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The long and the short of it

Whether it's a BEd or a BA (QTS), the four-year option is still thriving, writes Virginia Hunt

For the past 10 years or so, BEd students have felt hard done by. The Government seemed to be getting rid of the four-year course, The TES and everyone else didn't appear to notice it, and all attention has been on the racier, more intensive, one-year postgraduate course.

Since the Teacher Training Agency (now the Training and Development Agency) was set up in 1994, there have been all sorts of new training schemes to give would-be teachers maximum flexibility - GTP (graduate teacher programme), an RTP (registered teacher programme), a PGCE (post graduate certificate in education) or an SCITT (school-centred initial teacher training).

Despite being broadly static in the number of four-year courses available, employers do like them.

While secondary schools tend to see more one-year trainees, Dee McAllister, deputy head at Caterham high school, Essex, is convinced that the BEd is the best preparation for teaching. She admits that the calibre of PGCE trainees has improved, but she's still a fan of the four-year option. "It develops an in-depth understanding of education, the psychology and philosophy of it all," she says.

Jean Clark, 40, opted for the BEd course at Goldsmith's college in south London. She is part of the last cohort of students to be offered the BEd there, but she feels the course has been far better preparation for all aspects of teaching. "Teachers in the schools I've been in say the BEd route is better," she says. "They tell me it makes your practice more reflective. They reckon the quality of students is higher."

The University of Plymouth runs a four-year BEd. David Murphy, marketing and admissions manager for the faculty of education, says there are many benefits to the longer course: "Heads like it. Students have a thorough grounding in teaching and are specialists in a field. And they have 32 weeks of class-based experience, which is viewed favourably.

"Although initial employment rates are much the same, BEd students more often become subject leaders and are fast tracked into senior positions."

Four years training isn't for everybody. Natalia Ibraham starts a PGCE course next year once she finishes her English degree. She's got solid classroom experience gained in a special school and a year's voluntary teaching in Ghana, but while Natalia is still eager to teach, she is wary of making an early commitment. "My mum did a BEd," she says. "After her first teaching practice in her second year, she realised too late that teaching wasn't for her."

It's horses for courses - for some heads, it's the PGCE that makes the grade. Greg Wallace, head at Woodberry Down primary school in Hackney, north London, argues that the PGCE fields a more superior candidate, bringing greater maturity and experience to the post.

Greg's optimistic about the GTP, too: "Lecturers are too far removed from what goes on in schools. The key things teachers have to do, like teaching children to read and marking work, are best learned in the classroom. After six months in a school you think differently."

All training courses have their pros and cons, and the TDA has intended it to be this way. As Helen Duggan, at the TDA, explains: "The main thing is ensuring we cater for the range of people's backgrounds. We want to provide a wide variety of routes to enable the best candidates to enter teaching, removing barriers and increasing options."

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