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Staff are doing it for themselves

Teachers are training each other as higher education tutors are forced to take a back seat. Jill Parkin reports

Teacher training could be revolutionised if an "innovative" new scheme which puts the money and the clout direct into schools catches on nationwide.

The project, fronted by a major national figure in school leadership, marginalises higher education trainers and makes teacher training a whole-school focus, linking it to professional development for all staff.

"The writing is on the wall for teacher training as we know it. The universities may be quite defensive about this because they will be contributors instead of leaders," says Ray Tarleton, principal of South Dartmoor community college and co-ordinator of the leadership network, a group of 160 innovative heads nurtured by the National College for School Leadership.

He talks about the three-school submission - approved last month by the Teacher Training Agency - as a partnership with university training departments. But the schools - South Dartmoor, Callington community college in Cornwall, and Ivybridge community college in Devon - will be in charge of the budget, buying in what they need from the HE sector.

Ray Tarleton says local universities currently give schools only pound;1,050 for supporting university trainees on teaching practice placements, out of total funding of around pound;5,000.

"At present we do not cover our costs on teacher training; much is done on the back of staff goodwill. pound;1,050 does not cover the teacher-mentoring time required to fully support a trainee," he says.

All three schools are training schools and sports colleges. They currently work with Exeter university and the College of St Mark and St John, Plymouth, as well as with other universities on, for example, the graduate teacher programme (GTP). But the consortium (called the Learning Institute) will not have any HE partners - although Manchester Metropolitan university will validate its postgraduate certificate in education.

"We see this as a strength," says Mr Tarleton. "It allows us to commission university contributions as appropriate and places the control firmly in the hands of the schools. The work on theory and the mentoring will be carried out by practising teachers, rather than HE tutors."

The Learning Institute has been allocated 26 training places in eight secondary subjects from September, and will offer two routes into teaching (a PGCE and the GTP). Would-be teachers will apply directly to it.

Although similar to school-centred initial teacher-training schemes (SCITTS), the consortium hopes eventually to train greater numbers of teachers (it bid for 45), across all subjects, for the benefit of other schools besides its own - and involve all its current staff in the process.

Mr Tarleton believes there needs to be an "immediacy" between theory and practice: lectures and tutorials will be integrated directly into the practical experience and monitored observation of trainees.

"We will set the agenda, encouraging every teacher to become a consultant to others and a researcher of classroom practice. We will have experienced and practising professionals delivering training."

Steve Kenning, principal of Callington, which took 65 trainees in its first year as a training school, believes the universities are "massively out of date".

"Things change quickly in education. We can offer trainees up-to-date information and show them what teaching is like now. They become fully integrated into school life this way.

"This is much more radical than SCITTS which tend to be about one or two subject areas in a school. With students in every department, every teacher can be involved in training and reflective practice."

Existing staff will gain experience in mentoring, reflective practice and exposure to other teachers' methods, say the two headteachers. In this way, one teacher's initial teacher training becomes another's continuing professional development.

South Dartmoor has been refining its training ideas since 2001, with 67 of its 103 teachers volunteering to act as mentors, along with eight primary colleagues, two learning support assistants and two ICT technicians. Two have subsequently become advanced skills teachers in teacher training; 11 now lecture to undergraduates.

Mr Tarleton says the institute's commitment to investing in the continuing professional development of both teachers and trainees is central to its teacher training provision.

"Through our model of training we aim to create a new breed of teachers with higher expectations and a greater engagement in development."

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