Teacher-trainers take early shot at OFSTED

Teacher-trainers stole a march on the Office for Standards in Education this week by publishing a report on the quality of primary initial teacher training which shows that it is in good shape. The report is based on OFSTED's own evidence gathered from individual institutions and it contradicts the message repeatedly broadcast by the Government this year that training is fatally infected by outdated trendy ideas.

The report, published by the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers and written by Professor John Furlong of Bristol University and Ian Kane of Manchester Metropolitan University, shows that 72 per cent of institutions were judged good or very good by inspectors, while only 3 per cent were unsatisfactory. The remainder were "sound". The document is based on 50 reports already published and the main findings and grades of another 14. Sixty-seven courses were inspected by OFSTED in all.

The report asks why OFSTED has not yet published its own summary of the primary inspections, and why OFSTED's interim report, though drafted, was never published in the summer. The non-publication has led to speculation that the state of teacher training was inconveniently good, failing to provide a rationale for the Government policy - hence the chief inspector's call for a reinspection.

But an OFSTED spokesman promised on Wednesday that a summary report would be available "before Christmas" and that the delay was simply due to the fact that not all the reports were available their final form.

OFSTED's inspection of primary initial teacher training, which has been going on all year, has generated enormous controversy. After OFSTED highlighted poor standards of literacy in a study of primary schools in inner London in the summer, the finger of blame was pointed at the quality of teacher training, and doubt cast on how well student teachers were being shown how to teach reading.

The chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, then ordered a reinspection of a third of the courses, a decision which provoked anger among the HMIs doing the inspection, who regarded this as a slur on their professionalism, and fury among the universities, many of whom had received good grades the first time around. The Education Secretary then ordered a national curriculum for teacher training (currently being devised) and league tables of courses. The position now is that all primary courses are to be inspected again in 1997.

On the teaching of English, UCET's report says that 41 (65 per cent) courses were judged to be very good or good while 4 (6 per cent) were unsatisfactory and 18 (28 per cent) were considered sound. "One of the strongest areas of current provision is the preparation of students to teach reading," it says. Both Mr Woodhead and the Education Secretary have drawn attention to the need for a greater emphasis on teaching reading through phonics, but UCET's report says that phonics are already "consistently featured", as is whole-class teaching. "Preparation for the teaching of spelling, handwriting and grammar features in almost all courses." Students are less successful in finding appropriate reading matter for fluent readers, and the oral work tends to be neglected in favour of reading and writing.

In maths, 67 per cent of courses were rated good or very good and only 3 per cent (two courses) unsatisfactory. The teaching of number skills at key stage 2 could be improved, and "greater attention paid to the diagnosis of students' initial levels of ability". Very similar pictures emerge in relation to the other two areas inspectors looked at - assessment and quality assurance - though on the latter, a slightly larger number of institutions were rated unsatisfactory (9 per cent).

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