Statement for Senate briefing

 

The vision for teaching

The combined School of Education would allow the University of Leeds to expand its well established and nationally regarded Secondary PGCE course and to more than double the size of its existing and relatively small Primary PGCE course enabling it to become a major national player in primary as well as secondary initial teacher training. The merger would put the University of Leeds into a very strong position to become the regional leader for teacher training, a concept favoured by the TTA.

In order to create the combined School of Education, it is proposed to transfer some of the student numbers from Bretton’s current QTS programme into additional Primary PGCE numbers and to use the remainder to develop new undergraduate joint honours programmes in Education plus a National Curriculum subject. Due to the extensive range of subject provision at Leeds University potentially almost all of the relevant subject areas can be offered. These combined routes would be able to feed directly into the large PGCE programmes which the new School would provide. These proposed developments are in line with current TTA and DfEE thinking and policy and have been welcomed and supported by both the TTA and HEFCE.

The vision for research

Originally there was a vision for research involving the appointment of ten new lectureships including research dimension. Unfortunately these had to be taken out of the proposals last March/April because the finances would not permit their inclusion.

Finance

It has to be acknowledged that currently the level of central government support for teacher training presents a national problem for institutions. TTA and OFSTED have put in place a very demanding inspection regime which demands not only high quality delivery but also high levels of expenditure on specialist accommodation, equipment and staffing. At the same time TTA provides only a very modest unit of resource. Teacher training institutions are often being caught between a rock and a hard place. Across the country it is now difficult, but possible, to make ends meet in the provision of teacher training.

Commitment

Despite these severe difficulties, the staff in the Schools of Education at both Leeds and Bretton remain strongly committed to the continued provision of teacher training through the university sector.

We believe that the nation’s schools gain greatly from their connections with universities such as this one, and the vast majority of heads and teachers agree whole heartedly with this view. There is no difficulty with keeping the schools on board, and we trust that it remains part of the vision of the University as a whole to retain and develop its connections with Yorkshire schools, their pupils and their teachers.

 

Conclusions

I come quickly to some concluding remarks. These are prefaced on some underpinning welfare state, public service values, and I want to acknowledge this quite explicitly. They assume that the University should be more than just a profit maximising business.

I must admit that, given the current level of national funding for teacher training and the high quality delivery demanded, this is not an area where it is possible to make much money. This may very well mean in both the short and long terms the combined School of Education will not be able to meet the high level of overheads in the current Resource Centre model, and that it will, in effect, require considerable financial support from the other departments within the Bretton merger ring fence. Given the limited information I have, I cannot be sure about this, but it would not be right to hide my fears in this respect. I do need to seek re-assurances from the University that, if necessary, such financial support will be forthcoming for at least five years and possibly, even probably, longer.

Lastly, I return to the issue of vision. I speak from the perspective of someone who has a background in schools and who is very committed to high standards in schools. The staff in local schools want to develop their connections with Leeds University because they see that this contributes to high standards and they see that something important will be lost if such connections are severed. The schools would become even further cut off from the academic world and consequently more culturally impoverished. The staff in Education at both Leeds and Bretton predictably take a similar view, and, of course, they have a vested interest in so doing.

I really need to ask the University what is its own vision, particularly for extending its involvement in teacher training. Is the University prepared to underwrite this even if it has some financial cost?

I believe that it should. This University needs to continue to look outwards from its ‘ivory towers’ to its local communities, and is there a better way of doing this than looking to the intellectual and practical needs of the teachers, the children and young people in its local schools?

In recent times the University has often considered its own vision for the future. It has rightly come up with several varied answers – surely there cannot be one simplistic vision for an institution of this size and complexity?

If we ask ourselves what will this University be committed to in ten years’ time, in large part the answer must surely be to its future students – and where are these future students in the year 2000? In turn the answer to this must certainly be in very large part they are pupils in this nation’s schools. If we want these future students to be well prepared for our many and varied HE courses in 2010, the University cannot afford to neglect to have a strong commitment to their intellectual grounding in the schools. This continues a very long tradition in this University which is much to its credit, and it should not be forgotten that the intellectual grounding of our future students is best provided by teachers who have been well educated and trained in high quality universities such as Leeds.