HMIs clash with Woodhead

5th July 1996 at 01:00
Primary trainee teachers do not rely on outdated methods says leaked draft. Josephine Gardiner reports. An unpublished report from the Office for Standards in Education heaps praise on primary teacher training and contradicts the idea that universities and colleges are peddling outdated progressive methods.

The draft report, a copy of which has been leaked to The TES, seriously undermines the Government's rationale for the reform of teacher training.

It summarises inspections of 44 out of the 67 institutions engaged in primary teacher training. The inspectors indicate in the report that inspections from the remaining 23 are likely to confirm the thrust of the report.

Recent criticisms of teachers' ability to teach reading, particularly in the wake of the damning OFSTED report on literacy in inner London in May, prompted Education Secretary Gillian Shephard to order a drastic overhaul of teacher training and the imposition of a "national curriculum" for student teachers.

Last week, 16 HM inspectors on the OFSTED teacher-training team had a furious meeting with Chris Woodhead. The chief inspector apparently confirmed that primary training would be re-inspected because he was unsatisfied with the rosy reports and wanted a tighter focus on reading and numeracy. The HMIs regard this as a slur on their professionalism.

OFSTED has confirmed that this re-inspection could include courses given top marks as well as the more mediocre.

In the draft report, the inspectors say they found that the quality of the training to teach English is "good or very good in over half of the 44 courses inspected. They also found that: "Almost without exception, courses train students to teach phonics as well as other approaches . . . students often plan explicitly for the development of phonic and other 'word-attack' skills. " Teachers' supposed unfamiliarity with phonics was remarked upon in the report on literacy in the three boroughs, and the teacher-training curriculum currently being designed by the Teacher Training Agency will explicitly emphasise phonics.

The inspectors found that courses are concentrating heavily on the teaching of reading and writing, occasionally even to the detriment of the third attainment target, speaking and listening.

Also significant is the inspectors' finding that:"Almost without exception, students demonstrate their ability to teach whole-classes and to support working groups and individuals . . . the vast majority operate authoritatively and confidently in the classroom ."

On a recent Panorama programme, the chief inspector advocated a return to traditional whole-class teaching methods, pointing to Taiwanese schools to illustrate how well it works.

OFSTED is due to hold a press conference next week in which parts of the report will be presented, before the final version is published in the autumn. The draft leaked to The TES is accompanied by a memo from an inspector stressing that it is just a draft and that "the final report will be differently organised and presented".

When the report on standards of literacy in Tower Hamlets, Islington and Southwark was published by OFSTED, the three boroughs claimed that it had been drastically rewritten, highlighting the most negative findings and omitting mitigating factors such as social deprivation and the high proportion of pupils for whom English was a second language.

The inspectors' findings on maths are slightly less glowing, but the overall standard of training in this area was nevertheless "good or very good" in 56 per cent of courses and "sound" in 39 per cent. Five per cent were unsatisfactory. "Few students teach unsatisfactory lessons," say the inspectors, "but some early-years students lack confidence in their knowledge of maths at key stage 2."

The inspectors also looked at students' ability to assess children's work, and the course tutors' quality assurance arrangements. More than half the courses provided "good or very good" training in assessment. There were shortcomings in teaching planning in a "significant minority". Quality assurance was the weakest aspect of all courses, with much more variation in standards.

Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, said: "This is good news and confirms that teacher training is of a generally high standard in this country. It also calls into question Chris Woodhead's desire to send in the inspectors yet again."

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