The School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) scheme, rushed into place by former education secretary John Patten, is the subject of a forthcoming report from HM Inspectorate which is understood to question its effectiveness.
It has also emerged that the director of the Smallpeice post-graduate certificate course, the portion of SCITT based in city technology colleges, has been replaced, following concern about how it controls standards. The University of Surrey which validated the course for technology teachers last year has also pulled out, citing similar worries.
The SCITT scheme allows 15 groups of schools to compete with universities by operating as mini-colleges of education, recruiting and training their own students. It includes nine school consortia, many of them grant-maintained, and six projects led by CTCs. For the first time this year, primary schools are also involved.
HM inspectors have reported on all SCITT projects, but individual reports will not be released. Instead, a summary report is expected in late spring. There is speculation that ministers have barred the publication of individual reports as these would have highlighted specific failures at a very early stage.
The report, now in its draft form, is believed to have angered the training schools by making unfavourable comparisons with courses run by established higher education departments.
Despite strong ministerial backing, SCITT is privately thought by some of the schools involved to have suffered from a lack of planning and from inadequate funding, while university education departments have been openly hostile.
Professor Graham Welch, dean of education at the Roehampton Institute, which now awards qualifications to student teachers at the six CTC-run groups, said: "There's no evidence in my experience of the SCITT programme that they can do the job as well as a university. Even where the staff are working their socks off they come up to a standard which is no more than satisfactory."
"Schools have found it an enormous amount of work. It's tied up a lot of senior staff for long periods of time. They have also found it difficult to balance the time required against the income; their costs are not covered. In our experience the teachers have put in far more work than they originally expected."
Sources from the inspectorate say that the SCITT scheme at Douay Martyrs' school in Middlesex is an "honourable exception".
The school-centred scheme was devised and launched in a matter of months by John Patten in 1993 despite fierce objections from the higher education sector. The decision followed a concerted attack by Conservative educationists on what they saw as "trendy" 1960s teaching methodologies.
Unlike most initial training courses, which are still run by university and college education departments, SCITT schools receive money direct from the Teacher Training Agency. The CTCs run their own version of SCITT which concentrates on technology and science teachers, backed by money from a charity, the Smallpeice Trust.
Sue Kayser, the new manager of the Smallpeice scheme, confirmed that the director Howard Chilvers had left, but refused to say why.
The scheme has also been affected by the withdrawal of the University of Surrey which had awarded its own Post Graduate Certificate in Education degrees. Janet Challis, a Surrey quality assurance officer, said the decision was based partly on concern about standards.
"There wasn't a sufficiently strong overview of the programme," she said. "By its nature it is dispersed into schools and tracking that is tremendously labour intensive."
Professor Tony Edwards, chair of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said: "We are concerned that SCITT should be subject to quality control no less rigorous than is the case with HE-based schemes. There are mechanisms in place for universities: it's not easy to see how these will be replicated in the SCITT scheme. "