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Muted start for Teacher II ad

A bIPLANE swoops over cheering black and white Edwardians on an endless beach. Textbooks flutter on the sands. Rapt pupils watch their male teacher demonstrate the principle of flight ...

The Teacher Training Agency launches a new recruitment advert in cinemas next week, a wordless, arty, even avant-garde affair. "Could you unlock a young mind?" it asks.

But the follow-up to the high-profile, celebrity-packed No One Forgets a Good Teacher ad, launched with mixed success in September 1997, will be a low-key affair. No press launch is planned. The agency has other things on its mind.

It is entering one of its most crucial periods. Over the next six weeks, it must draw up a pilot maths test for student teachers and plan a new modular postgraduate certificate in education.

More importantly, it will undergo its first major government review - one few observers expect to have a positive outcome.

The letter announcing all this caused some jitters in the world of teacher education last week. David Blunkett's brief to the agency's chair Clive Booth had a hard edge: the Department for Education and Employment would take "a more direct lead role in current policy".

The DFEE will take forward the new leadership college, fast-track recruitment for high-flyers, and "the crucial and long-neglected task" of training supply teachers.

Wrapping all that up in one letter prompted some dire predictions. "The TTA's days are numbered," one senior higher education figure said. "The Government will go into the next election promising to shake up teacher education by disbanding the TTA and dispersing its powers."

That says much about the strained relations with the universities which have been quick to tell ministers their unhappiness with the agency. Relations with the Department for Education and Employment and the Office for Standards in Education are not thought to be easy.

But the TTA is bullish. Stephen Hillier, its communications director, says:

"I know we have our detractors but we're very proud of what we've done. We're positive about what May (when the review is due to be published) is likely to bring." He sees no threat from Government plans to set up a General Teaching Council, next year.

He offers a long list of achievements; the agency has linked funding to quality for the first time, introduced a strategic approach to recruitment and brought rigour with a national training curriculum and career entry profiles.

Even on recruitment - an increasingly political issue - numbers have doubled. Unfortunately, demand for teachers has grown faster.

Recruitment analyst Alan Smithers of Liverpool University says the agency has become a piggy in the middle. The DFEE sets recruitment targets, pay bodies set salaries that might attract teachers, universities deliver courses.

"The TTA doesn't have control of anything significant but it can be scapegoated," he says, and while the agency itself says many factors - like the number of maths graduates available for PGCEs - are beyond its control.

But pointing the finger goes down badly. Universities say the agency has done nothing to help. The new advert is unlikely to impress university education departments.

"It hasn't handled its PR very well," one observer concludes. "If it becomes a scapegoat, it only has itself to blame."

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