Teacher training leaders have reacted suspiciously to the Government's announcement that their institutions will be subject to inspection, giving HMI a toehold in the universities for the first time. One principal said full school-style inspections would be "regrettable" Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, said he had accepted the recommendation in the Sutherland report, carried out for the Dearing inquiry into higher education, that there should be stronger links between school inspections and the assessment of teacher training.
"There is at present a gap in the system," Mr Wilson stated. "We approve all courses against our guidelines before they start, but we cannot go on to check whether new teachers are being properly prepared for their role in maintaining and raising standards."
The institutions, which are now linked or in the process of being linked to universities, are particularly concerned that the new move will add to "quality assurance fatigue," in the words of Professor Douglas Weir, dean of Strathclyde University's education faculty at Jordanhill.
Professor Weir said he was relaxed about working with HMI but reflected general concern about duplicated effort. "In the concurrent courses which many of us are now running, you will have the higher education quality mechanisms to tell us whether we are teaching history well and HMI telling us whether we are teaching people to teach history well."
The present system for scrutinising teacher training involves a complex array of external powers. The quality assurance exercise carried out to date by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council assesses teaching, the universities validate the "degree-worthiness" of courses, the General Teaching Council accredits courses to ensure they are capable of turning out good teachers, and the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department gives a final stamp of course approval.
"I do not see why there cannot be one system," Professor Weir said.
Ivor Sutherland, the GTC registrar, said the council had been calling for years for the various university, GTC and SOEID controls over teacher training to be "conflated".
The minister said in his statement that he intended to hold discussions with the GTC and others to examine "the scope for reducing unnecessary duplication. " There would also be consultation over the framework for inspection, a decision welcomed by Professor Gordon Kirk, principal of Moray House Institute, who confined his public comment to "disappointment" at the move.
Professor Bart McGettrick, the principal of St Andrew's College, supported any step which would prevent gaps opening up with schools as teacher education moved completely into the university sector. He believed nonetheless that HMI should have an advisory but limited role.
"For their involvement to go further would be regrettable," he added. "If teacher education institutions were to be inspected by looking at the quality of teaching, it would be a waste of everyone's time because that is subject to other mechanisms through SHEFC."
Patricia Lowrie, dean of education at Paisley University's Craigie campus, pointed out that SHEFC's 1995 teaching quality exercise was headed by a member of the inspectorate so there was already HMI "externality".
The change requires legislation which is being effected unusually via a new clause in the Teaching and Higher Education Bill, which deals with tuition fees and was introduced into the House of Lords last week.
The new HMI powers, which reinstate those they had before 1992, will also allow inspections of student placements in schools and of in-service teacher training undertaken by universities.
Comment, page 21