I trained in 2003, in the early years of the Graduate Teacher Programme, the forerunner of School Direct. Looking back on the experience, I am thankful for many things.
Firstly, I am thankful that I avoided doing a PGCE. I did have to visit the university which sponsored my training, and I did have to write one or two essays, but it was very light touch, and the main focus was the practical training in the school. Hilariously, the only thing which was taken really seriously was the noddy little numeracy, literacy and computer skills test. That was truly non-negotiable.
When I did visit the university, I was treated to my tutor’s views on how ‘teacher talk’ was like the telegraph poles holding up the wire. The wire, of course, was all the wonderful independent work the pupils were doing, despite the teacher not having taught them anything to speak of. Fortunately, the influence of this typically progressivist denizen of the academic world was tempered by the down to earth wisdom of a retired headteacher, who had recently taken charge of running the GTP at the university. In the end, it was he who signed me off, and I think he did it more because he thought I would make a decent teacher than because I had jumped through any ideological hoop. So that was a lucky escape.
I was also extremely fortunate in the school where I trained. It was a grant maintained comprehensive with a very average intake that had an excellent reputation in the local area. Although its facilities were nothing special, it was distinguished in those days by senior management who took discipline very seriously. There was an efficient centrally managed and staffed detention system, which all staff were at liberty to use as they saw fit. As a result, pupils knew that if they misbehaved or failed to do their work properly, they could look forward to spending an hour after school the following day in silence, copying out the school rules. The school was therefore generally a well ordered and civilised place.
And if that wasn’t enough to fill my cup of blessing, there was the head of English, a jovial fellow who had a healthy contempt for group work as a means of teaching. He called it ‘shared ignorance’. He lectured his classes, but his lectures were interspersed with jokes and banter. He was popular with pupils, and the school had a good record of GCSE results.
I didn’t know how good I had it, until I moved school for my year as a newly qualified teacher, and began to taste the pain of a much more bog standard comprehensive . . .
At least I was able to enter that world of pain without the baggage of anti-educational progressive dogma which still burdens so many newly qualified teachers.