GTC split on student teachers

The General Teaching Council is still divided over the way schools should assess students on teaching practice 14 months after the Education Minister asked the council to bail out the Government after the embarrassment that followed the collapse of teacher mentoring.

The impasse first surfaced publicly last October when the teacher education institutions objected to schools' marks being given special weighting for students who are out of college on placement. Ivor Sutherland, the council's registrar, entered a strong plea at the time for schools to have "an equal contribution in the field of assessment" if partnership between colleges and schools was to have any meaning.

Now the GTC's "partnership review", discussed in private at Falkirk on Wednesday, has come down heavily on both sides. The outcome represents an unsuccessful attempt to balance the vigorous arguments about whether students should be assessed on a passfail basis or on a five-point scale. The passfail system would effectively give schools a veto, according to some teacher educators.

The council's working group, set up by the Education Minister in October 1995, has "on balance" come out in favour of a scale system which it would expect to see in all college courses as a condition of accreditation.

The group adds: "In recognition of the fact that complete consensus on this issue does not exist, it would be permissible for a teacher education institution to present an alternative approach." But any such assessment should include three categories, one of which should denote "distinguished performance". There would also have to be agreement between schools and colleges.

The GTC's report acknowledges: "There are fundamental difficulties in establishing validity and reliability in the assessment process. Whereas there is evidence to indicate that teacher education institutions and school staff rarely disagree substantially in their assessments, the student teachers' perception of the process is not consistently positive. There is also some lack of clarity in both teacher education institutions and school staff in relation to their respective roles in the operation of the assessment procedures. "

The report adds that students should "be clearly aware of the means by which they, the school and the teacher education institution will contribute to their assessment and of the evidence on which such assessment will be based".

The working group repeatedly underlines the need for more time and resources to make initial teacher training more effective. But it stresses that the "core business" of teachers must remain teaching and conspicuously fails to back any further involvement by schools, the issue which triggered controversy over the mentoring scheme.

The report makes far-reaching recommendations for teachers to be involved in the selection of students for training and in the design, approval and quality control of teacher training courses. The development of class teachers' confidence in assessing students would also require support. More time and resources for teacher release and cover will therefore be necessary.

The working group recommends that improvements in the links between schools and the training institutions will require teacher time at a rate of half a day a week extra per student. This would amount, for example, to nine days of cover for every student during an 18-week placement in secondary schools. It will be up to schools to decide how many students they can afford to accept.

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