Ladies and Gentlemen I am so pleased to welcome you all here today, one or two may have been here before. It is marvellous that you’ve been able to escape to come to this kind of seminar to get a chance to talk to each other. If I may say so I am so encouraged to hear from the schools represented here today and very much wanted to congratulate all of those who have secured PTI marks for this more challenging work.
Having said that I think it was wonderful that the pupils were able to join us here today and I do think they did a brilliant job standing up here in front of all these unbelievably powerful headteachers. It’s the last thing you need for your health! I can imagine how much effort you’ve put into this so very well done.
I also just wanted to use this opportunity to say that nothing that my institute has done could possibly have been achieved without someone like Bernice McCabe and Chris Pope. I’ve never forgotten visiting Bernice’s wonderful school, the North Collegiate School in London for girls. The fact that she has been prepared to give up so much time, and Chris also, settling in her incredibly busy life running a school I think is remarkable and we would have got nowhere without all her extraordinary dedication and enthusiasm so I just wanted to say that Bernice to embarrass you terribly.
Now ladies and gentlemen as you know, we are here to help to mark the third year of my Teaching Institute’s Schools Programme, but before I say a little more about that, I hope you will forgive me if I take a moment to reflect on the beginnings of all this work, which can be traced back to quite a long time ago – probably some twenty years I suspect. In fact, it was back in 1991, when I was asked to give the Annual Shakespeare Birthday Lecture at Stratford, that I do remember trying to draw attention to some of the issues which finally led to the initial Summer Schools and then of course to my Institute. Some of you might have some idea, perhaps not, about the incredibly difficulties and challenges there are in trying to establish an institute like this. Just getting the Summer Schools off the ground was incredibly complicated and you never quite know when you start these things if anyone is going to turn up.
Anyway it did transpire that a lot of teachers did worry about many of these issues and particularly about their own subject specialisation and again it revealed that there was a need for somewhere where people who perhaps didn’t always dare put their head above the parapet and say well actually I’m not quite sure, could come along and join in. I recall, amongst other things, at that time, at Stratford, at the lecture saying that “the marginalising of Shakespeare seemed to be symptomatic of a general flight from our great literary heritage” and that I suspected “many parents would agree that education is not about social engineering, but about preparing our children as best we can for all the challenges in front of them. This means not only training them for work through the acquisition of knowledge, but also giving them an understanding of themselves and of the deeper meaning of life”. As Parolles says in “All’s Well That Ends Well” – “I shall lose my life for want of language.” So some of these thoughts led gradually to the development of the Summer Schools.
At that time then, it had become particularly apparent that in education, as in three other aspects of life – agriculture, architecture and medicine – a number of things had gone wrong several decades before. All of a sudden, in the 1960s, anything which might conceivably be described as a “timeless principle” was abandoned on the basis that all we had known and learned had suddenly become irrelevant, old-fashioned, out of date and definitely not “modern”. Frankly, I thought this was bonkers and likely to end in tears. I was also seeing the increasingly damaging effect, at the same time, of this experiment on many of the young people my Prince’s Trust was trying to help. I therefore thought, – perhaps rashly – that it might be worth bringing together a few teachers who were interested in looking at some of the issues which perhaps might help to determine the quality and content of education offered to many of our young people.
As a consequence of those meetings, we began The Prince of Wales’s Education Summer Schools which focussed on English and History. I was determined that these two key subjects, which I think do have such a bearing on the human condition, formed the core proposition. Why? Because language and Literature, it seems clear to me, represent a very common inheritance and are not the private property of the privileged. It was riveting to see how very apparent it was to those involved in the initial project that the narrative of language, the power of storytelling and the importance of literature, both ancient and modern, needed to find their place again at the heart of teaching.
In relation to History, I often heard teachers say that if we have no idea from where we come, and we cannot identify our shared inheritance, it is going to be far more difficult to work out where one might be going in life. Taken together with the need to understand the chronology of History, the Summer Schools quickly established a popular reference point amongst state school teachers of English and History.
Now, four years after we created The Prince’s Teaching Institute, and developed a partnership with the University of Cambridge, the programme has grown from an annual three-day event for one hundred teachers, to a full-scale charitable enterprise, which has worked with over 1,300 school departments from 937 schools across England. Put another way, since the first Summer School in 2002, over twenty per cent of all the secondary schools in England have sent staff to a P.T.I. course. And to dwell a moment longer on the vital statistics, the Schools Programme, which sharpens and then measures the subject challenge being delivered in classrooms, in this, its second year, has awarded a PTI Mark to 194 departments from 126 schools.
The range of subjects that my Institute now includes in its work encompasses English, History, Geography, Mathematics and Science, with more to come next year because more subject teachers are coming to us saying can they join in, which is encouraging.
But ladies and gentlemen what exactly do we mean by challenge? It can mean, to take one instance, eleven and twelve year-old pupils being inspired to read, digest and engage with Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. At another school, chemistry students have been given the opportunity to experience laboratory work in the outside world; seeing a tangible and practical benefit to their studies in the classroom. In a further example of how this emphasis on subject rigour can produce results at the sharp end, a group of Geography teachers have committed to planning a series of new fieldwork trips in order to broaden and deepen their pupil’s understanding of Nature and the natural environment.
Ladies and gentleman, it has seemed to me for a very long time, – and probably to many others too (although they may not have dared to say so!) – that the teaching of bodies of knowledge is a crucial part of a young person’s development which ensures that when they leave school they do so equipped with a thorough understanding of a range of subjects, and with curious minds, whether they be geared towards the academic or, indeed, vocational. This is the vital task that the PTI concentrates on and I do hope that you will continue to engage with its work.
Finally, I did just want to congratulate, once again, all the pupils who have come today and given us the benefit of what they think about the value of this particular project. Of course, none of this would be possible without a great deal of support, and so I am hugely grateful to every pupil, every Head Teacher and every member of staff whose efforts are making such a difference in this important area of national life. I also want to thank the small but perfectly formed team in my Teaching Institute for their tireless dedication to this whole enterprise, and I can only wish everybody well in the next phase of the Programme’s development, in which I will be taking as keen and close an interest as my remaining marbles will allow!