Secondary PGCE in RE 2002-2003


The PGCE Secondary RE course I studied from September 2002 to June 2003 can only be described as thorough and demanding. There are two overlapping areas of study, split into three locations and five phases. The two areas are University study and school practice; the three locations are the one University at Hull and two schools, and the five phases are University, University and first school, first school alone, University and second school, and the second school alone (with a last day back at University). The University side of it has also been very rewarding in itself.
I did attempt a PGCE Secondary at Sheffield City Polytechnic in 1991-1992, in Business Studies, which ended in not getting a qualification. I passed the college practice but not the school practice where far too much was a surprise leaving me with no strategies for coping. I recall the Polytechnic course as theoretical and remote, and often unrelated to the real business of teaching. At that time there was complaint built into the course about the National Curriculum taking away the skill and authority of teaching. ICT was not significant in the school but it was leading the way in the polytechnic, if hard to grasp for many.
In eleven years the PGCE course has become subservient to the demands of schooling. The National Curriculum, or the local equivalent with Levels in RE, is now obeyed rather than argued about. So is everything else - the debates have ended. It is now standard to have objectives for curriculum, schemes of work, and lessons that become assessed outcomes, and everything is measured by testing along the line. Everything somewhere has to be quantifiable, whatever those educational theories once said. The academic side is still academic but more obviously training based. Furthermore, it is the schools which mark the practices with the University moderating. Whereas academic work with the University can be retaken under certain circumstances, the school practices must be passed first time. The standard of the University of Hull course is also more thorough (than 11 years ago - though I did meet a Business Studies student in the first school from Sheffield's course and not everything has changed) because it is a third of an MA in Education that can form training for newly qualified teachers and after.
Eleven years on I came to this course not as naive as I was before about schooling. Also I came with a subject change to one where I felt more confident about subject knowledge. Business Studies was a subject which, in the end, depressed me about how it was neither education nor training for its pupils and students, many of whom took it because they could not reach A level standard. RE was definitely in the field of education. It does have a problem though: for reasons of social morality and political propriety RE is a compulsory subject (yet locally decided regarding content) and it is the Cinderella of subjects. You have to work hard at producing varied lessons which generate interest. It has a poor reputation in schools, little better than Personal and Social Education, which has become a dustbin for things to do like filling in letters, forms and more for work experience (second practice with year 10). It has to be said that without compulsion RE might well diminish in schools.
I am convinced that RE should not be compulsory. There was a school in Hull given the freedom to try out a radical (and likely to be copied) 14 to 19 vocational curriculum for the disaffected and unacademic children, achieving much higher rates of success than its previous failure. These pupils came back into school for the basics of Maths, English and Science - and RE. What on earth for? A justification was that this is at least a connection with education. It is rather compulsion from the state, and goes back into the class system from on high to do what is good for the lower orders. It goes back to that, and this is wrong.
Through the training year there is little chance to stop and pause. Even in the breaks within and between practices, the University positions its assignments. It even begins before it begins (in RE) with a subject knowledge audit, and ends after it ends with that updated for a last time. Incidentally RE is said to be more work than other subjects; we discovered this and presented the matter and was told it gives us more potential to pass well. Incidentally all the grades for assignment work (and I achieved three As and one B) only go towards the pass or fail of the PGCE. The PGCE itself carries no grading. There is a profile of results that first employment schools can see.
My first practice was really very supportive, where a small department in mainly one location gave a lot of support. Teachers were on hand to guide. The whole school was systematic in much of what it did. Pupils sat facing the front and where they were told to sit and high standards of behaviour were always expected. Troublemakers were dealt with quickly, and the good intake of pupils were able to progress fast. The whole effect as a trainee was to be able to do, learn and receive feedback.
The second school was laid back and informal. The classes were noisy and pupils sat looking at each other rather than at the board of teacher. many were off task with the main teacher never mind me. This was probably a better intake of pupils than the first school but they could not reach their potential. Matters were haphazard and forgetful. Monitoring of me was equally haphazard, and late. There was conflict very soon as I was uncomfortable, and classes that would have been disasters in the first school I had to accept as reasonable in the second. Because I would be blamed for things going wrong, and yet praised for situations I was actuially unhappy about, I had no real idea how I was doing. The University came in troubleshooting early on and then I walked out. I wanted another school, but returned to stagger on. A point was reached where I could fail. In the end I just prepared, kept up my subject knowledge and staggered on, making a few improvements. There was sarcasm that dented my confidence. The result of enduring this practice, and showing to some extent I could cope, with a drop in marks, was to reassess whether I want anything to do with teaching. The answer is I could, but only ever in the right school, and perhaps I should see some others.
I know that had the second school been my first, I would probably have left (given my experience 11 years ago). After the first practice I felt I could do school teaching and thus do what was my subject, but after the second I shall go back to some of my other motivations.
The fact was that lecturing and teaching was being frustrated by the lack of teaching qualification. It is becoming necessary to have this. I tried a City and Guilds 730 and gained part 1 but could not gain teaching hours for the part 2, and in any case this level is not enough for FE. The first level is Certificate in Education, and better still at PGCE. Now I have this.
The government has decided that school teachers must do skills tests to get the Newly Qualified Teacher status for schools. These tests are a political gesture and an afront for anyone with degrees. But the climate has changed and people do as they are told. Then teachers must spend a year with a 90% timetable plus training to go on to be teachers afterwards. I have no problem with training, but I have seen exhausted NQTs and frustrated ones too - and in the last practice in some detail. I may come to this but I am not in a rush. I think it is important to get control over one's life and time, and come to anything like this when restored. This may be sooner or later or after something different.
I was not even sure I'd be accepted for the PGCE training. I was strong in this subject background and had lecturing and student support jobs. In the end the experience especially of the second practice has been too stressful to simply carry on continuously. There are a variety of possible futures.
As a result of viewing my experiences Elena is equally uncertain about her training. She wants an alternative (like I do with employment) but will do the PGCE Secondary Maths course if it gets her the qualification rapidly, and then she can consider her employment future.
Adrian Worsfold