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OFSTED jettisons 'sound' grading

All primary and secondary teacher-training courses will be inspected on a tougher grading scale from November, according to a draft framework for inspection published by the Office for Standards in Education and the Teacher Training Agency.

There will be four possible grades - 1, very good; 2, good; 3, complies with current criteria but requires significant improvement and 4, unsatisfactory.

The third grading replaces the previous "sound" rating which was used in the recent secondary and primary inspections and represents an admission by OFSTED that "sound" is meaningless. Courses deemed sound in recent inspections could be found inadequate on reinspection. There is a big difference between the sound grading - "shortcomings, if any, balanced by positive features" and the new definition "requires significant improvement".

In July, chief inspector Chris Woodhead said he did not believe that "everything is rosy in the garden" despite the findings of an unpublished HMI summary report on initial primary teacher training leaked to The TES which showed that almost all courses taught phonics and number adequately.

He said he distrusted the inspectors' interpretation of the "sound" grading and announced that up to a third of primary courses would be "revisited" next year using tougher criteria, including those that had good or sound gradings.

The draft framework says "the assumption is that initial teacher training ought to be of good quality". The framework will come into effect immediately after it is finalised in November, but "will need to be revised to reflect the proposed national curriculum for ITT" - which will not be imposed until September 1997. The implication is that although grade 3 "complies with current criteria" it will not be enough to meet the requirements of the new curriculum and therefore courses receiving grade 3 when the new curriculum is introduced could lose accreditation by the TTA - and thus their funding.

Ian Kane, chairman of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, called the draft framework "a shambles" and said that universities and colleges had not been given enough time to comment. He added "the gap between grades 2 and 3 is now far too wide given the funding implications, especially as there is no appeal mechanism".

But the TTA's chief executive, Anthea Millett, said that the inspection framework for ITT was a "more interactive model than the school inspection system - the inspectors will inspect against targets that the TTA will help them to set".

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