With his first school placement looming, Mr Milton appreciates tapping into the experience and support of those who've 'been there, done that'

You may remember an episode which took place about eighteen months ago. A teacher is talking to a class of disillusioned, uninterested students. One of his opening gambits is strong. Very strong.

“Quiet everybody! I'm told you're all here because you've failed.”

Okay... So, a desire to instil the class with a confidence that is so clearly lacking, and enforcing an atmosphere of positivity?

Tick that box.

Let's fast forward a little bit, to when a student has just challenged the teacher's claim that there are many faster and stronger animals out there than humans. How does the teacher react?

“Oh come on, you’re so fat you couldn’t really move!”

This is amazing. My school placement starts in a week or so. I pray I get to observe someone who has mastered their craft as much as this person. But then again, no I don't. What this teacher was thinking is beyond me.

Is it his fault, though?

In case you are unaware of the episode mentioned above, it took place during Jamie's Dream School back in 2011. In one of his most explosive recipes, Jamie Oliver took a bunch of disillusioned sixteen to eighteen year olds, stirred in a group of celebrities and experts in various subjects (Rolf Harris taught art, Andrew Motion taught poetry, etc), shoved them into a disused warehouse and tried to make a gruel. Sorry, school.

A rude awakening

David Starky was the teacher mentioned above, and the episode took place during one of his history lessons. Actually, it turned out to be his last. He couldn't stand the heat, so left the kitchen.

Okay, enough chef gags.

Starky's a world renowned historian. He has been on countless television programmes and whole rainforests have been transformed into his books. He's even taught for many years, at Cambridge University and the London School of Economics.

So how did he get it so very wrong?

Because he was untrained, but presumed that his experience would carry him through. But this wasn't a Cambridge or LSE tutorial.

And thanks to Michael Gove's new policy of allowing untrained professionals to work in academies, many other people are going to get a similar rude awakening.

Education's 'experienced pilots'

I admit, I'm right at the bottom of the teaching food chain: a tadpole who is still ten days away from his first school placement. But even so – and I apologise to any fully-grown toad who takes offence at my presumption – I feel that us PGCE tadpoles are in a better position to teach at a secondary school than most professionals from other careers...


Recently, we have all been making the most of the access that a PGCE gives us to the experience and expertise of our tutors. They are education's equivalent to experienced pilots. They have aviators, swaggers, greying temples and cheesy, pearly-white grins. Well, not quite, but vitally they DO have email addresses and telephone numbers in case I get stuck grasping something I read in a textbook. Heck, they wrote the textbook! That takes some beating.

This contact with those who know best fills us with more useful knowledge when it comes to teaching in a classroom than years do working as a playwright/mechanic/TV historian.

Don't misunderstand me – I believe that experience in the outside world stands you in great stead when entering the classroom, but an inkling of what forces are at play in school is also essential. They can be very different from the office.

Those who argue that classroom experience is more important than theories learned at university need to realise that two thirds of our PGCE is spent in a school. And for our first placement, we get to go back to university every Friday in order to ask advice from leading, independent experts – yup, those top guns again.

Supporting each other

And let's not forget the support from other student teachers. We have built up friendships and talked for many hours about our chosen profession. We challenge, support and swap ideas with each other constantly. When the school placement starts we will scatter across the city with these discourses bouncing around our heads. I really wouldn't want to start my placement without them.

So I am astounded that this level of training now finds itself in jeopardy. From the two years experience I have of working in a school as a teaching assistant I know how busy teachers are. Are they really going to be able to provide the level of support necessary for any new teachers whose last experience of a classroom could have been more than thirty years ago?

Of course they're not.

Will these professionals (a label Gove has taken away from teachers) be able to reach their full potential without this support?

There's a fair chance they won't.

They might well feel isolated and inadequate as a result. But spare a thought for the real losers in this situation.

After all, how would you feel if you were the object of Starky's inexperienced blunderings?

Mr Milton is a secondary English PGCE student. You can read his previous post here and also read more here in his own blog