Open University to shut ‘outstanding’ PGCE course

Institution follows Bath and offers another worrying lesson for teacher training

November 21, 2013

Source: Alamy

Shutting up shop: the University of Bath signalled the end of its PGCE in July

The closure of another top-rated PGCE programme has raised fears for the future of such courses across the country.

Last week, The Open University revealed that it will withdraw its PGCE – rated “outstanding” by Ofsted – from March 2014, the second high-profile closure in teacher training this year. In July, the University of Bath decided that it would scrap its PGCE next year.

Mary Kellett, dean and director of studies in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies at The OU, sets out the reasons for the decision in a message seen by Times Higher Education.

Professor Kellett tells staff that the removal of grant funding, the “withdrawal of supplementary funding which covered the additional costs of managing a UK-wide teacher training scheme via distance education”, and the cap on tuition fees had left the university unable to generate sufficient income “to cover the cost of delivery”.

A fall in student numbers following the government’s shift in emphasis to a school-led training system is also cited.

Since 2010-11, the university’s core postgraduate teacher training allocations have fallen by 28 per cent, across the UK. In 2012-13 and 2013-14 it received just one, and 18 places under the School Direct policy, where trainees are recruited directly by schools but can receive university tuition.

“[We] adapted the PGCE to make it more sustainable, including a restructure of the schools partnership model and early engagement with School Direct. Unfortunately this model does not lend itself to use by a UK-wide provider whose costs are concentrated on the development of high-quality materials,” Professor Kellett writes.

Steve Cooper, PGCE partnership coordinator and science tutor at Bath, whose own “highly regarded” course is set to close next year, said he feared for the future of the traditional postgraduate teaching route.

“A lot of us have been judged outstanding and yet, because of the uncertainties of funding, if I were in a PGCE department I would worry,” he said.

Mr Cooper said the “key breaking point” was the removal of direct grant funding by the government in 2012, leaving PGCE students in the same boat as undergraduates in facing £9,000 fees.

John Howson, visiting senior research fellow in the department of education at the University of Oxford, said it was “too early to talk” of the PGCE’s demise, but warned that for small secondary only courses, the “writing is on the wall”.

“Will vice-chancellors continue to fund uneconomic PGCE courses of less than, say, 200 students, or follow the example of Bath and the OU and pull out?” he asked.

Meanwhile, speaking in relation to cuts in primary PGCE places at his institution, Peter Strike, vice-chancellor of the University of Cumbria, said: “We recognise that the School Direct model…will be an attractive route for many aspiring graduate teachers.”

“However, the university’s capacity to support these programmes depends on the sound foundation provided by our own core PGCE programmes. Destruction of this foundation through an over-zealous move to School Direct will inevitably reduce the capacity to support its programmes.”

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