Minister's pledge on teacher training

Josephine Gardiner

Estelle Morris, the minister responsible for teacher training, has promised that the Government will listen to the sector's grievances about the way it is inspected and its concerns about the relationship between inspection and funding courses.

Speaking at the first national primary teacher training conference, at Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln, she said she hoped that dialogue between the Government and teacher trainers could become more systematic, and that the primary teacher training sector could develop a stronger voice.

Her speech was enthusiastically received, particularly since she paid tribute to the importance of higher education's role in training. She also hinted that the national curriculum for teacher training could be revised. The Government was very much against a "merely mechanistic" approach to training.

She also told teacher-trainers to join the Government and the Teacher Training Agency in the drive to recruit better quality trainees, though the delegates reminded her that this objective was not entirely under their control.

But while hinting that the views of teacher-trainers would be considered in drawing up plans for a General Teaching Council, she emphasised that there would be a continuing role for the TTA.

The section of the Dearing Report on initial teacher education, which was written by Sir Stewart Sutherland, criticised the chief inspector's decision to reinspect primary teacher training and suggested that the Teacher Training Agency should establish a better working relationship with the teacher-training institutions. He also questioned the necessity for the TTA once a GTC is set up. Sir Stewart's comments were widely welcomed by teacher-trainers, who saw them as a strong hint to the incoming Government to take a less punitive approach to their institutions.

The conference also delivered an explicit snub to the TTA and Ofsted by declining to invite speakers from either.

Eileen Baker, principal of Bishop Grosseteste, who was formerly in charge of primary English teacher training at OFSTED, said the reasoning behind this was to "avoid acrimony and argument as much as possible", especially as the conference was planned at a time when "relations between trainers, inspectors and TTA policy makers were becoming increasingly fragile."

She said she hoped the primary ITT sector, which has felt "beleaguered and little understood" could begin to establish a "bold and resolute" collective voice and that the new Government would give it a more sympathetic ear.

In particular she drew attention to the destructive effects of Ofsted's decision to reinspect primary teacher training. "With a sense of urgency the sector found difficult to understand, OFSTED rushed to recruit and train, in very short order, attached inspectors with varying degrees of relevant experience, the assumption presumably being that HMI could only be trusted to co-ordinate, not inspect, in case their woolly liberalism yielded good grades again." Relationships in the sector have been "significantly eroded by the exercise," she said.

Other speakers at the conference included Richard Pring, director of education studies at Oxford University, who warned the Government against taking too mechanistic an approach to the codification of teaching skills in the national curriculum for teacher training and other innovations..

Colin Richards, the former Ofsted primary adviser, questioned the "myths" on which Government policy on teacher training and primary education is based. In particular he questioned the assumption that standards are low in a high proportion of teacher-training institutions "a generalisation unsupported by the findings of the recent Ofsted sweep", and that the quality of teaching is low in a high proportion of primary schools.

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