Last week school-based teacher training was lambasted by inspectors in a report that was music to the ears of critics who say training is best left to the universities.
After inspecting 46 consortia delivering the employment-based graduate teacher programme (GTP), the Office for Standards in Education rejected 10 and recommended that a further 19 should receive their Teacher Training Agency accreditation only if specific conditions were met. The inspectors said that many consortia had found managing the training "more challenging than they expected".
While the vast majority of trainees still follow the traditional, university-based BEd and the postgraduate certificate in education routes into teaching, school-based training has expanded hugely in the past few years. From a standing start in 1998, the employment-based route now offers more than 6,000 places. School-centred PGCE programmes have also expanded.
Of 130 providers of initial teacher training, 60 are school-based and 25 are actually run by schools. But now that Ofsted has found fault with 63 per cent of the provision, does the school-based route have a future? Headteacher Martin Bayliss is convinced that it has.
"There are a number of reasons why my school is succeeding against the odds," he says. "But the key factor is our involvement in teacher training."
Mr Bayliss is head of Holyhead high school, on Handsworth High Street in Birmingham, which serves one of the toughest and most disadvantaged districts in the city. It caters for a dozen different ethnic communities.
Nearly two-thirds of its students receive free school meals and 52 per cent have special needs. Yet it is a successful school, with a 55 per cent success rate at GCSE A*-C. "More than half of our kids got both maths and English, so our core skills are strong," says Bayliss.
Holyhead is one of 45 schools in the Titan partnership, which offers both the GTP programme and school-based initial teacher training (SCITT), leading to the PGCE.
The motivation for most schools involved in teacher training is recruitment. Inner-city schools such as Holyhead have major problems finding staff; last year the school advertised for an English specialist and failed to attract a single reply.
"Eight out of the 10 people we recruited last year came from the training programme," says Bayliss.
Dr Stephen Nepaulsingh, who chairs the Titan partnership, is head of Handsworth Wood girls' school. He says that without the graduate training programme he would not have a maths or science department in his school.
Heads involved in training argue that the benefits go beyond recruitment.
"Every time our teachers talk to a group of trainees they have to think about what they are doing," says Bayliss. "That's an impetus to keep people focused on their classroom practice."
Dr Nepaulsingh points out that students based in schools from the first day of their course have a richer and more grounded experience of the day-to-day reality of teaching, and are more likely to stay in the job as a result.
"We know that our trainees go on to become successful teachers; within four years many have become heads of department," he says.
There are other powerful reasons encouraging schools to follow the training route. Schools offering placements to university students are usually paid in the region of pound;1,100 per student.
For this the school looks after the students, provides a teacher mentor and sees its classes and timetable disrupted. The universities receive around pound;5,000 for overseeing the process.
Many heads think that this offers very poor value for money.
"We felt that we were financially the poor partners," said Ray Tarleton, head of South Dartmoor community college in Devon. "Too much funding was held centrally by the higher education institution."
Last year South Dartmoor joined forces with Callington and Ivybridge community colleges to become a school-based training provider.
Their learning institute is initially limited to around 30 places, but the three heads want to take the project much further.
Ray Tarleton believes that a national teacher-training programme designed from scratch would not be built around university placements.
"Teachers want to see good practice, they don't want to hear about it in a seminar," he said. "We are doing this on a proper professional footing; we can say to our colleagues that if you are going to do this job we will guarantee that you will have two hours a week non-contact time." He thought it was "absolutely crucial" that everyone in the school was involved.
One of South Dartmoor's first students was Kerri Smith. She said: "I learn better through practical work; this route offered more time in school.
Within a couple of weeks we were in a classroom teaching, perhaps only for episodes or with our tutor, but it means that you get over that daunting first experience straight away."
The model advocated by Ray Tarleton and Martin Bayliss goes beyond teacher training. Both Holyhead and South Dartmoor are training schools, funded by the Department for Education and Skills to lead on all kinds of professional development, training not only their own staff, but those from other schools as well. Training school status is worth pound;58,000 a year and there are currently 244 training schools.
Holyhead acts as a base for the theoretical training that Titan's graduate and school-based students must cover to meet QTS standards.
"We are not like a school that works with a university taking trainees on placement," explained Lorraine Thomas, Holyhead's training school manager.
"It's not sitting by Nelly and watching. We deliver a lot of taught sessions; we give a lot of input."
Holyhead also offers training for the teacher mentors who work with the students; there are training sessions for local special needs co-ordinators, and courses for learning mentors and teaching assistants on issues like autism awareness and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The school works with Birmingham's local education authority and the city's college of food to offer the new higher level teaching assistants qualification.
Newly-qualified teachers at Holyhead start an education Masters degree as part of their induction year.
"When their NQT year is over they stay in that research mode, and the spin-off benefit is that it has re-ignited the interest in higher degrees in our more experienced staff; about a third of our staff are doing research. If we really want teaching to become a research-based profession, then this is the way to go," says Mr Bayliss.
None of the Titan senior managers is surprised by the Ofsted findings.
"Some schools see the graduate programme as a way to fill the gaps in their staffroom," says Lorraine Thomas. "It is a good way to recruit teachers, but the training and support has to be there as well."
The downside for schools considering growing their own teachers is the almost continuous process of inspection. Training is inspected subject by subject, with additional inspections to look at specific issues. If a provider offers GTP and SCITT the two programmes will be separately assessed.
"Since November 2001 we have had seven inspections of one kind or another," says Martin Bayliss.
He says he's quite prepared for vigorous inspection, and he has no worries about Ofsted's new model, where schools will receive two days' notice of a visit.
The Titan Partnership had its accreditation confirmed after the Ofsted visits, and Dr Nepaulsingh said that Ofsted's criticisms did not mean that the graduate programme was failing.
"The weaknesses surface when people do not follow the TTA and Ofsted guidelines. People should not enter this lightly. It's hard work, but the benefit is that we get good teachers," he said.
RAY TARLETON profile 18