Agency shuts training college

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
The closure of La Sainte Union has raised the spectre of more government interference in higher education. The closure of La Sainte Union College, a Catholic teacher training establishment in Hampshire, could lead to a shortage of qualified teachers in the area, the county's chief education officer has warned.

The Teacher Training Agency pulled the plug on LSU last week after a re-inspection by the Office for Standards in Education showed that serious weaknesses had not been put right.

Peter Coles, Hampshire's director of education, said LSU's intake was halved last year after it failed the first inspection. Although the existing students will be shared out between Southampton University, Chichester College of HE and King Alfred's College, Winchester, his appeal to the TTA to restore the original 230 training places has been turned down.

The closure reduces the number of Catholic teacher-training establishments in England and Wales to five and will mean job losses among the 26 academic staff as well as many more support and administration staff. Exact numbers of jobs to go are not yet known. The futures of the principal, Dr Anand Chitnis, and deputy, John Layman, are also unclear.

Mr Layman said: "There will be a few job losses but we are not in a position to say how many. We will try to keep them to a minimum, but we will not be carrying out teacher training directly ourselves so those staff may well be affected."

About half of the courses at LSU are in teacher training. The other degree courses will be delivered by a new Southampton University college on the LSU site. Decisions on a new name for the college, which will open in September, will be made in the next couple of weeks.

The closure is expected to affect Catholic schools in the area, which rely heavily on LSU for staff, although Southampton University has stressed that it is keen to preserve the Catholic dimension.

Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said that the closure set a worrying precedent for government interference in higher education. "This is the only example of a quango, a non-professional body, having the power to take away accreditation from an institute of higher education," she said.

In the case of another failing teacher training college, Charlotte Mason, Lancaster University had intervened before the TTA.

OFSTED found that students' subject knowledge in English and maths was shaky. They also concentrated too narrowly on certain year groups so that they had an inadequate understanding of pupils' progress across the primary age range.

In maths, some students' calculation skills were so poor that they gave "misleading information to pupils". They also needed better guidance in developing assessment systems for pupils.

LSU failed to comply with the TTA's quality criteria in seven areas. The report notes, however, that many improvements were under way at the time of the inspection, and a college spokesman said staff were disappointed that the TTA had not allowed enough time for the improvements to bed down.

Anthea Millett, the TTA's chief executive, stressed that the quality of the training the students received had to be the priority. "The decision to withdraw accreditation is never easy," she said. "But all the evidence in this case, which is not in dispute, left us with no alternative."

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