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Funding axe hovers over fifth failure

A teacher-training college in Southampton has been condemned as unsatisfactory by inspectors, reports Josephine Gardiner.

Inspectors have condemned standards in primary teacher training at La Sainte Union College in Southampton, making it the fifth such institution to be classified as failing by the Office for Standards in Education.

Inspectors from OFSTED will revisit the college within the next six months, and a spokesman said that accreditation and funding from the Teacher Training Agency will be withdrawn unless there is hard evidence of improvement - "plans will not be enough; anyone can make plans".

Training at La Sainte Union, an independent Catholic college whose degrees are accredited by Southampton University, was found to be "unsatisfactory" - the lowest possible grading - in all four areas inspected: English, mathematics, assessment and recording, and quality assurance.

Inspectors found that many students had "an uncertain grasp of the basic structure of English", making it difficult for them to judge strengths and weaknesses in pupils' writing. While they were familiar with phonics in the teaching of reading, they were unclear about how to develop children's abilities beyond the early stages.

Students intending to teach the early years are taught completely separately from those wanting to teach the upper primary years, with the result that students had only a hazy idea of how children progress from 5-11.

The same was true of mathematics. Students had a poor overview of the primary maths curriculum and many had a weak grasp of arithmetic and mathematical concepts, resulting in "mechanistic" teaching poorly matched to children's abilities.

Writing in The Times on Tuesday, the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, said that the report on La Sainte Union was "one of the most critical we have published on a teacher-training institution", but added that some of the faults could be found in other courses in a less extreme form.

The report, he suggested, justified the Government's decision to intervene in teacher training by imposing a national core curriculum.

The college has released a detailed statement in response, explaining that the students observed by the inspectors were on a course that has now been discontinued. The college has also made new appointments and created an integrated faculty of education.

The principal, Dr Anand Chitnis, said: "We have taken action on all the weaknesses identified by OFSTED inspectors." He stressed that the college was "totally committed" to staying open.

Rex Knight, academic registrar at Southampton University, said that the university had no plans to withdraw from awarding degrees to La Sainte Union students and was "determined to help LSU resolve its difficulties".

OFSTED has now completed its inspections of all 67 universities and colleges offering primary teacher training, though some reports are still to be published. The other failing courses were Charlotte Mason College, which has now been disbanded by its parent, Lancaster University; South Bank University; University of Sussex; and Westhill College. Sussex and Westhill, however, received only one unsatisfactory grading out of a possible four.

In general, inspectors have formed a favourable picture of primary teacher training, with many institutions getting top gradings on all four of the aspects inspected.

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