Agency moves to stem crisis

The OU's suspension of its primary PGCE course puts the class-size promise at risk. Nicholas Pyke reports

THE TEACHER recruitment quango has called an emergency meeting of its board in a bid to safeguard the Government's promise to limit infant class sizes.

Last week the Teacher Training Agency was rocked by the Open University's sudden decision to suspend its distance learning training course for primary teachers from February.

The two-year cancellation means the loss of more than 300 freshly qualified staff both in September 2000 and 2001 - teachers needed to ensure that schools can keep infant classes at 30 or below.

However, many universities are reluctant to take on extra students for just two years as this would involve major disruption.

The TTA board meets next week to devise a strategy for making up the shortfall.

The OU decision has caused widespread anger among the prospective trainees, many of whom have contacted The TES.

"The decision is a terrible blow," wrote Maureen Greyson from Coventry. "It came as a complete shock to me, to my partner school and apparently also to the Teacher Training Agency."

Another disappointed trainee Cathy Hall from Liversedge, West Yorkshire, has written to Education Secretary David Blunkett to complain.

One option for the TTA is the private sector and a new distance-learning course from the Reading-based Centre for British Teachers.

The company says it has been inundated with requests from graduates for its full-time course, which trains students on-the-job. However, schools seem reluctant to take part.

Secretary to the TTA, Stephen Hillier, said it is "very confident" that the Government's recruitment target will be met by next September. Universities had shown great interest in taking on extra students.

Many of the OU's trainees depended on the fact that the course was part-time and home-based, and will be unable to find suitable alternatives for next September.

The university blames the new teacher training curriculum which requires a radical overhaul of the course materials. It plans a redesigned primary programme for 2001.

One factor to be addressed is likely to be the difficulty of forming partnerships with its own training schools as it has no set geographical ties. This problem may feature in a forthcoming report from the Office for Standards in Education.

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