Funding deal puts teacher training at risk

19th June 2009 at 01:00
Education academics warn of damage to future of science and maths

The quality of science and maths teaching will be severely compromised by sharp cuts in funding for university education departments, senior academics have warned in a letter seen by The TES.

The cuts have also placed the Institute of Education in London in significant financial difficulty. And universities around the country could choose to close their expensive teacher training programmes.

Heads of 13 high-profile education departments have written to Brian Follett, chair of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, to draw his attention to "the adverse consequences for children and young people, quality teacher training and public policy" of the recent funding settlement.

They claim the settlement, which rewarded science departments while penalising the humanities, could still have an adverse effect on science subjects in the long term.

The letter states: "The best-quality science and mathematics teacher training is disproportionately carried out by high-performing education departments in research-intensive universities .

"Reductions in research capacity at research-intensive universities will damage our ability to train the gifted teachers who can bring the latest science into classrooms, and enthuse children to follow careers in (science) subjects."

The letter is signed by heads of education at Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol universities, as well as the director of the Institute of Education, London University's flagship teacher training college.

The funding each department receives is determined by the annual Research Assessment Exercise. This year - the first appraisal of universities' research strengths for seven years - saw significant changes in how funding is distributed.

Education departments in the Russell and 1994 elite groups of universities, along with the Institute of Education, face dramatic funding cuts as a result.

The institute is one of the biggest losers, with funding cut by pound;952,528 for the year 2009-10 - an 11 per cent drop on the previous year.

A spokesman said: "We are facing some serious financial difficulties, and some serious challenges that we need to manage our way through. But that doesn't mean the institute is about to go bust."

The institute has appointed consultants to review its money-making options. These include expanding its remit to include subjects beyond education. It already offers health and social care courses.

An alternative option would be to merge with another London institution; Birkbeck and University College London have been mooted.

The spokesman said: "At this time, we have no preferred way forward. We want to make sure we explore all options in order to make the best choice for the long-term sustainability of our activities."

He added that initial teacher training, which accounts for 10 per cent of the institute's activity and turnover, would not be affected.

But John Howson, of Education Data Surveys, believes other universities will be tempted to drop these loss-making courses. Liverpool University has already stopped training primary teachers.

"I'm surprised more institutions haven't gone that way," he said. "There are a number where the financial situation is not very good. That will impact (on) the extent to which they're prepared to run loss-making units like teacher education.

"The danger is that if the institute goes, other vice-chancellors will say, `Well, in that case we don't need it either.' They're running down an up escalator."

John Bangs, of the NUT teachers' union, said: "The funding allocations for teacher training institutions seem pretty arbitrary. Cuts are happening piecemeal and nibbling round the edges. These institutions have become a poor relation."

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