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Star schools in basics crusade

Nearly 50 outstanding primary schools will become guinea pigs in an experiment launched by the chief inspector next week as he continues his drive to promote effective classroom methods.

Forty-nine primaries from across the country have agreed to breathe new life into the School Centred Initial Teacher Training Scheme, and establish themselves as "beacon" schools with an emphasis on literacy and numeracy.

They will be expected to develop and promote the best of current teaching methods and could be called on to help train headteachers.

The beacon initiative almost collapsed when big business failed to contribute the planned #163;1 million start-up costs. But now a scaled-down version will be funded by a London trust and, almost certainly, the Department for Education and Employment. Mr Woodhead is understood to have played a key role in helping to rescue it.

Although set up jointly with the Teacher Training Agency, the scheme has become linked with Mr Woodhead's personal drive for a concentration on classroom basics.

This raises a potential conflict of interest as it is Mr Woodhead's Office for Standards in Education which will be expected to police the scheme.

The TTA made no comment this week, but is known to be deeply unhappy about the development, which trespasses on its territory. Mr Woodhead is keen to influence primary teaching methods and had a substantial influence on the national curriculum for trainee teachers.

It will be read as a further attack from the chief inspector on university teacher-training departments, which he regards as too theoretical and tainted by outdated methods.

In an interview with The TES (page 6) this week, Mr Woodhead said that beacon schools would help keep teachers at the cutting edge of successful educational practice. They could also be an ideal location for inservice training, including preparation for headship.

Schools taking part have been assured the scheme will go ahead despite the financial uncertaint y.

Jim Hudson, head of Two Mile Ash school in Milton Keynes and chairman of the beacon schools' steering committee, said the network is designed to raise standards and the quality of recruits to the profession.

"The quality of trainees coming out of teacher-training colleges is a big issue, " he said. "The courses are specifically geared up to teaching literacy and numeracy. That's the key part of the course."

The initiative kicks off formally in September and adverts for the first 110 recruits will go in the national press on February 20. All the schools taking part have been identified as "outstanding" by Ofsted. They will get both the budget - #163;3,400 per student - and the final responsibility for the training, which will run with help from Nottingham University's education department.

Under the SCITT model, students spend four days out of five in the classroom.

It was hoped that Business in the Community, which has Prince Charles as its president, would raise #163;1 million start-up costs from private industry. This would have covered substantial new computer systems in the schools.

This has proved impossible, said the charity this week. Instead the scheme will be paid for with #163;50,000 from the Basil Samuel Charitable Trust based in London, and - it is expected - #163;80,000 of government money.

The beacon initiative started last year when 250 leading primary heads were invited to Highgrove, Prince Charles's home along with Mr Woodhead, Education Secretary David Blunkett and school standards minister Stephen Byers.

They were asked to take part in the school centred training scheme - as models of excellence.

The Office for Standards in Education said the scheme is being launched with the cooperation of the TTA.

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