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Autonomy tastes sweet for some

There is something almost compulsive about the attention to detail, any detail, at the Douay Martyrs school in Ickenham.

It's not in every school that the development plan is a prime feature of noticeboards. Or that each of the smartly dressed pupils carries a ring-binder replete with personal targets.

The capacity for taking endless pains has borne fruit amid the semis of Metroland, out on the edge of North-west London. Douay Martyrs makes regular and highly commended appearances in the good schools guides. It can wave positive inspection reports from both local authority and Government scrutineers.

And now, in its latest venture, the experimental School-Centred Initial Teacher Training scheme, it has come top of the pile: the only one of 15 schemes to gain a Grade 2 (equals "good") from Her Majesty's Inspectorate.

For the past 18 months, groups of schools taking part in this SCITT project have been allowed to devise and run training courses for would-be teachers.

There are currently six schemes run in clusters of schools, primary and secondary, and nine in city technology colleges.

The schemes - which only exist in England - receive money direct from the Teacher Training Agency and buy in any help and expertise they need to take the students through to a Post Graduate Certificate in Education.

The Douay Martyrs course involves three schools which form the West London Catholic Initial Teacher Training Consortium. It lasts 39 weeks and takes students in English, maths, business studies, modern languages and science and technology.

It includes 66 days of teaching practice (in three blocks); 37 days of curriculum studies; and 39 days of professional studies. The scheme also involves two weeks of primary experience.

Each trainee is given a personal "mentor" to oversee progress, on top of help from the subject departments.

The Grade 2 awarded to the consortium - Douay Martyrs, Gunnersbury (boys) School and the private Gumley House (girls) School - places it on a par with the University of Leeds and London University's Institute of Education. As many of the other SCITT groups received less than flattering inspectors' reports, the success of the consortium led by Douay Martyrs has been viewed with amazement and jealousy.

There seem to be several factors. The school had previously been involved with the articled teacher scheme - the on-the-job precursor to the new school-centred scheme. This is something it has in common with a number of the SCITT participants.

Also, as a grant-maintained school and former pilot for local management, Douay Martyrs has developed a sharp taste for auto-nomy.

While some institutions have seen school-centred training as a way to escape the supposed "dead hand" of higher education training departments, this school insists that it has found universities and colleges helpful. The University of North London validates the scheme and last year awarded PGCEs to the 36 students.

Most important, says headteacher Marie Stubbs, was the careful organisation: "incredible attention to detail and great care with the selection process".

Stephen McGrath, a maths teacher at Douay Martyrs who himself trained on the previous year's SCITT course, is sensible enough to agree. "The most important thing has been the effort put in by the people organising it: it's very structured. Because of their efforts the staff received it very well. The school seems to be totally committed."

In fact one of the consortium's more remarkable advantages is a set of staff willing to take part in the training scheme for no extra pay, irrespective of the extra hours involved.

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