Then & now: Bath Spa

As it celebrates 70 years of teacher training courses, Professor Kate Reynolds reflects on the history of the university

Against the backdrop of post-war Britain, Mary Dawson established a beacon of hope by setting up one of the first teacher training colleges in South West England in 1947. It was a rather inauspicious start for Mary – the beautiful Newton Park campus was a rundown building, without power or running water. Though assured it would be ready for the opening of the college, Mary actually took on her first 45 students without a permanent residence.

With tenacity and drive, Mary found places for her students to live and study across Bath and the South West. Her unorthodox methods garnered complaints from parents concerned about the lack of bathing facilities and in the end students were taught in an old naval building.

It was all very revolutionary at the time, especially for a woman leader (still a very unusual idea in the 1940s).

It is testament to Mary that she would not let such things get in her way, and soon her vision for a new kind of teacher training – one that puts the child at the heart of the curriculum – was realised.

The principles that Mary held at the time, to create an outstanding training college that produced passionate, engaged teachers, hold true today and I know she would be proud of how the Institute for Education has evolved.

It is not just the facilities that have improved since Mary Dawson’s days.

As the world has speeded up, so has teacher education. At Bath Spa University there are a number of different routes to becoming a teacher. From School Direct to Teach First, all our programmes work in partnership with schools and use the latest tools to help support outstanding teaching. As well as a variety of routes, our students and teachers benefit from a wide range of teaching tools.

Videos, lecture capture, podcasts, specialised search engines and a range of other digital technologies combine with ‘old-style’ glue, glitter and paper to ensure our student teachers will make learning appropriate and fun for children and young people. While Photoshop and Instagram may be the tools of the future, nothing beats getting your hands dirty in the sandpit or exploring the local woods as part of a forest school adventure.

The core principles behind teaching remain the same. The key motivation for all aspiring teachers is to make a difference to children and young people. At Bath Spa University’s Institute for Education, our goal is to help them achieve their vocation through world-leading teaching and a rich combination of study and placement, which is very much reflective of Mary’s original mission.

While motivations may not have changed, society’s expectations of teachers and the esteem we accord them has.

Seventy years ago, teachers were highly respected and well regarded. This is still true today but the pressures that come with being a 21st-century teacher, as well as the increasing workloads they have to cope with, have an impact on the number of people wanting to enter the profession.

However, I am pleased to say that teacher training at Bath Spa Institute for Education continues to be hugely popular, and hundreds of applications are made every year. The pressures on teachers of not deterring ambitious young people who want to make a difference to children’s lives by becoming a Bath Spa Teacher.

There are many parallels to be drawn between the challenges that 21st-century teachers face, and the humble beginnings of our Institute for Education. Nothing stopped Mary Dawson and her first students from making it work, and the same is true for all teaching staff today. Teaching is not an easy career choice, that much has always been clear, but it remains one of the most rewarding, important, worthwhile professions. We have a history we can all be proud of.” 

“I’ve seen it grow from almost nothing into a very fine College”

Vivien Dando was one of the very first students at Newton Park, in 1947, and remembers happy times despite the difficult start for the College: “I’m very proud to have been part of the beginnings of Newton Park, I’ve seen it grow from almost nothing into a very fine College. I have very happy memories of Newton Park, and greatly admire the courage of Mary Dawson and her dedication to creating something to be exceedingly proud of. She was a very good principal; very conscious of the way the students lived and the difficulties of existing with very little money. She had a vision for how it would all work and stuck to it and, in my opinion, she achieved her goal.”

 “It has remained such a wonderful campus”

Ian Aze left Newton Park in 1967, and has fond memories of his time at the now renovated campus: “I looked at the prospectus for Bath and thought ‘wow that’s the place for me’. Being young and nervous I applied, not interested in anywhere else, and managed to get in. Coming from a big city I was astonished to find the buses stopped at 10 o’clock – I couldn’t believe it but thought it was lovely! I always loved Newton Park and am amazed it has remained such a wonderful campus. The things I see that are different are all improvements. It’s wonderful it is now a University.”

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