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Heads back training reform

TES survey reveals little support for the Conservatives, though more for their policies. Four out of five headteachers believe there should be a national curriculum for teacher training, with primary schools demanding more time spent on the basics, according to a TES survey.

The greatest support for an overhaul of teacher training comes from primary heads who also want changes in their own school curriculum. Three-quarters say they need more time to teach reading, writing and maths.

These findings should cheer Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard, who is expected to announce her plans for teacher-training reform - including a national curriculum - this month.

The call for a curriculum comes despite the survey finding that 83 per cent of heads are satisfied with the quality of newly-qualified teachers. Heads did comment that some needed a lot of support and extra training, while others said new entrants were not able to use a number of different teaching techniques.

The survey also reveals a radical change in the way primary teachers in particular organise their pupils. Almost half of primary heads said they put pupils in sets for different subjects in their school. Most do so for maths and English and some also for science.

There is concern that the primary curriculum is still overloaded and three-quarters of heads in the sector want more time to spend on basic literacy and numeracy.

Less heartening for Mrs Shephard are the popularity of the political parties' education policies. Of those choosing one party, only 8 per cent thought the Conservatives had the best policies. The Liberal Democrats won the most support with 61 per cent, while 30 per cent chose Labour.

Perhaps more worrying for political parties facing a general election is that 15 per cent of heads surveyed did not like any of their policies and a quarter would not or could not commit themselves. A Derbyshire primary head who said: "I am beginning to think that there is not very much to choose between them," was not untypical.

The head of a north London primary was even more damning, saying: "All political parties have poor education policies, rarely supported by good research evidence, heavily influenced by what they believe will win them votes and generally destabilising for the education service. Schools are suffering from innovation overload."

Mrs Shephard is unlikely to agree with the 88 per cent of headteachers who believe taxes should be raised to put extra money into education. Yet, although her party, according to the survey, is very unpopular, other answers reveal support for her policies.

While many heads said their schools had suffered stress and anxiety as a result of inspections by the Office for Standards in Education, the majority of heads who have been through the process (82 per cent) thought it would aid improvement. Most also thought the quality of the inspections wasgood and the reports fair.

Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, received a less favourable review. Of those headteachers who commented, only one in five thought he was helping to raise standards and many heads commented that his negative attitude to teachers was undermining the profession.

Support for the Government's league tables - which have also become part of Labour policy - was low, particularly among primary heads. Overall, 10 per cent believed they were useful for parents, while only 5 per cent of primary heads said they were useful as opposed to more than a third of secondary heads.

Fiona Pay, head of Ranelagh primary in Ipswich, said: "We have a spent a great deal of effort improving literacy and numeracy within our urban disadvantaged school. Our inspection was carried out by an extremely professional team yet all our efforts count for nothing if league tables show us near the bottom - it will be even harder to recruit suitable staff for such schools."

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