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Staff may bear training burden

Josephine Gardiner reports on Labour plans to give teacher training back to the universities. The Labour party is considering plans to shift responsibility for teacher training standards from the government to the profession, a Labour MP said this week.

Colin Pickthall, Labour MP for West Lancashire and member of Labour's front bench education team, was discussing the second draft of the policy document on teacher training, which he has written.

The document suggests that a future Labour government would take a more "hands-off" approach to the detail of teacher education, with a stronger role for the universities. The Teacher Training Agency would be subsumed into a general teaching council and funding control would pass back to the Higher Education Funding Council.

He said the draft still has to pass through "the final political filter" before being published to coincide with Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard's national curriculum for teacher training in the autumn.

A spokesman for David Blunkett was anxious to emphasise, however, that everything in the document was still under discussion. Labour's spin doctors are expected to want to take a tough stand on the supposed liberal flabbiness of university education departments but will have to address the problems of low morale and a growing teacher shortage.

Teacher training is still a political battleground: in a speech to the National Association of Headteachers in June, David Blunkett said that it needed "rethinking"; this was followed by Mrs Shephard's promise to "recast" it.

In his speech, Mr Pickthall argues against "Stalinist centralism" and proposes a dramatically-reduced role for the Teacher Training Agency and an enhanced one for higher education.

All funding for teacher education should "come from the same source" - in other words, be returned to the control of the universities.

All teacher training would take place in partnerships between schools and universities, with a stronger role for the universities both in inital training and professional development. Labour envisages that all schools would eventually be involved.

The proposed general teaching council, which is already a firm commitment for Labour, must be a representative body "at arm's length from the government. It would make the TTA board superfluous, though the work being done by the TTA would not be ended, but brought into the ambit of the GTC," Mr Pickthall says. The TTA "is doing good work but it is an anomaly which has a divisive effect. We would remove its quango status."

While the Labour education team are united on the need for a core curriculum for teacher training, Mr Pickthall warns against dictating content and prescribing specific teaching methods.

Nor should justifiable anxiety over Britain's scholastic underachievement compared with other countries tempt us "to take refuge behind knee-jerk impositions of teaching methods - even in areas as crucial as reading and maths".

He also warns that cuts in funding, combined with the "ignorant opprobrium poured on teacher education" might be enough to precipitate the withdrawal of some universities from teacher training altogether, at a time when teacher supply needs to be increased. Mrs Shephard's plans to recast teacher training would cause a "monumental row" in the sector if they were ever implemented, he said.

The "crucial question of morale" must be addressed through professional development as well as pay and conditions, Labour says.

All teachers would be expected to achieve "advanced teacher status" eventually, and encouraged to take a range of university-accredited courses and self-selected classroom research projects. Bureaucracy, administration and clerical work would be the domain of the less ambitious teacher.

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