Capable of competence

18th August 1995 at 01:00
Sitting by Nelly has its attractions, but there is far more to teaching than you can learn from that particular form of practical experience. This is one of the strongest messages to be found in the first report from the Office for Standards in Education on school-centred initial teacher training.

The scheme under which schools themselves are funded to run training courses, with or without the cooperation of higher education, was launched by former Education Secretary John Patten as part of his drive against "trendy" teacher trainers. The report on its first year's operations gets the treatment reserved for government initiatives that have not fulfilled potential: publication in mid-August.

The inspectors' gloss on the experience in terms of "satisfactory" verdicts and percentages, does not at first compare too unfavourably with the outcome from HE-run courses, but the peak of OFSTED enthusiasm is reached in the conclusion that "SCITT schemes are capable of producing competently trained teachers." High quality was harder to find.

It is when the report gets into the detail of the recruits' classroom experience, especially in their first jobs, that some of the missing ingredients of the training packages show themselves.

Some of the fledgling teachers felt that they had neither been prepared for handling a class of disaffected 15-year-olds, nor given much chance to watch experienced mentors do so, but such restriction of opportunities may be an inevitable consequence of the scheme. The inspectors themselves also commented on gaps in lesson planning, professional development (all the admin, pastoral and contractual items that fall outside the classroom), students' subject knowledge and the recording and assessment of pupils' work Their comments on poor management, lack of quality control and poor library facilities could have been (and were) written in advance by the rebuffed academics.

To be fair this is a report on the first year of a scheme which had (for political reasons) to be put together far too hastily, and which was crawled over by inspectors in a way that no first year of an initial training course has ever been before. And although only one of the six consortia was declared "good" from the start, and two rated "unsatisfactory" at the first hurdle, the conventional teacher training routes through higher education can also produce mixed results.

Most of the student teachers involved have been enthusiastic about their experience,while the schools concerned have often found the infusion of young talent a breath of fresh air, to be balanced against an unlooked-for drain on resources and mentor-time. One of the lessons so far - again perhaps inevitable in a school-centred scheme without the geographical and personnel reach of a university - is that success may depend on the commitment of a very small group of senior staff. If a keen mentor leaves, to be replaced with someone with no taste for the task, you are in trouble.

But the scheme's weakest point has clearly been the technology component, coupled with the involvement of the Smallpeice Trust, which was supposed to inject city technology college know-how into the enterprise. Since the technology curriculum has not yet emerged from a period of prolonged confusion, it is unsurprising that it presents difficulties for teachers, mentors and students, but that may not fully explain failure in such a key area.

School-centred teacher training has got off to a rushed and bumpy start, and, though it is now providing an alternative route into teaching, few now can expect it to be more than a minor route or to displace higher education institutions that seriously want to stay in the business.

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