Didsbury: A Life 1946 – 2014.

As some of you are aware, I have been asked to write a history of Didsbury in the light of its forthcoming closure.

I began working on it seriously in January and like most research projects, it has grown and grown. There are least three histories to be written: the ‘celebrator y’ account I was commissioned to write which records Didsbury’s achievements over the past 67 years; a local history which analyses the relationship between suburban wealth and power and the ‘shock city’ of Manchester down the road and also, the ways in which a discourse of ‘progress’ moves from religion to education; and an account of the ways in which first as a College, then as part of the Polytechnic and University, staff and students have mediated, accommodated and sometimes resisted a politics which increasingly prescribed and policed higher education. What will be published shortly is the first of these histories but with elements of the other two.

First, in the Govian tradition, the facts. Didsbury as a building began life in 1790 as a country house when the front of what is now the Administration Building was built. It was surrounded by parkland and was one of a number of mansions built along the turnpike road over the next 50 years. In 1842, it was bought by the Wesleyan Methodists as a theological training college for their priests. They added the sides and eventually the back of the building and stone faced to give it the look it has today. They also built the lodge and chapel. Apart from two moments of national service as a wartime hospital, Didsbury remained a theology college until 1946 when it was sold to Manchester Education Committee and opened as an emergency teacher training college, one of a 100 or so across the country. The first students – 246 of them – were all servicemen and women were not admitted until 1948. It became a permanent college in 1950 and a College of Education in 1963 with the power to award the B.Ed overseen by Manchester University. From 1973 it awarded CNAA degrees and became part of the Polytechnic in 77 and the University in 92. Most of the current buildings were built between 1958 and 1975 when higher education was seen as a benefit rather than a cost.

Enough of the facts which dominate the first two chapters. The remaining four chapters focus on the oral history of the 30 or so former students and staff I have interviewed, the documentary evidence of policy initiatives which have impacted on teacher education in particular, HMI/Ofsted reports, and the push towards ‘partnership, and a chapter I call ‘Researching and Writing Didsbury’. Here I trace the ways in which the creation of the Research Base as it was called initially, built on a pre- university research tradition. The chapter also charts the sometimes fierce debate between ‘professional research’ intended to be undertaken by all staff and more theoretical and conceptual work with the RAE looming large. The last chapter is called ‘Didsbury’s Inheritance’ and argues for a long standing commitment on the part of generations of staff to subject knowledge which cannot be reduced to the National Curriculum, to enabling students to develop an appropriately complex professional identity, and to social justice which takes many forms.

I think it makes for a good read but you might think differently

Andy Pickard

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