The headteacher of a large secondary school takes over the Department of Education at the local university. Other school teachers from different parts of England join the new Professor as lecturers. What they have in common is a passionate conviction that initial teacher education (ITE) isn’t good enough, largely based on their own experience of doing PGCEs and, in the headteacher’s case, employing newly qualified teachers. The headteacher has also been part of an influential review of ITE.
The headteacher also has a vision for what a university Department of Education should be. At its core is high quality educational research, by which he means the kind of research that derives from practice and that feeds back into it while developing theory that has wider application. The headteacher assembles a working group to look at how the Department of Education can up its game with research; he draws in disciplinary expertise from around the wider university, including some of the leading social scientists of the time
Simultaneously, the department initiates a long-term working relationship with the local authority and its advisory staff. (You might really have to exercise your imagination at this point!) The local authority finds a way to second teachers to the university to work on improving the PGCE and build the research culture. New structures for the PGCE build this mobility into the course design and department staffing structure. Three concepts drive the changes: curriculum; educational research; partnership.
Utopian day-dream or fevered ‘trad’ fantasy?
No, it was 1973 and Harry Judge (formerly head of Banbury School, then the largest comprehensive school in the country) became Director of the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Oxford.
As part of our ongoing study of historical innovations in teacher education, Ann Childs and I published an article earlier this year in which we analysed the conditions for and processes of innovation in teacher education at Oxford from 1973 to 1985. You can access the paper here (if you can’t get behind the paywall, contact me).
From this post, you can now access some of the mimeographed papers produced by Harry Judge during this period that became tools for working on the kind of changes in ITE that were taking place.
The ‘Working Paper for the PGCE’, distributed in November 1975, records perhaps the first key decision the department made to change direction: what were called ‘Methods’ tutors were now to become ‘Curriculum’ tutors. It was a significant shift, away from simply showing student teachers ‘how to’ teach towards conceptualising teaching as the mediation of a curriculum – with the emphasis on a necessary engagement with key subject-specific questions in order to design a curriculum for the classes being taught.
What was rather portentously called ‘The May Day Memorandum’, distributed in May 1977, was in fact a proposal for the establishment of a working group focused on educational research. It made three startling claims – perhaps even more startling now given what has happened to universities since:
The ‘All Saints Day Paper’ published in 1979 was radical in proposing what might have ended up as a smaller department with reduced numbers of ITE students being taught in a context that was more research-led and more focused on teaching and supervising advanced degrees including the PGCE but, crucially, in ever closer partnership across all its activities with local schools. What is notable about this paper is the consideration that Harry Judge gave to building the Department of Educational Studies overall, as a full department of a leading research university, where the PGCE was a critically important but not dominant programme.
Of course, this was the 1970s. It was pre-Ofsted; pre-REF; before the full impact of Callaghan’s Ruskin College speech that heralded the current era of political intervention in education was felt. Yes, it was a secondary-only PGCE. And, yes, it was Oxford, dreaming spires, elite exceptionalism and all that. But, as Ann and I argued in our paper, there are lessons for universities now in what went on then.
Harry Judge died in April this year, aged 90. His vision – and that of his colleagues – saw the preparation of teachers not as some irritating side-issue that distracted from the fine deliberations of the sociologists, psychologists and philosophers who worked elsewhere in the department but as the core activity that brought them all together. That said, wiffling on in the way that they had been was not an option. And, as Jane McNicholl and I wrote in Transforming Teacher Education, it isn’t now. So where will the necessary change come from now? And will it come?