PTLLS for a Social Purpose – A Passionate Defence « teachnorthern

Please note:  polemic often offends

For the five years of its existence, we have run residential PTLLS courses at The Northern College.  These six- or eight- day courses were accredited by City and Guilds, publicly subsidised and marketed in large part by word of mouth across voluntary, public, community and trade union sectors in Yorkshire and Humber, the North Midlands and beyond.  Our students have always been – or wanted to be – paid and unpaid teachers for a social purpose, dual professionals drawn from a range of disciplines (recovery and therapy work, family and social work, community and youth work, local government, activism, environmental and charity work) – or teachers of traditional disciplines, working with those most excluded from society.

These PTLLS courses were my baby.  Out of them grew a magnificent Higher Education programme of Teacher Education, in partnership with the University of Huddersfield (of which I’m very proud) but PTLLS was never ‘less than’, it was always an essential and important step in the teacher training pathway.

As the future of non-compulsory teacher education hangs in the balance, following the FE Professionalism Review, and the massed ranks gather to defend the Cert Ed/PGCE (or at least I hope they do), I’m wondering who’s going to stand up for PTLLS?

Our TeachNorthern PTLLS changes lives.  Dismiss the cliche if you like, but then read through the tweets which are coming in to me from the hundreds of PTLLS graduates who have turned themselves inside out as teachers, supported by me and my team, during the period of those few days at The Northern College.  Read them and weep, those who have undermined the right of everyone to have a decent education after they leave school:  a decent education, decently taught.   And those people include not only the report’s authors, but everyone who sneered and dismissed PTLLS, who debased it with their poor provision, their unfinished business, their cheap and nasty shortcuts.  Anyone who was in it to make money.  You know who you are.

I took your refugees.  I took the cynics, the optimists, the people who were ‘made to’ do it, the ones who were intrigued, those who thought they’d never get past Level 3, those who were frightened and defensive, those who knew it all and those who dare hardly say their names out loud.  I took people who were just out of rehab, those who were jaded with their work, authors of books and dissertations (or those who had never written more than a sentence), those who wanted to ‘give something back’ (whether or not they knew how), and those who could barely switch on a computer when they signed up for this blended learning course.

I took you, and I – and my team – loved you.  We nurtured and challenged you.  We got up at 4am to engage in discussion with you through your journals, to question and stretch you, make you reflexive.  We taught you cutting-edge planning techniques and discussed with you all the complexities of a job which requires labour-intensive work with emotional, fragile, stroppy, glorious human beings.  We typed till our fingers sparked to give you deep and detailed feedback on your teaching.  We listened to you and we treated you with respect.  We recognised and honoured you as individuals.  We made you believe in yourselves like never before.  We were your stabilisers and when those stabilisers came off you couldn’t just ride, you could fly.

Very few of us remained untouched by the experience of learning and teaching in a social purpose environment, in a thinking environment.  Of constantly rethinking why we did why we did.

Much about teacher training (across all sectors) is faulty.  Shabby practice abounds, there are dodgy and exploitative qualifications, pointless hoops to jump through, self-aggrandising awarding bodies, uncoordinated trade union provision and a weak core (IfL – thanks for nothing).  It needed cleaning up but this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater on an unprecedented scale.

What was (is) good about PTLLS for a Social Purpose at The Northern College was (is) this:

– it teaches robustly the nuts and bolts of how to teach

– it grows core skills of empathy, self-awareness, discipline and reflexivity

– it challenges (profoundly) assumptions about what teaching is and who does it

– it challenges people to think for themselves

– it battles jackals and impostor syndrome (“People like me…”)

– it helps people value the power of teaching and how they teach for a social purpose

– it makes things happen, for example it teaches how to embed diversity along with the why

– it forces poor teachers to interrogate and transform their practice

– it leads to astonishing academic over-achievement and growth in aspiration


PTLLS is perfectly and wholly itself and it’s a springboard to higher education like no other.  And it’s more.  I moved from regeneration to teacher education a decade ago because I could see it was sustainable – people learning the skills of passing on their own experience to others, for the benefit of communities.

So five years’ work = 1000+ PTLLS graduates = how many people from disenfranchised, disempowered communities in turn taught with skilfulness and respect?

I don’t know who will join with me to defend PTLLS.  Will you?

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