Category Archives: PGCE

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

Qualified or Unqualified? What’s the basic qualification every teacher should have?

Over the weekend a massive political argument has developed over the Government’s Free Schools programme. Long term readers of this blog will know that I’ve always been opposed to this initiative, particularly because it means that anyone, regardless of qualification, can teach at one of these schools. This is also the case for any state academy; and of course, for any independent schools (the difference here being, of course, that they are funded primarily through fees).

Every political party should be ashamed, in varying degrees, for the current situation. The Conservatives should carry the most blame for imagining and setting up a ridiculous ‘free’ school programme that has been pretty much universally criticised by everyone in the educational establishment. Toby Young seems to be the only defender of the programme that the BBC could find to interview on today’s Today programme.

Labour have been next to useless in their opposition to this programme. The previous Shadow Minister for Education stated a few months ago that Labour, if they came to power, would insist that every teacher in a Free School would have to be appropriately qualified. This is a full three years after the policy was announced and implementation began!

And the Liberal Democrats. What a shambles. Having supported the implementation of the Free School programme at the outset we now have a Lib Dem Schools Minister who is defending it (David Laws) whilst Nick Clegg is attacking it (on this very point about teacher qualification, as well as a requirement to impose the National Curriculum on Free Schools as well as ensure they feed their pupils healthy food).

So, what is all the fuss about? For me, every teacher should be qualified. What does that mean? Traditionally, this has meant that all teachers should have a minimum level of qualification of an undergraduate degree and qualified teacher status (QTS). Both these elements been removed in many schools by this government’s recent educational policies.

Qualified Teacher Status can be obtained in various ways. The majority of would-be teachers obtain it through studying for a PGCE (a postgraduate level qualification that is not the same as QTS but an academic award in its own right and offered to the student by the university and not the Government). Of course, most PGCE courses facilitate the work needed to be assessed against the requirements for QTS as laid out in the Government’s Teacher Standards (which have also been significantly weakened in recent years).

The award of a PGCE, and as part of this QTS, offers would-be teachers many essential skills. Off the top of my head, here is a list of things that I think it teaches students:

  1. The ability to plan an individual lesson and a sequence of lessons in such a way that learning is initiated, sustained and developed;
  2. The knowledge to choose and use a range of different teaching resources effectively;
  3. The techniques of differentiation and personalisation, where learning is tailored to the individual needs of students;
  4. The ability to assess students’ work, formatively and summatively, so that key learning can be identified and evaluated, so that students can maximise their progress;
  5. The constructive use of accountability and reporting mechanisms so that the school, parents and others can be assured that teaching is of a high quality and learning is progressing well in the classroom;
  6. Skilful approaches to communication with students, including the ability to explain things clearly, to model key processes and to question students about their work and promote their thinking;
  7. The management of student behaviour through positive reinforcement techniques rather than negative approaches;
  8. An introduction to the wider theories of educational and developmental psychology that underpin all teaching and learning;
  9. The notion of teacher identity, how it is developed and formed over time, and how it relates to important precursors (i.e. your own identity pre-teaching) and broader discourses (e.g. the subject area that you might be teaching within);
  10. An important challenge to the powerful but potentially fatal influence of teaching in the way that you might have been taught. QTS develops the central notion of the reflective teacher/practitioner which is an essential attribute if you are to learn to teach well in the classroom;
  11. Linked to this, the ability to evaluate teaching and learning using specific tools and make changes to your curriculum at key points;
  12. Detailed knowledge of National Curriculum, exam specifications and the like that frame the work of teachers.

And, to be honest, I could go on for quite a while (but I won’t).

For all these reasons, my belief is that every teacher should have an undergraduate degree, a PGCE and QTS. Anything less than that is selling our children short.

As parents, we have a right to expect that every teacher working within a state school has this basic set of qualifications. If you are unsure, you should ask the head teacher of your free school or academy to account for each teacher’s level of qualifications. Personally, I do not want unqualified teachers teaching my children.

This Government have a different view. They feel that teaching is not something that needs this level of qualification. They are set about systematically to destroy the basis of teacher qualification and give academies and free schools the same ‘freedoms’ that the independent sector have ‘enjoyed’ for many years. But I don’t want my children educated in an independent school or even in an system that adopts the practices of that sector either. Even if I had the money (which I don’t), I wouldn’t let my children spend more than a day being educated under such a system.

As we have seen recently, allowing schools to employ unqualified teachers is a recipe for disaster. I would urge you to promote the view that every state school should be staffed by qualified teachers. Do not settle for anything less.

Finally, I’m sure that many stories about the success of otherwise of individual teachers will be cited in the coming weeks. My brother is a lawyer and has an expression something along the lines of ‘extreme cases make bad laws’. Clearly, there will be good and bad qualified teachers just as there are good and bad unqualified teachers. But building an educational system across England that removes the need for vast swathes of schools not to employ qualified teachers is a stupid policy that will seriously undermine the educational oppportunities of the children at those schools. Thankfully, two of the three political parties seem to have come to the view, eventually, that this is a bad thing. If Toby Young wants to run a school where he can employ anyone as a teacher, he should do that by dipping into his own pocket rather than relying on huge sums of public money.


Attachment Disorder and the Power of Music

Congratulations to Rachel Wyllie (a PGCE student on our course this year) and Gareth Morewood, (Director of Curriculum Support at Priestnall School and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester) for their excellent piece on attachment disorder in Teaching Times. You can download it here.

This research came out of Rachel’s work towards one of her assignments on the PGCE course whist she was undertaking a teaching placement at Priestnall School in Stockport.  I believe that she has continued to work in this area and has produced some excellent video training materials. I’ll update you when I know more.

Every year I am impressed by the quality of the work that our PGCE students produce in collaboration with the Royal Northern College of Music and our partnership schools. I fail to understand why our courses have been drastically cut from over 60 to under 30 in three years. This country still needs highly quality, appropriately trained music teachers and PGCE courses like these are the best way to produce professional music teachers who are engaged in their pedagogical development and switched onto the latest thinking about how to provide quality learning opportunities for their students.

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse speaks out the ‘Government’-induced crisis’ in Initial Teacher Education

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse is a teacher, professor and educator to whom everyone should listen. His experience of education across the UK is second to none, and he has done a range of jobs that most of us could only dream about. He is also prepared to call a spade a spade, which is a refreshing change for an academic in my experience. On the view occasions that I have heard him speak live, I have been impressed by his vast knowledge and wisdom, his ability to bring humour into different discussions and also his compassionate humanity.

For all these reasons, the publication of this statement by Sir Tim is an important marker in the current political debate surrounding initial teacher education. I would urge you all to read it carefully. For those of you that feel that I’m sometimes provocative, intemperate (just too grumpy) and perhaps prone to exaggeration, I’d encourage you to listen to this highly informed and well respected voice. These are some of the key points that Sir Tim makes:

  1. There is a Government-induced crisis in Initial Teacher Education. It is not the fault of the sector itself. It has been caused directly by ill-informed and careless handling of educational policy by Gove and his new puppet Charlie Taylor;
  2. There is no one person or central agency that can ensure a sufficient supply of of trained teachers nationally, or an efficient local distribution of training places covering all subject areas. The distribution of places is now ‘startlingly haphazard’;
  3. QTS is no longer seen as a necessary requirement for becoming a teacher in the English state education system (unless you work for a LA-maintained school);
  4. Charlie Taylor, the new Chief Executive of the Teaching Agency, is overseeing a new system (Schools Direct) that Ofsted believes produces significantly fewer outstanding courses in teacher education;
  5. Many universities have now lost all their PGCE provision and are wholly reliant on schools choosing them to partner with for School Direct places (and what happens when they don’t);
  6. Many universities have, or will, withdraw from the provision of ITE and PGCE type provision because it is both financially and politically too unstable and too risky to carry on their involvement;
  7. Partnership approaches between universities and schools have been the bedrock of the UK’s provision in this area for years, but this is no under threat. HEIs bring much of value to this partnership that, once undone, will not be easily replaced.

I expect that Gove will dismiss Sir Tim’s paper as more ‘yada yada’ from a leftist academic. However, I would encourage you to read Sir Tim’s paper carefully. It comes from a responsible and respected pillar of the UK education system whose opinion we should take very seriously.


Happy new year to all!

Happy new year to all readers of my blog! I hope you have had a good Christmas break and a restful New Year?

It would be nice to start this year on a positive note. Yesterday, I enjoyed interviewing some of the first applicants for our PGCE in Music  and PGCE in Music with Specialist Instrumental Teaching courses. The day before I enjoyed working with our current cohort in a couple of sessions. Meeting new potential students, and working with current ones, reminds me what a privileged position I’m in to help shape the music education workforce of the future. The long-standing links between my university, MMU, the the RNCM have stood a barrage of political changes in recent years but are still strong. Our course, with around 30 students every year (down from 64 a few years ago), is still the largest in the country and I’m privileged to play a role in contributing to its continuation.

In the other part of my job, I’m very fortunate to be able to work with talented researchers and writers on a regular basis. This year, I’m planning to write three books (all for Routledge). Will Evans and I are writing a book on using your local area as a source for curriculum development; Clive McGoun and I are writing a second book on the themes of collaborative creativity with new media; and I’m also writing a book on lesson planning. So, lots to do and think about in my new shed made out of recycled pallets! (If you are interested, click here to see the work in progress and here to see something approaching the finished shed).

On a more negative note, the current trend to favour Teach First in our media continues. Today sees the publication of an article that really only subscribes to the prevailing narrative of Teach First as an overwhelming success for initial teacher education. I’ve made a few remarks about this in a comment but I’m continually frustrated by the lack of criticality in the debate. I know that it isn’t just me that has these concerns or criticisms. But so many other people I talk to are just frightened to speak out (and with good reason given the new contractual situtation that they will find themselves in post September 2013 if Teach First win the tender to manage their own courses).  Journalists, who ought to know better, fail to read and understand the wealth of public information out there that shows how expensive Teach First is in comparison to other routes and constantly cite Teach First’s own figures for this, and retention, without questioning them rigorously.

This, combined with the continued lunacy of Gove’s educational policies, make me feel that we are in for another tough year in education. I will try and keep positive and apologise in advance for the odd rant. But, these aside, I wish you all a very prosperous and happy New Year.