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.