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Being Labour

What the Tories think of Edge Hill University

01.19.10 | Comment?

The Tories’ latest pronouncements on teaching and teacher training are so daftly reactionary that you’d be forgiven for thinking it might be some kind of spoof.  

I bet the students and staff at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk aren’t laughing though.

The most obvious nonsenses are already being dealt with by others in the blogosphere.  Chris Dillow deals with the bizarre idea that simply being a highly qualified person is likely automatically to make someone a better teacher. Unity points to the fact that the Tories’ choosing Finland as a model is ironic, to say the least, given the Finns’ absolute commitment to comprehensive education and their absolute willingness to let teachers get on with the job they’re trained to do.   Left Foot Forward focuses on the fact that very few teachers have 3rd class degrees anyway, and less as a percentage than when the Tories were in power, thus making a mockery of a key plank of the Tories’ claims.

Meanwhile, the Tories’ new scheme involves ‘Teach Now’, where people who have ‘made it’ before they are through their 20s (what the fuck is that supposed to mean?) will be posted into classrooms with no teacher training and – even more bizarrely in the context of their stated commitment to devolving power to schools – without those high-flyer professionals having to go through the ‘rigmarole’ of actually contacting individual schools about working there, as though this is beyond them.

But the absolute pièce de résistance in the pile of horse doo-daa the Tories have put together in the name of short-term publicity is the notion that only graduates with degrees from ‘good universities’ will be able to train as teachers.

By a ‘good university’, we are led to understand, is meant a ‘number in the low dozens’ made up of the self-selected Russell Group (20) and a few others.  This will exclude from teacher training graduates from around two thirds of the UK’s universities (113 of them listed in this league table).

It’s not clear exactly how a ‘good university’ would be defined.  A quango would be set up to decide that, surprise, surprise, but what we can be pretty sure of from the Tory rhetoric is that most or all of those universities established in 1992 from polytechnics or those, like Edge Hill (given the status in 2006) would be excluded.  

Little matter that Edge Hill happens to be the second biggest provider of teacher training in the UK – its own graduates will be ineligible in this brave new Tory world of brazen elitism.

This, to put it mildly, would be an extraordinarily shortsighted step on the part of the Tories, based more on simple prejudice about which universities are ‘proper universities’ than anything as inconvenient as facts.

They ignore the fact, for example, that while the Times and Guardian league tables of universities put the Russell Group at the top and the post-1992 generation at the bottom in time-worn fashion because they are largely based on existing resources, putting together your own league table based on student satisfaction (a rough measure of an institution’s capacity to meet students’ actual needs) produces very different results; for example Imperial College London slips from 3rd overall  to 101st in terms of meeting student need, while  Edge Hill suddenly climbs from 109th to 44th. 

Put another way, the ‘good universities’ are the ones that have more resources, however good the non-good universities are at what they do.  Funny that.

Even more saliently in the context of the Tories own mantra of competition, this arbitrary definition will lead directly to a two tier system that the Tories themselves sought to abolish in 1992, and one which quickly becomes immutable. 

Warwick University, now in the Russell Group and with its business school seen as a leading international institution, received its Royal Charter in 1965, just forty-five years ago. 

Why, if Warwick could move that quickly, should Edge Hill, a university in its fourth year but a centre of teaching excellence since 1885, be denied that opportunity. 

Why should the ex-polys, now with twenty years as universities behind them and many of them with really good reputations in specialist areas (Brighton University, for example, vies with the ‘top’ universities for the reputation as THE place to study fine art), be excluded because they happen to have been a poly at one time?  I thought the Tories believed in meritocracy.

Ultimately, there’s no rationale for the Tories’ ‘good university’ definition.  It’s based on the cheap populism which decries ‘mickey mouse degrees’ and the newer universities with which they are associated,  and behind that a desire to maintain class distinctions in higher education, and ensure that those teachers who do get to come through the system reinforce those class distinctions in the classroom.

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