Category Archives: PGCE

Welcome to another super group of MMU students!


Welcome to all the new MMU students beginning courses with us this year! I hope you have a brilliant time with us and that you find the PGCE course you have chosen a stimulating and rewarding experience.

For those of you beginning the PGCE in Music and PGCE in Music with Specialist Instrumental Teaching courses, an especially warm welcome. Teaching music to young people is one of the most amazing of jobs. There is a huge amount of enjoyment that you will gain from learning how to do this well, and the young people that you teach will benefit hugely too.

In a nutshell, the course will help you to ‘teach music musically‘. This isn’t our phrase, but it does sum up the aspiration of the course as a whole. Will Evans, and I, together with all our other Associate Lecturers and colleagues, will do our upmost to help you through what will be one of the most challenging years of your lives so far!

Welcome again, and have a great year!

This Government is failing in its duty to manage teacher supply

Back in December 2014, I wrote about a looming crisis in teacher recruitment for September 2015. Here we are a couple of days away from September and that crisis has well and truly emerged. Figures published by the Government, quietly and secretively on a busy news day, reveal significant shortages across the board:


Considered in total, there is a 10% shortage in total applicants, and this is the third year in a row  that the Government has failed to secure enough new entrants to the profession.

John Howson, whose blog has chartered these things in detail over the years, has written about the reasons for and consequences of this Government’s failing to look after teacher supply in today’s Observer.

This crisis has come about because of:

  • Depressed wages in the public sector, making teaching look unattractive compared to other career paths;
  • The perception [in 2011] that we had enough teachers due to falling pupil rolls;
  • The imposition of a complex and constantly changing bursary scheme that has muddied the waters around who pays what for a teacher training course, and has resulted in the vast majority of students having to pay £9k for their studies;
  • The introduction of School Direct, a shoddy and ill-conceived attempt to impose a free-market training systems run by schools. This has resulted in the closure of some university teacher education courses .

The immediate results of this are that courses, like those we run at MMU, will open in a week or so with unfilled places. In most subjects, this is unheard of in my experience.

Moving ahead to September 2016, headteachers will find it difficult, or impossible, to recruit enough teachers in  subjects such as physics, design and technology, geography, business studies and even English. Headteachers will be forced to ask existing teachers to teach subjects where they do not have specialist subject knowledge. Or, perhaps more worryingly, they will be forced to remove certain subjects from the curriculum. We have seen this happening in Music in many primary and secondary schools in recent years.

What will parents make of all this? As some readers know, I have five children. Three are currently attending three different schools in our local town – one academy, one free school and one LA -maintained primary school. Sadly, I have to specify which types of schools these are as I can’t rely anymore on them being taught by qualified teachers with appropriate qualifications. As this crisis in teacher recruitment begins to hit the public consciousness, parents should be holding headteachers to account for the decisions they make about who is teaching their children. If answers are not forthcoming, then Freedom of Information requests should follow. Our children deserve to be taught by qualified teachers.

As for the Government, they are in denial. Nick Gibb is quoted in yesterday’s Guardian as saying that:

“These figures show that teacher recruitment is improving, with 3% more people due to start postgraduate teacher training than this time last year. We have already exceeded our target for primary school trainees and are making sustained progress for the secondary sector – including in key subjects like English, maths, physics and chemistry, where we are ahead of last year’s performance”.

None of these things are true. I’m with John Howson on this one, when he writes that ‘unless it [the Government] recognises the scale of the problem and acts soon, it will become the worst teacher-supply situation since the dark days of the early 2000s. That is no way to create a world-class education system’.

Is the crisis in initial teacher education and teacher recruitment beginning to hit the public consciousness?

It’s taken a while, but I was pleased to see at least one MP begin to question some of this Government’s policy in respect of initial teacher education and teacher recruitment this week. Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, has written this article in the Yorkshire Post that explores some of the key issues that I’ve been raising in this blog for a number of years.

Chief amongst these are, of course, the inadequacy of the Schools Direct model in terms of contributing the numbers of teachers that is required for the country as a whole, their geographical spread and subject specialism. She also questions the efficacy of Teach First as a model (and, I would add, the immense cost of sustaining a so-called charity with public funding).  She also mentions the huge costs involved in paying for supply staff to cover the gaps left in schools who are unable to recruit full time members of staff.

It seems to me that as headteachers in many schools face up to this crisis that, eventually, the public consciousness of these matters will begin to hit home. Sadly, by then, it will be too late for many schools and parents, who will find that their children are being taught by non-specialists, supply staff or, even worse, unqualified teachers with minimal, if any, teaching experience and little professional support.

The system of initial teacher education in this country is in a perilous state. The recently announced policy of unrestricting allocations to HEI will not help. It will only fragment further the issues of geographical spread and subject specialism. Year on year, there is a decreasing number of students opting for teacher education courses, with Schools Direct the worst culprit by far in failing to fill allocated placed. These trends have been analysed superbly by Professor John Howson over many years with his most recent observations on the current state of play published last week. Whilst organisations like Teach First play around the edge of the sector, contributing little sustained benefits and with the majority of their student teachers leaving after two years, the organisations that can and should be empowered to drive forwards quality in initial teacher education are being marginalised at every turn.

Almost every headteacher I speak to tells me that universities should be leading initial teacher education across the country. They know, better than anyone probably, that schools (with a few exceptions perhaps) are not wanting or willing to lead programmes of initial teacher education. The system implemented by this Government is falling apart. The NCTL has been shown as incompetent in managing the sector as a whole. Schools Direct is a complete farce. Teach First is propped up by public funding and making minimal impact in a national context. As pressure mounts, one can only hope that headteachers and parents will put pressure on the Government to rethink their approach before permanent damage is done to the infrastructure of the current and future teaching workforce.

Unqualified Teachers! This is what happens under a Tory education system

norwich_primary_academyNorwich Primary Academy, part of the inappropriately named Inspiration Trust, is advertising for four unqualified teachers to start this September. The full advertisement text can be downloaded from here (these things have a habit of disappearing).

In his interview today on the World at One, Tristram Hunt attacked the Inspiration Trust for its potential recruitment of unqualified teachers. He cited an example from South Leeds Academy back in 2013 who advertised for two unqualified teachers of mathematics. Their advertisement was quickly withdrawn, along with the application pack, but both are still available on this blog here.

In my view, unqualified teachers have no role to play in state schools in England. Teachers should be appropriately qualified with a degree, a PGCE and QTS. Parents expect this and our children deserve to be taught by qualified professionals. I am 100% behind Labour’s position to put an end to the de-professionalisation of the teaching profession that this Government has initiated. It is yet another reason to vote for a Labour government next week.


Labour will abolish School Direct

The main Birley building will be home to 6,500 students and staffIn one of the most welcome announcements in respect of educational policy, I was delighted to hear from Tristam Hunt yesterday that Labour will abolish School Direct, the (in name) school-led system of initial teacher education. The reality is, as anyone who has worked in the initial teacher education sector will know, that university’s have propped up this ideological experiment ensuring that individual students feel a modicum of success by partaking in the programme.

Hunt’s view is that School Direct has been haphazard in its implement, resulted in a crisis of teacher recruitment and a looming national shortage of teachers in key areas (both by subject and geographically). I would agree with all these points. Those who doubt the veracity of these statements should spend a few minutes reading Professor John Howson’s blog. He has, more than anyone else I know, charted the lows of this Government’s policy on teacher recruitment with unfailing energy and a criticality often missing in debates in this area.

At a national level, School Direct has been a complete failure. Last year, it only filled 61% of its total places (down from 68% last year). These statistics may themselves be over-optimistic and inflated. Interested readers should read this recent post by Professor Howson. Figures for this year’s School Direct recruitment look even worse on a month by month analysis.

This failed experiment is in stark contrast to the work done by MMU and other HEI in bolstering their initial teacher education provision, in partnership with schools of course, resulting in an over 90% recruitment success of students to PGCE courses in primary and secondary initial teacher education across the entire UK (the figure at MMU is much higher). Additionally, huge capital investments such as the new Brooks building for the Faculty of Education (at a cost of around £150m; see picture above and below) have ensured the students have access to the very latest and most impressive space and facilities to learn within.


Perhaps the most damaging aspect of this whole sorry episode is the fallacy that university led ITE provision is done in isolation from schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the 15 years that I have worked for MMU, the partnership of schools across the north west of England has been central to our work, every day. Later today, I’ll be visiting one of these to support a student in Macclesfield who has benefited immensely from his experiences there on a teaching placement. He has benefited immensely from the structured university led programme of education and the support of dedicated colleagues who have helped him navigate the complex process of becoming a teacher.

Incidentally, the school where he is currently working has also benefited immensely in the process too. Despite being at the forefront of the training school programme themselves, they have employed more students from our PGCE in Music course than any other school in the north west of England, with the current Head of Department and two other staff having completed their training with us over the last ten years.

What does the future of ITE look like under a Labour Government? Hunt had this to say:

What we need to do is to take the best of the School Direct system, which is school-based training and practical training, but re-introduce some order into it. [We must] continue a role for higher education providers, which would be obliterated under a future Tory government, and have a regional model, rather like a medical deanery model, [made up] of excellent higher education institutions at the regional core of teacher training programmes.

This seems like a much more sensible route forwards. HEI have the expertise, experience and capacity to manage programmes of ITE. Schools don’t. Generally, they are overwhelmed by the responsibility and student experience suffers. Partnership working has always been, and will remain, the way forward with HEIs leading and schools working alongside as vital partners.

GUEST LECTURE: Andrew Curren, Consultant Paediatric Neurologist, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

Faculty of Education, Birley Fields, MMU Thursday 12th March, 10.00 – 3.00pm

andrew-curran-publicity-photoWe are delighted to welcome Andrew Curran, a Consultant Paediatric Neurologist working at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, to the Faculty of Education, MMU. Andrew is committed to using his extraordinary knowledge of the workings of the human brain to make a difference in the educational experience of all young people. He believes passionately in the importance of understanding the individual, connecting with them emotionally and leading them into self directed learning. His book, the Little Book of Big Stuff about the Brain (published by Crown House Publishing), is recognised as one of the leading books about understanding brain based learning and the importance of emo- tional literacy in our classrooms and in our lives.

Andrew will be delivering two guest lectures during the day.

Lecture 1, 10.00 – 12.30, Birley Fields G.44

Andrew’s morning session will explore the brain, its neurology and how this impacts on a child’s learning. In Andrew’s words …

What is the message that I am delivering through many years of studying the neurobiology of the human brain that appeals to so many people? It’s really very simple.

If each child in front of you feels understood, then this is good for their self esteem. If these two things are happening then the child will feel self-confident. And if these three things are extant the child will be emotionally engaged with learning. And if that happens, then the child’s brain is neurobiologically optimised for learning.

Lecture 2, 1.15 – 2.45, BirleyFields 2.51

In the afternoon session, Andrew will predominantly focus on the brain and music, considering how the two interrelate and the consequences of this for teaching and learning about music. Andrew brings a unique perspective to this through his own work as a singer/songwriter.

All are welcome to either session. BUT …

Please email Dr Jonathan Savage ( to confirm your attendance.

Space is limited.


Is there a looming teacher shortage for September 2015?

I’ve enjoyed reading John Howson’s blog. His analytical take around the number of teachers that we, as a country, need is incisive and informative.

The release of the ITT census a week or so ago was given the ‘Howson treatment’ in this post. I’d strongly encourage anyone with an interest in teacher education to read it. If you are a parent concerned about your child’s education perhaps you should read it too. We are heading for a major shortage of qualified teachers in many subject areas. We are at least 1,300 secondary school teachers short across the country. There is also a 7% shortfall in primary school teachers this year.

As someone with an interest in music education, one key fact stood out for me from the post. Across the country only 81% of planned training places were filled. Regular reads of this blog will remember that the MMU Music courses for a September 2014 start were filled well in advance; in July we received a panic email from the DfE asking us to fill an additional 7 places. We were able to do this. Through discussions with other colleagues across the country I’ve found out that many universities received a similar request. Many of them were not willing to reopen courses.

This chaotic, piecemeal approach to the training of our teachers is pretty shoddy. It is certainly not helped by this government’s preoccupation with Schools Direct. Howson’s analysis shows us that Schools Direct only manages to recruit 61% of total places. SCITTS only managed 79%. HEI led courses recruited 90% of their allocation. I am constantly amazed that the DfE seems determined to pursue a policy of school-based training provision like this when the evidence shows clearly that it is poorer quality, patchy in terms of its provision, and pedagogical and intellectually weaker in many aspects compared with HEI-led programmes.



DfE announce an ‘independent’ review into initial teacher training

The DfE has launched what it [laughably] calls an independent review of initial teacher training courses within the UK. You can find full details here. I say laughably, as the review is being led by an Andrew Carter (and don’t forget his OBE), who is chair of the review. Carter’s qualifications for undertaking this role are that he is a primary school head teacher (at South Farnham School, a very good primary school by all accounts), leader of a school-centred ITT provider and ITT lead on the Teaching Schools Council. He’s also a DfE favourite, having acted in an advisory role for schools wishing to become academies (following his own lead in re-designating his own school as one of the first primary academies). Given this experience, I’m struggling to see how he could be an independent chair in any traditional understanding of the word ‘independent’.

The other funny thing about this is that we already have an apparently independent organisation that undertakes an annual review of initial teacher education, following detailed inspections of various providers of all shapes and sizes – Ofsted. Clearly, Gove does not like what Ofsted report, namely that HEI-led partnerships have consistently outperformed school centred, School Direct, Teach First and other school-led programmes over many years. They will continue to do so whatever Carter and his team may report back to Gove.

The review will begin its business shortly and report back to the DfE by the end of the year. When the review team is appointed I’ll let you all know its constituency alongside any further news about the way in which it is going to conduct its work.

The Importance of ‘Gradualism’ in Initial Teacher Education

Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve been watching the series Tough Young Teachers. I’ve enjoyed following the journeys of the six student teachers and their various trials, tribulations and successes. I take my hat off to anyone who trains to be a teacher, let alone one who decides to train with TV cameras in their classroom capturing every moment for public broadcast! Well done guys and girls!

I think that one of the key features that marks out a PGCE programme from the programme offered by Teach First is the notion of gradualism. By this, I mean the gradual process by which students are carefully and systematically introduced to the teaching of whole classes of children. Much play is made in Tough Young Teachers of  Teach First students beginning teaching from the outset of the academic year with 400+ pupils to teach each week. Personally, I think this is more often than not a recipe for disaster and does not help the Teach First students develop their skills in coherent, systematic or sustainable way. They suffer, and their pupils suffer (sadly) as they are experimented on week in, week out, until improvements are made (which they will eventually in most cases). Continue reading

The Art of Case Study


Over the years I have enjoyed conducting a range of research projects into various aspects of education. Some of these have been funded through the EU or various research councils, but I think the most enjoyable have been those where I have just followed a particular interest that has emerged from my work as a musician and teacher. Many of these small-scale pieces of research have used the  methodology of case study. My interest in case study began during my PhD, when I conducted case studies within my teaching (see Dunwich Revisited and Reflecting Others for examples).

On our PGCE course, our students have to undertake a range of assignments. One of these (we call it the Curriculum Development Assignment) is just about to be started. In the assignment, as the name suggests, students have to research a particular area of their subject’s curriculum, devise a unit of work, teach it and analyse the consequences for their teaching and their students’ learning during their second, substantive, teaching placement.

Do to this effectively, we encourage students to utilise a simple research methodology like case study to structure their work. I say simple, but I’ve found case study to be a very engaging and at times complex research methodology. But at its simplest, it is easy to explain and to begin using. Tomorrow, I get to work with our fantastic group of PGCE students on our two music PGCE courses, and the Schools Direct course too, and help them prepare for this assignment.

Using two metaphors drawn from Magritte’s work (including The Field Glass shown at the beginning of this post) and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, we will explore how case study can be used within a simple case study project like those that I did for my PhD and for those like the students will be conducting over the next few months. If you want to find out more about what we are going to consider, you can download my notes for this session here