PTLLS for a Social Purpose – A Passionate Defence

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?


Author: TeachNorthern

We are hard working educators with passionate interest in Teaching for a Social Purpose. Everything we've learned is through observing colleagues and students, all of whom are committed to changing the world. And reading interesting stuff. We work at The Northern College in Barnsley and its mission (and thirty-eight year history) of social transformation makes it an ideal base to face the challenges of teaching adults in 21st century England.

10 thoughts on “PTLLS for a Social Purpose – A Passionate Defence”

  1. Count me in. PTLLS is the most valuable educational and personal development experience i have ever had. It has transformed me from “i can’t” to “I am” with more confidence than any CBT book could ever do. I feel passionately about the good work PTLLS through the Northern College does and i am certain that anyone who thinks they can deliver without the experience, training, nurturing of PTLLS – will be a poor educator. To paraphrase my PTLLS friend Clair Mason, when i get on a plane, I want it to be flown by a trained pilot.

  2. What a surreal world we are living in, news full of pasty eating fools and around us things that I thought were secure are being dismantled piece by piece. I am very unhappy that the achievements of all our graduates may somehow be diminished by this report. What the Lingfield Review has done is conflate qualification with course. What we need is to argue for a way to continue to provide this sort of learning experience. At the moment it appears the review is suggesting the way forward is to provide on the job ‘induction’, how very ‘community of practice’ … But most of our PTLLS graduates and Cert Ed entrants are not in permanent, stable, teaching jobs. And on the job induction is going to vary in quality as hugely as PTLLS courses… Who else is protesting? What is NIACE saying? How can we muster to fight back?

  3. How to muster a fight back indeed Jane. As you say things are going bit by bit. In a week that has seen lets face it a load of pasty. Has also seen the Health bill formally become law. The mere chance that the wheels my not go round on our box on wheels has sent some running for the hills. At the same time the same will sit back and do nothing as the services and communities slowly go. But will be the very one’s who come the time they need them will trot out the old ” i’ve paid in all my life ect,ect.

    I have alway been of the option that the world is full of great people who care and with some help can be great teachers from infant to old peoples home. But on the whole the system is a brick wall to them. What Northern is able to do is push out a few bricks so students can see the other side. Everyone wins in the end

    I have two learning journey’s Northern and the Open University the latter has in resent times had a fight and won a bit but now will be out of the reach for many. It has shown the world how to help the many to achieve in many way’s. I have often wondered how to sum up Northern to other’s to me it’s like the OU but with wall’s and most importantly a big wide open door to any one.

    Any course is more about the journey than the bit of paper. What Northern and the OU allow is the few to think yes I can , I will have a go and who know’s what will happen.

    Quailty cannot be lumped into quantity PTLLS and the rest are every where and yes some providers will just bean count but we know that every now and again a few will rises and point the way. Review the quality of the bit of paper but remember each bit of paper has a persons’ name on it. Along with a story of a journey. Some people are always great at X,Y or Z but many more just need that little help to be great and that is worth much more than the bit of paper.

  4. I back you 100% Jane. I believe the whole qualification of PTLLS has been devalued because many, and yes, they know who they are, disreputable companies are delivering 1 or 2 day PTLLS courses. In my mind this just perpetrates some of the bad teaching practices and standards that are out there.

    I, you and many others have embraced PTLLS and seen it for its true value – the first step on an exciting and enlightening journey. Not all my learners needed, wanted or were able to continue to CTLLS or DTLLS but they learnt so much more about themselves, their peers, the system, their learners and behaviour as a whole while doing the course.
    PTLLS isn’t about just professional development but about their own personal development as an adult and human being.

    Maybe the answer isn’t to remove PTLLS but to remove the mis-management of a the qualification from so called educational establishments that mis-manage the qualification and demean its relevance by making it achievable in the same amount of hours a learner can gain a food hygiene qualification.

  5. After completing an Initial Teacher Training course in Secondary Education, I spent four years thinking about returning to training adults, and decided as a first step to do a PTLLS course. Finding a good place to study was far from easy. On the road to Wentworth Castle I was tempted by salesmen and dubious ‘providers’ who could supply a PTLLS certificate at a price, but who mentioned nothing about quality or standards.
    I was very lucky to find a fantastic college almost on my doorstep: Northern College surpassed all my expectations and turned my hopes into reality.
    In two weeks on PTLLS at Northern, I learned more about my own values as a teacher and teaching for a social purpose than in two years of ITT at a large university.
    At Northern I learned that teacher training isn’t about certificates and ticking boxes, but it is about quality and standards and commitment. This is where good teachers put their own values into the courses they deliver, and PTLLS certificates bearing their college’s name have substance and worth.
    I am proud to say I got my PTLLS at Northern College.

  6. 5 years ago I began a journey of discovery when I began my PTLLS at Northern College. This journey has transformed my life; both personally and professionally. On this journey I have learned about values and principles, about respect and diversity, about planning and assessment. I leaned how to teach with soul and passion, with empathy and compassion. These aren’t values simply to be embedded within my session plans; they are values that are firmly embedded within me. I have grown as a person. I am more confident, more self-aware. I believe in myself. I am still attending Northern College having completed my Cert Ed there I am now completing my BA. Little did I know 5 years ago that the PTLLS would transform my life so much. It is because of the PTLLS qualification that I am the TEACHER I am today. You are right Teachnorthern, I do not run I fly and so do my learners!

  7. I know that when I talk about Northern College my face lights up. I know that when I talk about Northern College I feel frustrated because I cannot truly articulate the atmosphere, the heart, the mind of this wonderful establishment. But what I can articulate is the passion, the expertise, the generosity and the determination of the people who teach there. They make people happen, they strengthen and build (and completely rebuild in some cases) their learners. Somehow, they instill in you, the learner, a passion for learning and the need to pass on that passion for learning to some other atypical learner. If I can be half the teacher these people are then I will be happy. But how dare these over privileged divisive profiteers in government decide they are going to strip away the opportunity for adult learners to have first class, quality education in the name of cheap and nasty version of teaching that will devalue the profession and put the greatest amount of profit in some fat cat’s pocket. The first run-for-profit school is in existence. Further education establishments like Northern College will be in their sights to go the same portfolios for profit way.

  8. I am with you all of the way. I haven’t been teaching PTLLS as long as you but I believe passionately in it and in the people that have been through my courses.

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