At a stroke, the Severn grows wider

28th May 2004 at 01:00
New regulations hit schools and colleges on both sides

Welsh students who crossed the Severn to train as teachers on English soil this year have fallen victim to new bureaucracy. Some fear it could have long-term consequences for recruitment in Welsh schools.

The cause? The Education (School Teachers' Qualifications) (England) Regulations 2003 which state that those completing an initial teacher training course accredited in England must do their practical teaching experience "wholly or mainly in England".

For teacher training providers such as Bristol University, this was a bolt from the blue. The university's graduate school of education has long attracted Welsh trainee teachers and has long-standing partnerships with schools in South Wales. Malcolm Lewis, PGCE partnership co-ordinator at Bristol, is still dealing with the fall-out from the Department for Education and Skills ruling, which came into force last August. Contracts had already been signed for this year's students to spend their teaching practice in Welsh schools. The change particularly hit those students taking the PGCE course who live in South Wales.

"Some of them were told they could expect most of their school experience to be in Welsh schools, which was convenient for them domestically," he says. "Then the regulation came and we had to look at that again. We've had to ensure that no student spends more than half the time in a Welsh school, and that's meant re-jigging a lot of arrangements that were already in place."

After the University of Bristol and neighbouring University of the West of England protested to ministers, the Teacher Training Agency stepped in and provided temporary funding to help students facing extra costs through alternative placements.

But the longer term effects concern Mr Lewis. "Welsh schools have had to realise that they might not be as fully involved in hosting our students as they have in the past. I fear that the long-term impact will be to marginalise some of the schools we have worked with for many years."

Last year, the General Teaching Council for Wales published an action plan on teacher recruitment, which included measures to tackle a shortage of secondary teachers in certain subjects. More than one-third of teachers and nearly two-thirds of heads in Wales will reach retirement age in the next decade.

Angus Dunphy, head of Fitzalan high school in Cardiff, worries that the new regulation has distorted the job market, and that Welsh schools near the English border will lose a good source of new teachers. He believes the change has tipped the balance towards those training in Wales.

"While that isn't a good or a bad thing, schools need to be able to trawl for the best," he says. "The free flow of teachers benefits England and Wales and allows a person to develop their career."

Fitzalan has traditionally taken trainee teachers from the University of the West of England for placements, particularly in subjects such as business studies. In booming Cardiff, business studies has become a popular choice for pupils and is a strength of the school.

The new regulations have also hit those students taking PGCE via distance learning with the Open University. Its spokesman said the new English regulation meant the Welsh Assembly had to rush though legislation to allow its existing students training in Welsh schools to gain qualified teacher status.

The OU has now asked the Assembly to look at its case and allow it to become an accredited teacher training provider in Wales. But until that happens, its PGCE course is no longer available in Wales, unless students are prepared to travel to England to do their school experience - which for some in rural Pembrokeshire would give distance learning a whole new meaning.

The General Teaching Council for Wales, which awards qualified teacher status to those who qualify in Wales, said the impact of the new regulation on Welsh schools needs to be monitored. "A key concern is to maintain the equivalence and transportability of teaching qualifications across the UK," said the council's acting chief executive Hayden Llewellyn. "To that end, the UK's four general teaching councils intend jointly to examine the mutual recognition of teaching qualifications over the next year."

There has been concern over what would happen if Wales retaliated. However, the Welsh Assembly has announced that, after consultation, students on initial teacher training courses in Wales will not have to take placements "wholly or mainly" in Wales.

"Qualified teacher status in Wales and England remain of equal standing," said a spokesperson. "The changes in the 2003 regulations in England will not prevent students who gain QTS at Welsh-accredited institutions from being able to teach in England and elsewhere as well as in Wales. Nor will they prevent students who gain QTS at English-accredited institutions from being able to teach in Wales and elsewhere as well as in England."

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