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Recruits braced for the basics

Josephine Gardiner reports on a survey which contradicts views on student teachers.

Most newly-qualified primary teachers feel confident that they have been properly trained to teach reading and maths, a new survey reveals.

The findings directly contradict the prevailing view that student teachers are not being taught how to teach the basics. New teachers' alleged dissatisfaction with the quality of their own training also provided the rationale for imposing a core curriculum on teacher training institutions, a move that the Education Secretary, Gillian Shephard, announced last week.

Researchers on the Modes of Teacher Education Project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, who have been studying all aspects of teacher training since 1991, questioned 248 primary students at the end of their training, and 98 of them again after one year of teaching. They also asked headteachers in the students' first schools to comment on the quality of their new recruits. The students were selected via a random sample of 44 initial teacher-training courses in England and Wales between 1992 and 1994.

At the end of training, 82.5 per cent of students said they had been well or adequately equipped to teach reading; the results for maths and science were 79.5 per cent and 89 per cent respectively. One year into their first job, the new teachers' verdict on their training had become even more favourable, with 88 per cent saying that they had been properly prepared to teach reading, 93.5 per cent looking back with approval on their maths training and 88 per cent on science.

When Mrs Shephard launched the teacher-training core curriculum last week, she cited a 1992 survey by the Office for Standards in Education as evidence for the need for reform. The study, called The New Teacher in School, found that almost half of newly-qualified teachers felt uneasy about their competence to teach English and maths.

The respondents in the new study also said they felt particularly confident in certain other areas, including keeping pupils motivated, ensuring continuity and progression and using a range of teaching strategies.

The new teachers' verdict on their own competence was backed up by their headteachers: 81.5 per cent of heads thought their new staff were "well or adequately prepared" to teach reading, 93 per cent thought this was also true of maths and 98 per cent of science. A survey carried out by The TES, however, found that most heads supported the idea of a national curriculum for teacher training.

Caroline Whiting, one of the researchers, said that while the findings did not necessarily indicate that the new national curriculum is a bad idea, "it is worrying that the reform of teacher training is all based on one piece of OFSTED research, ignoring other data that contradict it. The Government is jumping the gun".

She added that while there is no room for complacency - "just under 20 per cent of students felt ill-equipped to teach reading, which is unacceptable" - the study indicated that the Government was off-target. The areas in which the respondents felt weakest were English as a second language (two-thirds felt "poorly prepared", and half their heads agreed); special needs (a quarter of finishing students and a quarter of new teachers); and various non-core primary subjects such as music and information technology (a third of finishing students).

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