What ever happened to the colleges of education, those specialist teacher-training institutions that were effectively abolished across England and Wales in the 1970s and 80s?

In some ways, the demise of teacher-training colleges was unsurprising. Although some 160-strong by the early-1970s, many were small and isolated and some were rather parochial, inward-looking organisations. Many were also uneconomical and the quality of provision was, frankly, variable.

While there had been numerous attempts to improve the content and status of teacher training, by the late-1960s educational expansion and the changing demands of schooling created pressure for change. The mixture of undergraduate, postgraduate and certificated routes meant programmes lacked consistency and coherence – resulting in a Conservative party pledge in the run-up to the 1970 general election to undertake a comprehensive review.

The way in which that change was carried out, however, was highly controversial, and an important if largely overlooked juncture in the history of English education.

Drawing on the recommendations of the James report, the somewhat ironically entitled 1972 white paper Education: A Framework for Expansion suggested five possible futures for colleges of education:

 

Continuing as independent teacher-training colleges

 

A broadening of role and remit to become a more general higher education institution

 

Merger with a university, polytechnic or FE college

 

Redesignation as a professional development centre for in-service teacher training

 

Closure

 

This all sounds rational but we must not underestimate the turmoil that ensued.

The white paper announced that the number of teacher-training places would be slashed by a third by 1980, but figures were cut on four further occasions between 1974 and 1977, effectively reducing the total by two-thirds. Consequently, just 20 colleges continued to focus wholly or largely on teacher training. Eventually all were taken over, often by a nearby university, or closed altogether. Meanwhile, 25 colleges of education shut.

The white paper announced that the number of teacher-training places would be slashed by a third by 1980

Most colleges did manage to find an alternative future. Almost 40 were absorbed into new polytechnics and 20 merged with FE colleges, creating “mixed economy” FE/HE institutions. Others re-emerged as new colleges of institutes of higher education (CIHEs) offering a range of social sciences and humanities courses, usually up to first-degree level. Eventually, almost 60 CIHEs were created during the 1970s and 1980s, usually from the merger of two or more colleges of education – effectively forming a “third division” of HE below the universities and polytechnics.

The way in which change was conducted, however, was arguably as significant as any outcome of “reform”. It was not an “architectural” planned and collaborative process. Colleges of education were forced into a Darwinian struggle and colleges were effectively required to fight for their futures, or perish.

It is perhaps no coincidence then that the secretary of state responsible for all this was one Margaret Thatcher. Whilst her infatuation with markets and competition would not come until later in the 1970s, arguably the way colleges of education were treated displayed her nascent instincts. She saw education policy as dominated by cosy, closed relations between civil servants, trade unions and various other socialists, and she had a disdain for bureaucratic procedures. Arguably then, the fate of the colleges of education provided at least some insight into what would be the future of education policy more broadly.

 

Robin Simmons is professor of education at the University of Huddersfield



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20 Comments

  1. Kathy Kida

    As I attended one of these colleges and I am a deputy head I totally disagree to them being closed. They prepared teachers really well which a one year course PGCE does not we get many young teachers ill prepared for the job whereas 3 years at Teacher training college did. Margaret Thatcher has a lot to answer for. Many teachers leave the profession too.

    • Jackie Willis

      I completely agree with this comment. I am saddened that teacher training colleges have been closed having myself trained at a first class teacher training college in Leeds. I see this as a return to the poor teaching skills of my grammar school teachers, who were highly qualified in their subject matter but with no clue as to how to impart that knowledge to the young. From what I can see, teacher training is now done ‘on the cheap’ in schools, with over-worked teachers acting as the trainers! I am saddened at this state of affairs and glad that I got out 10yrs before retirement to become a self-employed driving instructor, a role to which I bring sound teaching skills to compliment the coaching and client centred approach demanded by the DVSA. How apt this should be so after the child-centred methodologies I learnt at college were later so viciously ridiculed!

  2. Margaret Pitts

    I have heard recently that those of us who did a three year course at a Teacher Training College are now entitled to have our teaching certificates upgraded to a degree (not before time!). Does anyone have any more information on this?

    • Yvonne Beston

      Hi Margaret.
      It is true that many ex- teacher training college alumni are being awarded honorary degrees for their “service to education”.
      It seems to be the institutions involved that are making the awards. For example the Froebel colleges of Whitelands, Roehampton etc. Ripon college, Winchester…..just a few that I have come across. This has been happening over the past three years as far as I can make out. There is usually a special ceremony involved.
      I attended Stockwell College of Education in Bromley , which became part of London University. No communication with regard to any action from London. My friend attended Coloma trainng college in West Wickham. No action there .
      The Teacher’s Certificate was a national qualification and I agree that there must be an entitlement to any upgrade. There is a finite number of teachers involved, so the matter could be resolved quite easily.
      What do you think?
      Sincerely,
      Yvonne Beston

      • Marian Buck

        Thanks Yvonne for this explanation.
        I too was at Coloma and at a recent reunion this well deserved recognition was discussed.
        Among our number were retired Heads, Deputy Heads and
        one CEO of a State in Canada !
        Having over the years been patronised by Secondary school Teachers and others I would be pleased to see our qualifications
        receive the status we deserve.
        Best wishes
        Marian

  3. Brenda McCausland

    I too went to Coloma College 1970-1973. I also believe that we are entitled to an upgrade. I have taught in England, Greece, Japan and the USA and I can truly say that the excellent education I received at Coloma enabled me to teach and succeed at some of the best schools and teach at a higher level than teachers with Master degrees and PhDs, who did not know how to impart knowledge nor sometimes even care.

  4. SusanRobinson

    I gained a Cert Ed from Furzedown College of Education in 1968. I have seen on the internet that many teachers recently have been awarded honorary degrees,This seems quite random, as not all universities are offering them which seems very unfair. How can this be? Furzedown closed in the early 1970s unlike some of the other colleges which were swallowed up by newer universities.My qualification was for the University of London and I have since discovered that they awarded honorary degrees to ex Goldsmiths Cert Ed teachers in 2018.I am most unhappy about this!

    • Jane Lewis

      Hi Susan,
      I totally agree this seems grossly unfair as I too attended Furzedown College from 1975 to 1978. I’ve spent a lifetime in teaching but no one has attempted to contact me regarding the conference of an honorary B.Ed. So does that mean our service doesn’t count? As London University awarded our Cert. Ed. surely they should have awarded our honorary degrees too. I had no idea that this was happening or should I say had happened until yesterday when I was looking at the Furzedown College Facebook page. It’s a closed group so contact them to join, they would really like to hear from you. Really worth looking at, and others are as disgruntled as we are also they have information as regards to this.
      Hopefully this information is some use to you,
      All the very best,
      Jane.

  5. Katherine Parker

    Like other ‘teacher-trained’ teachers my teaching career was across different sectors of education State provision private and personal private schooling in my own home. My contribution was valued and latterly with years of experience was able to offer guidance and support to children of varying ages. Parents sat in on lessons and experienced my teaching approach. At the age of seventy I was rewarded by a child in my care gaining a scholarship to a prestigious school – he was not the first. Society should realize that people of my generation were held back in experiencing secure education due to the second world war but nevertheless continued valiantly and satisfied the requirements of entry to higher education to teach others for very little monetary reward. K.P. P.S. The first part of my commentary is missing from this space. Gt.Baddow and Knighton

  6. Malcolm Hughes

    I did three years at St. Luke’s, Exeter Teacher Training College 1957 – 60 following Compulsory National Service. I taught Sec Mod and Comprehensive Schools before obtaining a Lectureship at a CofT. I Came to Canada in “66 (BTW: for Marian, we have Provinces in Canada – not States – we leave them to our Southern Neighbours) and taught at every public school level, was a Consultant, a Principal as well as a Superintendent of Education. I earned a BA, Bed and Med as a part-time “student” and I have never felt that many of the academic demands made on me were much beyond “A” Level let alone my College. I did meet a fellow who had attended Exeter immediately after I left, and he came away with a degree. I have often wondered what was the difference? The only one I can see is that the college went co-ed the year after I left.

  7. ALAN FRY

    I spent three years at Nottingham Teachers Training College at Clifton 61-64.I was told that the maths course was to Degree level and the Education Course was intense.I certainly feel the students deserved a BA Education Degree for the course.
    However, I never found not having a Degree a handicap,I taught 5-18 year olds,single sex and mixed and in the Independent and State Sectors and gained promotion in every school I taught in over the thirty years that I taught.
    Loved every minute which is the greatest reward you can have nobody can take that away from you.

    • Derek Graham

      I attended Clifton Teacher Training College from 1961-64 and came away with a teaching certificate.
      In the 70’s I decided to do a B.Ed degree from Durham University and discovered that my certificate did not entitle me to any reprieve from completing a Foundation course followed by 3 years part-time to complete my degree. Really at that stage the only benefit I remember was that my salary increased substantially despite the fact as someone stated earlier we completed the same examinations as those at university.

  8. Elaine Price

    I attended Both of Regis college of education 1972-1975 and could have gone on to gain a B.Ed but was desperate to earn some money! I loved my time there. I would be interested to know if we would be awarded an honorary degree.

  9. colin hayward

    Yeah, I did three years at Goldsmiths in the 1960’s.I have been living in Australia for many years now, and I tried to contact Goldsmiths’ alumni with little success. They did send me copies of their magazine though, and then I started to understand that times have certainly changed in the UK since I lived and worked there. For example there now seems to be a very clamorous and neo- communist student union and they no longer seem to issue the old Teaching Certificates . I found that I was entitled to a degree because I had done the three years, but when I made more enquiries I found that I was supposed to attend a presentation at Goldsmiths. This was a bit hard because I live in Tasmania and you can’t get much further away from England. Besides that I have picked up two Masters’ degrees in Australia. I did ask if I could have it mailed to me but they told me that they don’t do that.
    So it seems that old mantra of some people being more equal than others is alive and well in Goldsmithistan.
    I was impressed with the new “rainbow” philosophy and by the steely resolve of the SU to give up eating hamburgers in order to “save the plannit”. We didn’t have any of that rubbish when I was a student there. We did have very stiff exams and people were disappeared if they failed them.
    All in all it seems that the UK has certainly taken some bold steps into what must be a socialistic hell-that is if Goldsmiths is representative of the left wing new world order.
    Col Hayward