Curriculum vitals

6th September 1996 at 01:00
As the Government and its agencies devise a national curriculum for teacher training Lucy Hodges asks the experts what it should include. Our survey found relatively little interest in the so-called "trendy" issues of child development, psychology and the theory of how children learn.

Replies revealed disparate concerns. Parent representatives were keen to have teachers taught how to handle parents - and there was a general consensus that trainees needed help with teaching reading, writing and mathematics.

Dr Sheila Lawlor, right-wing scourge of the education establishment, opposes any teacher training curriculum. In contrast, shadow education secretary David Blunkett favours the traditional diet of classroom management, discipline and teaching the basics.

* Margaret Morrissey, who chairs the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, believes primary school teachers need training to deal with parents. "The Government is beginning to ask us to play a larger role within school in our children's education but what we're finding is that, although many teachers are keen to do that, they have never had any training to work with adults," she says.

When a mum volunteers to work in the classroom, it helps if the teacher has some idea what the helper is to do. Training needs to include such elements, she says.

* Catherine Hinds, parent governor of Great Kingshill Primary in Buckinghamshire and a lay inspector, believes it is important for teachers to know how to motivate individuals and to become role models. She works with students at a teacher training college and stresses positive attitudes. "For some of them it's an eye-opener," she says. "I am astonished by how excited they appear to get when I mention the importance of enthusiasm, self-confidence and consistency."

She would also like to see more attention on teaching trainee teachers how to relate to parents.

* John Botham, head of Greenwood Junior School, Nottingham, believes the practicalities of teaching should be stressed more - the techniques of teaching children to read rather than how children learn to read. More attention should to be paid to control and motivational techniques. "I would prefer a consistent standard across the country with strong guidelines for what trainee teachers should learn," he says. "At the moment there is a good deal of inconsistency. "

Teachers need a greater awareness of how to deal with parents, he thinks. "We have to have a way of engaging better with parents."

* Professor Ted Wragg, of Exeter University, warns that over-prescription leads to rigidity. He does not believe the Government should specify the number of hours trainees should spend on tasks, nor does he think trainees should be told to devote a given amount of time to whole-class teaching and to group or individual work. That would turn the clock back to Dickensian times and overload the curriculum. He is in favour of a 5050 split in teaching practice and classroom learning. He wants trainees to be taught some specialist subject matter. "But they need to understand the principles upon which some of this is grounded," he says.

He says the core skills for any primary teacher include classroom management, organisation of children into groups and evaluation of your own teaching. The most important skill is explaining. "That is the skill most valued by children," he says.

* Hugh Davies Jones, headmaster of St Andrew's School and chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools, says trainee primary teachers need anti-panic measures rather than educational philosophy. "If newly-trained teachers were starting in a prep school, I would expect them to have received practical advice, not just theory, on motivating children, controlling a class and balancing co-operation and competition in the classroom," he says.

"Although they should have learnt about effective teaching strategies for different subjects, I would expect them to be especially confident in their knowledge of how best to teach reading and numbers." Trainees should also be taught classroom organisation, planning and management, he says. They need to be able to explain to pupils what is expected of them. They should know how to use resources and how to end a class, ensuring that all materials are tidied up and children dismissed in an orderly fashion.

* David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, says a national curriculum for teachers is a good political buzz-phrase but does not describe the reforms teacher training needs. "It smacks too much of an assault on teaching methods and an attempt by Government to impose solutions by dictat."

He says that lecturers in teacher training institutions should have essential practical experience in schools. Theory should be related to practice so that trainees are taught to use the methods that work. Institutions should preach the doctrine of high expectations for pupils and high levels of achievement by teachers. New entrants should be able to manage classes in a system where poor behaviour and disruption have reached unprecedented levels. Training colleges should ensure that students understand what it means to teach in an education world influenced by performance measures and governor and parental expectations.

* David Blunkett thinks that first, teachers must learn how to manage a class. Where appropriate this should include the use of interactive whole-class teaching or grouping by subject ability. Teachers should be taught how to maintain discipline. They should impart the basics in numeracy and literacy. Phonics should be a vital part of reading programmes for younger children. Teachers should also be able to use new technology.

He adds: "We must consider introducing a final year before qualification in which to assess whether a student is suited to teaching or not."

* Sheila Lawlor, founder of the right-wing think-tank Politeia, is sceptical about a national curriculum for teacher training. "What teachers need above all is a knowledge and love of the subjects they will teach," she says. "They are no more likely to master their subjects from an official blueprint, than they are from the education theorists and sociologists currently responsible for teacher training."

She says teacher education should be moved from university education departments to subject departments in universities. "Here young teachers could study their subjects under proper subject specialists - historians, mathematicians, geographers - for two or three years to whatever standard is necessary for their teaching primary or secondary school."

She says this would mean standards would be measured fairly and efficiently by examinations, set and marked by the subject departments which would prepare the courses for teachers.

* Professor Michael Barber, dean of the new initiatives programme at London University Institute of Education, says the challenge for any one-year post graduate certificate in education course is how to squeeze important knowledge and understanding into such a short time. Of the 36 weeks, two-thirds are spent in school. "This must be right since new teachers point out what they need is practical know-how."

The focus of initial teacher education should be on teaching student teachers the main strategies they are likely to need. For primary teachers, this means learning how to teach reading, writing and number, he says. "It is not enough to rely on schools to teach this since many practising teachers say they themselves are not as up-to-date as they would like to be on what works. "

* David Bell, chief education officer, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and a former primary deputy head, believes a national curriculum should focus on a range of core competencies which newly qualified teachers should be expected to exhibit. It should include classroom management skills such as planning lessons, organising a room, maintaining order and promoting good discipline; meeting the needs of different abilities; and team skills which should include being part of a staff team, exercising curriculum leadership, dealing with parents and supporting the work of other adults in school.

"Although a degree of prescription in content is important, the curriculum should focus on the learning outcomes of students," he says. "It has taken us almost eight years to get to this point with the national curriculum for schools. We can hardly afford to make the same mistake again with the teachers of tomorrow."

* Cynthia Thumwood, head of Hanover Primary in Islington, north London, thinks teachers should be trained to help children develop their potential and become autonomous learners. They should also be trained to help children develop qualities of character and attitudes to life, which will enable them to be thinking and questioning adults. Teachers need a thorough knowledge of the national curriculum and assessment, and the ability to understand a spiral curriculum framework and schemes of work.

* Professor David Reynolds of Newcastle University, thinks the key change is for teachers to be given the "technology". This would be a teaching theory and practice requirement covering teacher effectiveness, the quality of instruction, appropriateness of knowledge, use of incentives and time management. They would also learn about grouping children - taking the whole class and children in groups - as well as assessment and value-added issues, what makes a successful school, school improvement and innovatory programmes such as Reading Recovery.

The aim is to give all teachers a base for development, and reduce "the present worrying variation between teachers".

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