Writing ‘Transforming Teacher Education’

I am currently in the writing pit trying to complete Transforming Teacher Education: Reconfiguring the Academic Work with my colleague Jane McNicholl. It’s reached the stage where it is available for pre-order on Amazon, has a nice cover (see pic to the left) – but hasn’t yet been completed and delivered to the publisher. Oh dear…. Not a nice feeling for a control freak.

The book grows out of our ‘Work of Teacher Education’ research and aspires to set an agenda for the development of initial teacher education in terms of programme design, relationships between schools and universities, links to continuing professional development and research. It’s contextualised in the international research literature and tries to take account of system comparisons in a meaningful way, without resorting to the usual injunctions to be more like Finland or South Korea. And we’ve also tried to do an historical analysis; we’re attempting to put the ‘poor relation’ of Education as a discipline in a new perspective, to say something different. To do so, we begin with an extract from the play Prin, by screenwriter Andrew Davies, first performed in the 1980s. It tells the story of a Principal of a small teacher training college who is faced with a choice: merge with the local polytechnic or merge with the local university. It’s a really good exploration of the politics of teaching and teacher education at a time when higher education was undergoing profound changes and, given Davies himself was a teacher educator at Warwick University’s Institute of Education (formerly Canley College of Education), it is particularly well-observed.

Below, click on the video for a performance of the graduation speech from Prin by Kate Fleming, a wonderful friend and herself a teacher educator who began her career at Grantham and Kesteven Training College.

Usually, Education is presented as the ‘Johnny come lately’ of higher education, the discipline that arrived late and has battled for status and prestige ever since. Our view, in Transforming Teacher Education, is that the very earliest form of mass higher education was teacher education. Other than Oxford and Cambridge and the extension colleges of London University that grew up in the late nineteenth century, day training colleges and then local authority training colleges were the first types of institution that accepted working and lower middle class students (or ‘pupil teachers’) and changed them into middle class professionals. As elementary education and then secondary education was extended to larger sections of the population, more and more teachers were needed. In parts of the British Empire, new teacher colleges grew up to produce teachers of children of large numbers of English immigrants. But even very lofty universities like Imperial College, London have their antecedents in organisations like South Kensington Day Training College. As higher education itself has changed, though, has become more specialised and, let’s face it, pompous and self-regarding, institutions like Imperial have tended to cover their narrative tracks and marginalise or even write-out teacher education from their histories.

So rather than view Education as a new entrant to higher education institutions, struggling for its oats and somehow intrinsically weak, our perspective is that the aims and purposes of higher education have changed and teacher education has been somewhat left behind. (And if you really want a ‘new entrant’ to HE, you could do worse than look at English!) But Education needn’t be left behind; a different future is possible. But it’s probably not a future where, like Prin in the video, all we offer is a self-congratulatory accreditation of ‘extraordinary people’ who are rather ‘like us’. For one thing, you don’t need a higher education to be an extraordinary person. But for another, you probably do need a higher education to be an extraordinary teacher.