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Pay dispute threatens inspections

The Government's programme of teacher-training inspections is facing a damaging derailment as university education departments join the lecturers' boycott of all external quality assessment.

The Association of University Teachers is in dispute with the employers over pay - an offer of 1.5 per cent has been rejected.

A ballot has shown that 83 per cent of AUT members support the withdrawal of goodwill - which involves refusing to co-operate with inspections, whether by the Office for Standards in Education or the Higher Education Funding Council. The Universities and Colleges Employers Association was meeting as The TES went to press, but a substantially improved offer was believed to be unlikely.

But while the HEFC has agreed to postpone inspection visits until the pay dispute is settled, OFSTED is determined to press on with its scheduled inspections of secondary teacher training, though what exactly will be inspected if lecturers refuse to co-operate remains unclear. The funding of teacher-training departments ultimately depends on OFSTED inspections.

Inspection at Sheffield University has already been sabotaged by the dispute - it was due to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, but the vice-chancellor, Professor Gareth Roberts, has told OFSTED that it would have been impossible to complete. Loughborough and Southampton universities have requested postponements.

At Liverpool University, where inspectors were due on Monday, there were conflicting versions of events. Spokesmen for OFSTED and the university said that part of the inspection had gone ahead, but Andrew Taylor, the local AUT representative, said that it was "a half-cocked affair" that had only lasted a day and involved few people. He also alleged that OFSTED had threatened the vice-chancellor with loss of accreditation if the inspection did not go ahead.

Disruption of teacher-training inspections is sure to irritate the Government, which has spent much of the past six months identifying teacher training as the root cause of poor standards in schools, and stressing the need for radical reform based on rigorous scrutiny.

The AUT, which draws many members from the old universities, has called a meeting in London of representatives of all education departments on Wednesday "to consider forming a united front against OFSTED", according to one member. NATFHE, which represents staff in the former polytechnics, has also called a meeting to discuss escalating the action.

Tom Wilson, the AUT's deputy general secretary, said: "We will be urging solid support for all departments due to be OFSTEDed, so that nobody is victimised. "

David Triesman, the AUT's general secretary, has written to the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, seeking a postponement of inspections as "the results of any visit that takes place after November 20 will inevitably be suspect" and universities unlucky enough to be inspected during the dispute would be unfairly penalised.

But a spokesman for OFSTED said: "We have a statutory duty to inspect; without it we cannot give evidence to the TTA, so they will not be able to make decisions on accreditation and funding of courses. We expect to observe trainers training and teaching, if they are not doing their job, I would have thought their vice-chancellors would have something to say. They've got to think what the consequences could be if the TTA does not get information. "

However, Patricia Ambrose, policy adviser for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said the vice-chancellors were "hoping that the TTA and OFSTED could take a more accommodating line". The CVCP has written to the TTA and the Department for Education and Employment voicing concern that institutions could be unfairly penalised by inspections held during the dispute.

The AUT is also campaigning for a pay review body so that this situation does not recur.

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