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Familiar ring to teacher training plan

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers offers politicians the first pointers of the Easter conference season.

Labour this week unveiled plans for a network of "laboratory schools" where trainees would learn how to teach by watching experienced teachers at work.

The proposals, revealed to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Cardiff, are part of Teacher 2000, a 10-point plan to improve teacher training.

Lab schools are already used in the United States to put teaching theory into practice in demonstration lessons, observed by trainees who are then given the chance to try out the techniques.

David Blunkett, shadow education spokesman, said a Labour government would encourage universities and colleges to develop them on a pilot basis. The cost would be offset by ironing out disparities in the cost per student between training institutions (which varies from Pounds 1,500 to Pounds 3,333).

Video-conferencing would link the lab schools with trainees in other institutions and with local schools (which would both motivate teachers and encourage pupils to "aspire towards higher education" said Mr Blunkett). Labour also proposes the revival of the induction year and a new career grade, Advanced Skills Teacher (an attempt to keep the best staff in the classroom).

David Blunkett also claimed that recruitment problems, particularly in shortage subjects, represented a "ticking timebomb" for schools.

Teacher 2000 bears an uncanny resemblance to current developments in teacher training, mostly generated by the Teacher Training Agency. The Conservatives are likely to protest that Labour has simply lifted its policies wholesale, and then Labour will retort that David Blunkett said last May that he wanted to reform teacher training - before Gillian Shephard promised to "recast" it. In reality there appears to be a consensus on training, though during the election campaign Labour will emphasise that the Government has taken 18 years to do anything.

Clearly Labour has paid close attention to what has been happening at the TTA recently, and the TTA has increasingly cultivated a discreet distance from the Government which created it.

The big question has been: what would happen to the TTA under Labour? This document restates Labour's commitment to a General Teaching Council, which would be responsible for promoting teaching, advising Government on recruitment, and regulating conduct. A "reformed TTA" would work with universities on initial training and professional development, Labour says. But the document does not answer the crucial question of whether the TTA would retain control of accreditation and funding.

Six of Mr Blunkett's 10 main proposals are already happening. The core curriculum for trainees, "including an understanding of the importance of phonics and whole-class teaching for maths", echoes the TTA's national curriculum for teacher training, launched last month.

Labour's commitment to re-structuring the profession, explicit standards at different levels, and promoting teachers' sense of professionalism all mirror the views of TTA chief executive Anthea Millett. Labour's Advanced Skills Teacher grade sounds similar to the TTA's Expert Teacher qualification, the blueprint for which is currently out for consultation. Labour also wants to "improve leadership and management training for aspiring heads". The TTA's National Professional Qualification for Headteachers was launched in February, but Labour's qualification would be compulsory.

Apart from the lab schools, the introduction of compulsory teaching qualifications for FE lecturers is also new. For university teachers, Labour would wait to see what the Dearing committee has to say, but envisages a role for the GTC in the regulation of higher education teaching.

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