The Teacher Training Agency has become the target of misguided attacks, writes Roy Pryke
Whoever is Secretary of State for Education and Employment after next week's election will find on their desk a multitude of competing priorities. There will be a clamour of advice from numerous interested bodies about how to tackle them.
Many of the education priorities have been obvious for a long time, including the need for a coherent approach to early years provision, reordering of 16-19 education, including qualifications, and the need to reform higher education funding in the light of whatever Sir Ron's latest review group proposes.
There is another priority that has been too much in the shadows but which, I predict, will emerge as one of the hottest potatoes of the next 10 years. It is, the supply, education and training of teachers - both pre-service and in-service.
Is there anything more vital for the teaching profession and for the achievements of pupils? We have seen a great deal of curriculum and organisational reform during my 30 years in education, but the need to ensure a continuing supply of high-quality new teachers and to offer the right diet of initial training and continuing professional development has for too long had to play Cinderella.
As educationists, we should take some of the blame for this. Concentrated efforts a couple of decades ago would have meant that the teacher training ship was in good order for the next millennium. But hindsight is easy and the point of power is in the present. What direction should the profession be pushing in now, starting from where we are and not from where we might be?
First, let us focus on the current forces for good and the problems we need to remedy.
Over the past two years, I have been watching with quiet admiration the way in which the Teacher Training Agency, so ably led by Anthea Millett, has been identifying the key issues in supply and training and working closely with professionals to try to tackle them.
The TTA's staff have shown clear vision in wanting to establish and maintain high standards of teaching and training. They have stressed at every turn that the goal is always high standards of learning in the classroom. They have also seen the value of collaboration and partnership as one means to that end.
In particular, they have asserted the value of working closely with local education authorities, at a time when our star has been obscured. How wise of them! And they have done all of this in a spirit of wanting to move forward with the teaching profession rather than indulging in the blame and shame culture that others seem to enjoy.
I was, therefore, surprised to see the TTA's proposals for a new initial teacher training curriculum and qualified teacher status standards derided by Richard Daugherty (TES, April 11). He may be right to question the proposed speed of implementation needed to meet the deadlines. The TTA can be as exasperating as other bodies in presenting us with new initiatives, fat documents and an implementation timetable that would leave Superman breathless. Is there, however, any parent who can look at the new qualified teacher standards and say they do not want teachers who can do all these things?
Let us not dismiss a quality product when we see it, especially when it has benefited from the input of education professionals even before consultation. If only this was the way all policymakers operated, we might really make some progress in education.
The education service must not waste another important opportunity to take the teaching profession forward, mistaking allies for enemies. I know that the higher education sector finds it hard to reconcile itself to the fact the TTA is now a paymaster where teacher training is concerned, and also the guardian of standards. But which high-quality providers have actually suffered as a result of the establishment of the TTA? And whatever happened to higher education's mission to look at issues dispassionately and without self-interest?
More and more of the school teachers and headteachers I meet are welcoming the TTA's proposed framework of professional standards and qualifications. So far, we have seen the standards for qualified teachers, subject leaders and experienced teachers, and the proposals for the first-ever National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH), which aspiring headteachers will be able to embark on from the autumn. Other work in hand concerns special educational needs co-ordinators and expert teachers.
There are potential elephant traps with all this activity but also great potential benefits. It could do so much to improve the standing and self-esteem of our hard-working and high-quality teachers. We must work with the TTA to get all of this right, not snipe from the sidelines.
Like or loathe the name, the expert teacher concept is important and good. For too long we have appeared to value those who leave the classroom above those who want to develop their expertise inside it. The TTA's emphasis on pedagogy and encouraging all teachers to take responsibility for their professional development is essential.
What professional cannot also applaud the TTA's work to promote teaching as a research-based profession, and their call for a research focus that is designed to help teachers rather than other researchers?
The NPQH is another potential jewel in the profession's crown and is attracting high-calibre candidates. LEAs have a big stake in making it a success, whether or not they are directly involved in regional training or assessment consortia. High-quality leadership is at the heart of school improvement and school effectiveness. This headship qualification, and the TTA's other programmes for new and established headteachers, are meeting long-neglected needs.
We must encourage the TTA in all this work. The pace of change may be fierce but it is also necessary. Other important areas, such as information and communications technology for new and serving teachers, are among the TTA's next set of priorities.
Many of us want to see a general teaching council. That could do so much to speak for the profession and represent its professional interests, partly through establishing a register of teachers, which in practice must involve barring those guilty of misconduct.
Doug McAvoy, however, was surely right (TES, 28 February) to see a general teaching council and TTA working together, rather than merging. The TTA has shown the value of a strategic body, covering supply, initial teacher training and induction, and continuing professional development and research, that is not owned by the professional associations, higher education, LEAs or government, but which has the wit to see that it must carry all of them with it. We cannot afford to dismiss this lightly.
If we are to succeed as a nation, and compete effectively with other leading economies, we cannot afford to shirk our responsibilities. To Professor Daugherty and others, I must say that shouting defensively from the sidelines and launching misguided attacks are not what we need. Our children's futures are too important to be put at risk in this way. Only through informed and constructive discussion about the future direction of education in this country will we make progress. I hope that such a discussion will soon begin.
Roy Pryke is chairman of the Association of Chief Education Officers and chief education officer for Kent