The relationship between subject knowledge and initial teacher training is currently up for consideration once again. In the spirit of sharing, Christine Counsell – who leads the team (including around 30 mentors) who run the Cambridge History PGCE – suggested that I might share the pre-course reading requirements for the course. You can download the pdf by clicking on this link.
This is the compulsory material that new trainees have to do before they can begin the PGCE in September. I remember this package landing in my pigeon hole the day I finished my undergraduate degree, and feeling rather overwhelmed at what I was expected to do. The message on this course, however, is high demand and high support, and once I had read through the materials carefully, I felt it was manageable over the summer, and I got through it all.
The pre-course reading is divided into four sections:
- reading novels
- reading about history as a discipline
- reading about history education
- building new historical knowledge
If you do not have time to read the document, this is a very brief summary.
(1) Reading novels
Good history teachers are well read. Before beginning the course, we expect trainees to pick ten novels from list to read over the summer, ranging from weighty classics (Dickens, Hardy, Tolstoy) to quick reads for children (Sutcliffe, Morpurgo).
(2) Reading about history as a discipline
History teachers need to know about how their subject works; a great deal of the debates in history education actually revolve around what history is. All trainees are given basic introductory texts (e.g. Evans, Carr) and there’s advanced readings for those who have already read these texts as undergraduates.
(3) Readings about history education
Practising history teachers have written an awful lot in the last twenty years about teaching history, and we expect trainees to be part of that dialogue. Trainees have to read around 13 articles written by history teachers. They also have to read Dan Willingham’s Why don’t children like school?
(4) Building new historical knowledge
History teachers need to be specialists in breadth, and it takes time to build up subject knowledge. In order to get trainees started in the summer, we expect them to read up on four new periods of history. They can choose which four, with the following proviso.
If trainees are clueless about any of the following three periods, then they have to include these in their four:
- The Wars of the Roses
- The ‘Glorious Revolution’
- The French Revolution
‘Clueless’ is defined thus:
Only include those three topics in your four if you really are clueless on them. What is ‘clueless’? Well, if you saw the words: Elizabeth Woodville, Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III, the Paston letters, the Battle of Towton, the Princes in the Tower, Margaret Beaufort, the Houses of York and Lancaster and you didn’t even recognize one or two or couldn’t weave a handful of facts about each into a simple narrative, and if you honestly don’t have any idea how Henry Tudor came to the throne (other than some chap yelling for a horse who is now buried under a car park), and if you couldn’t really do much with any dates in the period 1455 to 1485, then we think you qualify as ‘clueless’. No shame in that. But you therefore need to work on this topic at some point and we are asking you to prioritise this particular one, right now. But if you do have those outline narratives, then please consider yourself adequately knowledgeable for now and take the opportunity to make good your gaps in some other areas.
So the idea here is that all trainees arrive with knowledge of those three periods (all of which are the basis of activities on the course, with some knowledge needed as a prerequisite). If they happen to have studied all three already, then they have more freedom to choose, following the guidelines included.
That’s it – the pre-reading for the Cambridge History PGCE.