Theory first, teaching later (1 of 2)

December 9, 2010

In The Idea of a University (1852), John Henry Newman reminded us of the danger of professional training in universities being absorbed by a narrow range of concerns. Building practical competence is of course essential. But becoming a teacher or health professional, for example, ought to be about something more, like cultivating reflexivity, self-knowledge and the capacity to think and be creative - particularly in response to the difficult experiences in schools and health settings that are sure to follow ("Gove's lesson plan to train teachers raises concerns", 2 December).

Teach First is often held up as good practice in professional training (and features minimal university involvement). Well, we might listen to what some, at least, of the trainees have said. Engaging in classrooms - especially in difficult schools in marginalised, multicultural and even distressed communities - can raise basic questions of self, but also of what education, teachers and schools are for.

More space for critical reflexivity and an engagement with relevant ideas outside the pressurised, time-poor context of school - in short, to be at university - becomes essential.

Linden West, Director of research development, Faculty of Education, Canterbury Christ Church University.

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