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Myths of the sinister Sixties debunked

Critics of teacher training were likened to Senator Joe McCarthy during a debate on universities' role in educating teachers. Ian Kane, chairman of the Universities Council for Educating Teachers, made the attack during the debate at London University's Institute of Education.

The discussion was held in response to a wide-ranging attack on the influence of "starry-eyed" 1960s thinking on teacher training made by the right-wing Conservative peer Lord Pearson of Rannoch, in the House of Lords.

During the seminar Lord Pearson, a former member of the Council for National Academic Awards, criticised the lack of teaching of phonics during teacher training.

He said there was an "exaggerated and politicised" support for race, gender and class issues and there was still a need for a mums' army to help in schools.

In a report on the seminar published today, Mr Kane, who teaches at Manchester Metropolitan University, said he had never come across the group described by Lord Pearson.

He said: "I've been in teacher training for 30 years. Where was I when the long march went by? Can this sinister movement of the 1960s still really exercise a malign influence?

"I've never heard anything like it since Joe McCarthy waved his list of 57 known Communists in the State Department. Have I heard echoes quite recently? Fifteen thousand incompetent teachers, 3,000 incompetent heads, 40 soft-hearted HMI. Oh, play it again Joe."

His comments were backed by several speakers but contrasted with many contributors to the seminar, held at the institute on February 12.

Melanie Phillips, author of the controversial book All Must Have Prizes, said: "I think that there has been a contemporary fallacy in education, an orthodoxy which has elevated the natural to the level of a shibboleth and which regards liberating what is innate within the child as the main goal of education.

"One trainee teacher I talked to in 1995 said she found it hard to think of anything she had actually been taught at her West Country college which was relevant to the job in the classroom. Instead she told me there had been a tremendous emphasis in the course on equal opportunities in schools."

Professor Anthony O'Hear of the Teacher Training Agency said parents increasingly wanted to send their children to independent schools because of the emphasis on literacy and numeracy.

The Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead, said: "I think the fact that standards are low in too many schools must reflect on what's happening by way of training the teachers of the future. What I want is a more open-minded and rigorous discussion of what is happening and what must be done to make it better."

But Professor Ted Wragg, of Exeter University, urged moderation. He hoped teachers would continue to use a mixture of approaches to teaching.

The Role of Universities in the Education and Training of Teachers, pound;6, from the NCET , 58, Gordon Square, London WC1, tel 0171 580 8000

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