School-centred training 'below par'

Nicholas Pyke

The controversial School-Centred Initial Teacher Training scheme was significantly below par in its first year, an Office for Standards in Education report confirmed this week.

Two of the six experimental schemes were judged "unsatisfactory" and only one of the remainder was considered "good" - results which first emerged in The TES in March.

The two training schemes to fail were run by the Smallpeice Trust and based in Telford City Technology College and the ADT City Technology College in Wandsworth, south London. The chief executive of the ADT CTC, Richard Painter, has recently been made head of the "hit squad" appointed to run the failing Hackney Downs comprehensive school.

Inspections of the new college school-centred schemes found poor management, a lack of "quality control" and poor library facilities which held back the brighter students.

The subsequent quality of the students' teaching was slightly below average: 74 per cent were at least satisfactory and 34 per cent good or very good. This compares with a national picture of 84 per cent and 42 per cent respectively.

The school-centred or SCITT scheme was set up by former Education Secretary John Patten early in 1993 and allows groups or "consortia" of schools to operate as mini teacher-training colleges. They devise and run their own courses, recruiting the trainees.

The traditional teacher education departments in universities and colleges have been highly suspicious and regard the scheme as an attempt to limit their influence. There has also been heavy criticism of the speed with which the plans were implemented, in some cases just months after the first announcement.

This was picked up by OFSTED as a major weakness. But the inspectors point out that this was the first year of the scheme and that many of the difficulties appeared to have been solved in 1994-95. Overall, said the report, the quality of training was satisfactory and, given the lack of preparation, to the credit of the teachers involved.

Technology - the specialist focus of the Smallpeice scheme - was a particular weakness and many lessons were poor. Difficulties with recruitment and with the changing nature of the national curriculum were partly responsible.

The findings match those in a recent study by academics at the University of Warwick, commissioned by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. This found, in particular, that the "mentors" who look after individual trainees need more time for the job.

"Not surprisingly the first year revealed some difficulties and further improvement will depend upon schools having sufficient time to plan and prepare the training programme," said OFSTED.

"Particular attention will need to be given to raising standards in the management and coherence of the course, the training of tutors and subject mentors to raise expectations of the students' performance; quality assurance arrangements; library provision and student selection."

There are between 15,000 and 20,000 new teachers produced every year. In 1993-4 the SCITT scheme accounted for 150 of these, which rose to 350 in the second year. In the coming year there are 600 places, including 90 for primary trainees. The director of inspection, Michael Tomlinson, conceded that the lack of non-contact time would make the job harder for primary teachers.

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