Plymouth Marjon University is an institution steeped in history. What began 180 years ago as the first bespoke teacher training college to lift young boys out of poverty through education is now one of the UK’s leading institutions for teacher training.
Founded in the 1830s, the two constituent colleges – St Mark’s and St John’s – were the brainchild of James Kay-Shuttleworth and Rev Derwent Coleridge respectively, the very figures credited for developing the UK’s first national school system.
Kay-Shuttleworth, as the first Secretary of the Committee of Council on Education, established ‘Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools’ and pioneered the scientific approach pivotal to the foundation of the Statistical Society. Coleridge, meanwhile, championed the role of the arts and culture in the creation of a balanced, spiritual and meaningful “education for life”.
Between them, the duo laid the very foundation of the universal free education system.
It is a beginning that befits the noble pursuits that continue to take place at Plymouth Marjon today.
Nearly two centuries on, this university in Britain’s Ocean City continues to blaze trails in educating tomorrow’s educators.
It is the most experienced teacher-training institution in the South West and the top university in England for teaching quality (Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019). Plymouth Marjon teachers are also the top earners in the South West and Wales, according to Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data released by the Department for Education in 2017. This supported by Alumni Georgia France, now teaching in London ‘My research into Plymouth Marjon also highlighted the fact that my chances of employment and rapid career progression upon leaving university were very high.’
These accolades are due in part to the institution’s historic founding and coming-of-age story. But how it thrived through centuries of change in the education sphere lies in the four evergreen values that keep it on course with its aim to help students succeed: Humanity, Ambition, Curiosity, Independence.
The teaching courses available at Plymouth Marjon are: BEd (Hons) Primary Education (with QTS), BEd Primary Education – Early Years (with QTS), BEd Primary Education – Physical Education (with QTS), BEd (Hons) Physical Education – Secondary Ed (with QTS). Several postgraduate courses, from PGCE Primary to PGCE Secondary Education to apprenticeships, are available too.
Whatever the level or course, these four values lie at the heart of everything Plymouth Marjon does.
Julie Stevens, who teaches B.Ed Secondary Physical Education, PGCE Secondary Initial Teacher Training said:
“The university values are integral to and visible within the Teachers’ Standards and as such are expectations of the teaching profession.
“Teachers are tasked with developing the whole child and so our trainees look at more than just Physical Education – they are interested in cognitive, social, emotional development as well as physical development.”
This type of forward thinking has helped Plymouth Marjon’s educators stay ahead of the curve.
Its trainees do not just gain the skills and expertise to lead and develop curriculum subjects in primary schools. They go beyond. They plan activities for pastoral work to address issues like cyberbullying, for example. They craft lessons carefully to ensure all pupils make progress and achieve the best they can. They create opportunities for pupils to take responsibility and help others learn.
“The programme is designed to help our trainees develop well-rounded pupils who will make a contribution to society and enjoy being part of it,” Stevens said.
Experiential learning at its best
Plymouth Marjon’s historical becoming is centered on doing things in newer and better ways. From the founders’ spearheading attitude towards education to its values-based collaborative partnerships with schools, its innovative methods keep the university ahead of its competitors.
One clear way the university does this in 2018 is through experiential education.
Defined as teaching that “purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection,” its methodologies put learners in real-life experiences, as opposed to rote learning. It is fast gaining credence as a more effective form of teaching, and a better way to give students a leg up in their careers, thus making them more useful people.
From Aaron Thawley’s classes, it’s easy to see why.
Thawley is taking the BA (Hons) Outdoor Adventure Education degree, a novel programme that teaches students how to be educators of the outdoors.
For his Environmental Awareness through Adventure Sport class, Thawley went rock climbing outside on a variety of rocks and in different environments. Not only did this become the 25-year-old’s most enjoyable class, it was also the most engaging for him.
“I enjoyed this module the most because it had a very practical aspect which helped me engage with the module more and made it more applicable to my studies,” he said.
But it is more than just about being in the outdoors.
In Verity Howell’s Forest School and Outdoor Learning, students explored learning outside the classroom and incorporated practical sessions on a range of outdoor learning activities with a particular focus on Forest School. These gave students a more rounded and “real-life” oriented learning experience, instead of being simply focused on the degree.
It was then reinforced by theory sessions in lectures, seminars, workshops and tutorials; with extensive resources located on students’ online learning space.
“In practical sessions, some skills aren’t specifically taught (at least not straight away), but time is given to discover effective methods or techniques. This is usually followed up by a discussion to reflect and move forward, making improvements,” Howell explains.
There are review sessions during and after the sessions too.
“We are often required or encouraged to keep log books, meaning we reflect on many of our experiences. A significant proportion of our writing is reflective, meaning we review and analyse our experiences and (this) offers the opportunity to consider what to do in the future and apply the theory gained from researching and reading about our experiences” Howell said.
It’s a strategy that has caught the eye of potential employers like the Dartmoor Centres and Outdoor Education. Advisor Brendan Stone who regularly meet students of this course said he’s been impressed, on every occasion, with their engagement and passion to learn about the world or outdoor and adventurous learning.
“The Marjon Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning team have been fundamental in developing a dynamic, connected outdoor learning community in the South West … I am confident in saying that Marjon really is the hub of outdoor learning in the South West.”