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No peace for the trainers

Inspectors are to vet in-service courses for teachers. Nicolas Barnard reports.

TEACHER training providers will not get their wish to be left in peace by inspectors as the Office for Standards in Education is also to scrutinise in-service training.

Inspections will start in the new academic year, following the controversial handover of INSET funding to the Teacher Training Agency. The budget was previously controlled by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Redistribution of the Pounds 21 million annual budget has already upset universities and other higher education institutions who saw budgets slashed and some regions left without provision.

Now the TTA wants to ensure the money is being spent well. Frankie Sulke, the TTA's head of teacher training, said: "OFSTED already inspects initial teacher training for us. Now it will inspect the provision we fund in INSET."

Universities fear they will be criticised for something over which they have little control now the TTA has taken over funding. They already complain the two-yearly ITT inspections are too frequent, inconsistent and unsettling and have called on the Government to rein in the inspectorate.

The move comes as OFSTED switches resources to inspecting teacher training providers and local education authorities after completing its first cycle of school inspections.

Chief inspector Chris Woodhead has criticised INSET as "patchy" and said it failed to address teachers' real needs - basic teaching skills such as asking questions or subject knowledge in the primary curriculum.

He told a London conference earlier this month that: "Too many LEAs function on the level of rhetoric about school improvement and don't home in on the professional support teachers really need.

"Too much public money is not delivering the real results it should deliver, and it is vital local authorities and institutes of higher education think very sharply about the real needs of teachers and whether those needs are being met adequately."

But Mary Russell, secretary to the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said the kind of courses Mr Woodhead wanted had lost funding to the Government's priorities of literacy and numeracy.

She said: "We would be delighted to run courses to refresh teachers' subject knowledge. The ability to put them on is being taken away at the same time as we are being criticised for not providing them."

The move could threaten the rapprochement between training providers and the inspectors, she said. "If the chief inspector is going to shake a big stick it's going to spoil a lot of the progress that we thought we were making. We would be bitterly disappointed."

An OFSTED spokesman said: "We are developing an inspection programme with the TTA. The exact focus has not yet been decided. We will be writing to all providers later in the summer once the details have been agreed."

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