PGCE is the Koh-i-Noor of PGCE courses and must not be allowed to close. #JeSuisChristine.

10 thoughts on “Save The Cambridge History PGCE | @LeeDonaghy

  1. I’ve seen Art and Design PGCE courses, of the highest quality, disappear one by one. I full empathise about the History ones too. The overall effect of Coalition, and now Tory policy, on teacher training has been (and will be) destructive. The lack of research led decisions means that we now have this ridiculous mismatch of different teacher training routes which, frankly, don’t have any of the guaranteed quality assurance that PGCE has.

  2. As a Cambridge History PGCE mentor I have been deeply disturbed by the unfolding destruction of the course.
    The latest news, that we will have only 11 trainees is unthinkable. However intentioned, the result is short-sighted vandalism of a course at the vanguard of rigorous and sophisticated subject-specific ITT provision. The Cambridge History PGCE is a unique model of mentor-led, fully integrated school-university provision. That the course develops exceptional history teachers who benefit the profession is un-doubtable (look to the pages of Teaching History and the IJHLTR; look to the actions of the Historical Association or course members now engaged in national and international education projects, for evidence of this). It is, though, equally true that the course enriches professional development on a very local level, in our history department, the rest of our school and schools across Peterborough.
    If we, as educators, want to enhance ALL students’ experience, attainment and knowledge then a course with such an exceptional university based team and a large community of school-based mentors, placing huge demands upon themselves to forefront the development of historical knowledge and educational research, is one that needs to be preserved, and expanded.
    That such a course, and others like it, should be under threat, is frightening; a reckless and counter-productive move. The central principle of the course; that no child should be excluded from access to a knowledge-rich, rigorous and inspirational history education, is one that benefits all our students, teachers, schools and the educational landscape of the country. Such a course, such a community and such a body of expertise would take a decade to rebuild.

  3. I too am shocked that the leading secondary history PGCE course at Cambridge is under threat. As a former trainee on the course and as a current mentor, I am outraged that the number of history PGCE students at Cambridge has been slashed to just 11.
    When I think of the work my trainee has been doing with my Year 8 class I can’t believe that the PGCE course that has guided his practice is under threat. His whole emphasis in his placement has been on helping pupils of all abilities develop a rich subject knowledge that doesn’t simply cut out the detail for pupils but provides them with a rich knowledge base so they can tackle demanding historical questions. What’s more his pupils have been engaging with a real historical debate between two historians, using sources from their books. This is what the Cambridge history PGCE is all about- rigorous history that grows out of a rich, detailed and nuanced knowledge base.
    The Cambridge PGCE achieves this rigorous history through the collaboration of mentors in schools and world-class university teaching; together we promote the value of historical scholarship, demanding enquiry questions and detailed substantive knowledge. Fewer places will only limit the number of trainee teachers who are equipped to teach rigorous, knowledge-rich history to pupils of all abilities. Isn’t this what the government wants to achieve too?

    1. I too was distraught to hear the news that the Cambridge PGCE course is due to be slashed. As someone who has mentored for a few years now in the Cambridge PGCE community, I have seen at first hand how the course has helped develop excellent teachers of the full ability range. Trainees on the course are clued up on the importance of knowledge in the curriculum and how to make this knowledge accessible to the full ability range. I have seen how trainees with top degrees from high quality institutions have immersed themselves in academic and history teaching scholarship in order to bring rigour and high levels of engagement into the lessons that they teach in the classroom. With the breaking of the news that the course is under threat, many of these potentially brilliant individuals may be put off from entering the teaching profession. It is nonsensical that a government that is seemingly so keen to promote many of the qualities that I have just outlined is, at the same time, slashing the number of places on the PGCE course and undermining the nationwide community of teachers and teacher-trainers that has built up over the years through the Cambridge PGCE. Very worrying times indeed.

  4. I am also outraged to hear this news. I trained on this course and I cannot under-state how rigorous, engaging and transforming the experience was. The training you receive is second to none and the role that school-based mentors play cannot be under-estimated. I am now a mentor myself and find such great pleasure in seeing trainees immerse their students in History. They make students love the ‘complexity’ of History and value the historical knowledge that they learn.
    If the government wants students to have the best quality History teachers who will inspire a generation then they need to help the Cambridge History PGCE to grow, rather than limiting the scope of this great course. If the government wants History teachers to share and develop great practice then they should be nurturing this community of school-based mentors.

  5. Educators should be open to change, even when it takes an abrupt and radical form. And yet is the very concept of change that demands an interplay of the old and the new, the proven and the innovative, the baby and the bathwater.

    It is most regrettable and discouraging that the recent decisions concerning the Cambridge History PGCE (and similar courses) seem to be based on one-dimensional quotas instead of data that is more meaningful for the quality of teacher training.

    I have greatly benefitted from a course with such a close-knit community that allowed the integration of myself as an EU trainee. It was not only the renowned quality of this particular course that made me apply, but also the international reputation of the PGCE and its compatibility with the German equivalent of a 1-2 year course that integrates school-led mentoring with seminar-based reflection. While my own experience might be somewhat unique, the principles of outstanding mentoring and training apply to the needs of every history trainee. To stay in tradition with Counsell’s five Rs, I am going to present them in the same mnemonic way:

    Rigour: an unapologetically comprehensive take on the philosophy of history education, subject knowledge and educational research
    Reflection: this is delivered in study sessions led by experts and individual tutorials that supplement the school experience. This cannot be shouldered by school mentors or week-end seminars.
    Relationships: the course lives and breathes through the relationships between lecturers, mentors and guest-speakers that have been built for years, fostering a community strong enough to include trainees from all walks of life.
    Routines: in order to achieve the very ambitious goals of the course, it relies on routines that emerged from years of meticulous planning and collaborative work with local schools.
    Reach: some might not realise that almost all trainees escape the Cambridge bubble and make use of the ties with schools all over Cambridgeshire and beyond. Even wider is the reach of individual course leaders and practitioners who share their work at conferences and in journals. The reach of these conference outcomes and publications goes beyond national borders and contributes to a European and global discourse of history education.

    Those principles are not only true for the Cambridge History course, but all other courses that are run with enthusiasm and track records of excellence. I am yet to see an alternative that would justify their extinction. Losing the CamHist PGCE in its current form is an unprecedented act of sabotage that undermines the very principles needed to create meaningful change in education. On a personal level, it is heartbreaking and ethically questionable to deprive candidates, former trainees and established mentors of this cornerstone of their professional development and practice at such short notice.

    As an incredulous bystander, I can only hope that the decisions will be reviewed – this time with quality of teaching and learning in mind – and that the course will be allowed to be a motor of change, not a casualty.

  6. I doubt anyone would argue with the fact that we need, and will continue to need, intellectually astute subject specialists who are able to draw upon a wide and diverse range of knowledge (both subject and pedagogic) to enthuse, motivate and develop children of all abilities in our schools. Being fantastic at history or maths or French is absolutely not enough to make you a fantastic teacher. Great teachers, teachers who truly inspire young people to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, who burst with the sheer joy of the subject and who recognise the importance of giving knowledge to all, need to be nurtured and developed. A teacher’s ability to model the pursuit of excellence, combined with a deeply reflective grounding in their own subject area and the science of learning, has to have its own model in the first place. Teachers need to be grown and developed just as they will grow and develop the young minds in their classrooms. Anyone who is connected to history teaching and training in the UK understands that this is what the Cambridge history PGCE is all about. Speaking as a former Cambridge PGCE trainee, mentor and a head of history and humanities who has appointed Cambridge PGCE trainees, my initial reaction to the news that the Cambridge PGCE was in danger was one of disbelief, followed by a quick check of the date to make sure it wasn’t April 1st.

    It may have had a temporary reprieve, but the fact that it was ever under threat at all is astounding. That threat still looms: the Cambridge community of history mentors has been halved, over two years, from 20 to 11 (see Twitter hashtag #From20to11). It has taken nearly 20 years to create this incredibly high-powered, school-based community. A community which, as Michael Fordham explains, is itself a learning community, continually evolving the requirements and support programme of the history PGCE in order to ensure that both they and their trainees receive the best possible professional training and development. The crucial role which the Cambridge mentor community, alongside the challenging and intensive subject studies programme developed by Christine Counsell, plays in providing a rich and supportive framework of responsive professional development for history trainees in our schools is the model of rigorous school-based training that education and political commentators aspire to. It delivers on standards of excellence, disciplinary distinctiveness, subject specialist Initial Teacher Education and the strong subject leadership of this.

    So, is the Cambridge PGCE under threat because it is elitist or less inclusive? Because its trainees are uninterested in all-ability state schools? Absolutely not. Christine Counsell is nothing short of evangelical (and that is being polite) in her vision of providing the best possible teachers for children in the state sector. The vast majority of Cambridge PGCE trainees take up their teaching posts in all-ability state schools. The mentors and placements for the PGCE are based in local state schools. Entry onto the course in the first place is based not on who you are or where you have studied, but on your ability to convince the panel that you have a genuine passion and commitment to bring demanding history to students of all abilities and backgrounds and that you have that ‘spark,’ that special something that shouts of an inherent love of your subject and the possibility of working real magic with it in classrooms across the UK. Add to that mixture the ingredients of a vibrant mentor community rooted in working state schools, which engages with academic discourse and participates in research, and the subject-based mentor training provided at the university, and it is no surprise that members of the Cambridge PGCE community past and present are amongst the strongest history teachers in the UK and contribute regularly to national publications, think tanks and training.

    When I have appointed Cambridge PGCE graduates to positions within my department it is not because they are ‘Cambridge,’ it is because they demonstrate time and again that they have the knowledge, subject sensitivity, understanding of the process of learning and dynamic approach to learning and teaching that our students need. Until we have the proven and widespread ability to replicate this model of Initial Teacher Education in other ways, the Cambridge history PGCE needs to stay.

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