Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Where's the Humanity(ies) ?

A few weeks ago I was delighted to hear that I'd got a place in September to go back to university for teacher training and do a PGCE. And I still am. Although I will be ducking and diving until then, it has given some sort of shape back to me life. However I also was half way through an application for the other sort of teacher training - the learn whilst you earn 'teaching apprenticeship' - the GTP scheme. I'd done what I thought was the hardest part and found a school who would take me on - but I heard yesterday from the university who accredits the scheme that they had been told they would receive no funding this year for Humanities GTPs.

I'm not really in a position to compare the differences in the quality of training between the two schemes. But I do know the financial difference - about £40k. In inner London, that's a salary of £18k for the GTP versus a debt of about the same amount for the PGCE. Fortunately I have redundancy, savings and an understanding family so it won't deter me. But for many 'mature' students the GTP is the only route they can consider.

But setting aside my own money  problems - why the blanket refusal to fund Humanities ?

Supply and demand in the teaching labour market is the easy answer - but in reality there are bigger political issues relating to the curriculum. And the consensus that school should be some sort of pre-training for work shapes this. 

So we are fed  for example a mantra that ICT in schools is an essential part of the country's economic revival. We witness classes full of a generation who have evolved an intuitive grasp of ICT in every aspect of their lives, taught  by older people who struggle with their mobile phones. And they learn on equipment that is more antiquated than anything they will encounter at home or at work. I suspect that for these kids having a distinct subject called ICT makes about as much sense as having a subject called 'eating breathing and sleeping'.

Or there is the dazzling variety of vocational options in supposedly work-orientated subjects. I'm on home ground with these having worked with Modern Apprenticeships for several years: Sadly for the kids who are directed towards them I have to say that they are generally worthless in relation to the practical world of work. Forget graphic arts, media and D&T - the only subject that seemed to have any correlation to trainees' ability in my old world of print and design was good old-fashioned Art.

I know everybody lobbies for their own pet subject - but I can't believe that it is an accident that it is the supposedly 'liberal' arts - the Humanities -  that are getting squeezed out of the curriculum. History more than any other subject encourages you to try to understand the world around you and question what you see. It is consequently the most overtly political of school subjects which is why the Daily Mail et al are so obsessed with the History curriculum as a benchmark of government thinking. 

The UK is the only country where History is not compulsory until school leaving age. And I don't think that it is stretching the point too far to see some correlation between this and our position near the bottom of just about every other index of educational standards. Or the low level of political engagement.

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