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Inspection curb urged by colleges

Teacher-training institutions have demanded that the Government reins in Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, and his inspection teams.

The universities are angry atthe frequency of inspections - every two years - the way courses are assessed and what they see as evidence of the recruitment of weak students.

Peter Mortimore, director of London University's Institute of Education, hosted a meeting of 16 institutions this week to discuss the negative effect of inspections on teacher-training colleges.

Senior academics said they welcomed "fair and robust inspection in pursuit of higher standards of teaching and learning", but claimed that the current system was undermining training.

The institutions also feel victimised by Mr Woodhead, who has referred to a "heart of darkness" in the educational establishment causing "the trivialisation of culture and erosion of belief in the intellect".

The colleges have called on David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, to make sure the methods used to inspect initial teacher training courses are consistent.

They say: "The methodology has been inconsistently applied, by different inspectors, at different times, between different subjects and even within subjects. This invalidates comparisons which might be drawn." They also want a four-year cycle for inspections. "The frequency and intensity of inspection should be in inverse proportion to success," they say.

The plan includes calls for the Office for Standards in Education to publish a code of conduct to govern the way inspections are carried out. They also want the Education Secretary to create a single framework for the inspection of teacher-training in higher education institutions.

Professor Mortimore, whose primary course was to be reinspected six months before the outcome of the original inspection was published, said: "We are all pretty fed up with a system which allows the criteria for inspections to be made up as we go along."

Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said: "We have to work towards a better system that is going to be more quality enhancing and that will not place the institutions and school under as much pressure as they have been under."

An OFSTED spokeswoman said the issues involved were being addressed by a working group including members of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. Professor Mortimore was invited to join the group but declined, she added.

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