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Going it alone;Career development

Will teachers be able to benefit from individual learning accounts? Neil Merrick finds out

In-service training could undergo a significant transformation if the Government's plan for individual learning accounts (ILAs) takes off.

Instead of applying for help from their school or college when they want to attend a course or study for a qualification, staff could, in theory, draw funds from an ILA and decide on their best training option.

Education and Employment minister Baroness Blackstone told the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers last month that ILAs would allow staff to take control of their personal development. She also reminded delegates that one million of the first account-holders will receive up to pound;150 from their local training and enterprise council (TEC), providing that they make an initial investment of just pound;25.

However, teachers should not get carried away with the idea that they will soon have pound;175 to spend on training. It is still not known exactly who will qualify for the pound;150 bonus, and TECs are still bidding to run between 10 and 15 pilot projects due to start later this year.

Although everybody should be able to open an ILA with a bank or building society by the year 2000, financial support will be targeted at people who demonstrate they need a kick-start to help them pay for learning. So are teachers likely to fall into this category?

Chris Humphries, chief executive of the TEC National Council, admits this is unlikely as the money will probably go to the "learning deprived". But a teacher might receive money for an IT course if he or she intended to use this new knowledge to run an access programme for adults.

Mary Russell, secretary of the University Council or the Education of Teachers, says that any financial help for teachers, who increasingly have to fund their own in-service training, would be welcome. Yet training providers are not exactly rubbing their hands in anticipation at the prospect of receiving more business from teachers with an extra pound;175 to spend.

Masters degrees normally cost between pound;2,000 and pound;3,000, although it is possible to gain stand-alone modules at institutions such as Chichester Institute of Higher Education for pound;200 each. These can contribute towards a full MA in education management or special needs.

About 90 per cent of teachers working towards the special needs degree receive school support, while the majority taking management modules finance themselves. Rick Davies, Chichester Institute's head of continuing professional development, doubts whether the Government will put much new money into in-service training through ILAs, but adds: "It's an incentive to get people used to pursuing their own development."

Training institutions gear most courses towards school needs rather than the interest of individual teachers. If learning accounts take off among teachers looking to further their careers, there could be greater demand for a range of learning opportunities.

Many courses and short programmes cost about pound;175 - some of which teachers fund themselves. The Central School of Counselling and Therapy runs a pound;195 introductory course for people working with children and adolescents. "It is very popular with teachers and most pay for themselves," says Jennifer Comrie of the CSCT's customer services team.

But John Bangs, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, is less enthusiastic about such developments. He believes that in-service training budgets are too inflexible because they rely on money from the Government's standards fund. Any move towards ILAs, he says, should coincide with a national professional development strategy that gives teachers more opportunity to take courses that meet their own needs as well as the Government's priorities.

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