We feel it is only fair that we have the opportunity to put into context the points made regarding the Office for Standards in Education report on the North Bedfordshire schools centred initial teacher training consortium ("Initial training course slated", TES, February 20).
First, the report, which we were warned would be a "grim read", does not reflect the positive and supportive relationships developed with the inspectors, who made us aware of the challenge inspection poses for a new provider - any new provider - and who acknowledged that the criteria they had to use took no special account of the SCITT approach.
It is significant that consortium staff have been invited to speak to an OFSTED conference and to serve on a Teacher Training Agency focus group,to make the case for SCITT provision to a wider audience. Furthermore, careful reading of the report illustrates OFSTED's recognition of the consortium's circumstances last year and of practice that was good, neither of which was reflected in your coverage.
The explicit purpose of such early inspections is to ensure that the new providers are supported in gaining a clear awareness of what still needs to be put in place to meet the high standards we all agree trainers of new teachers should meet. What new provider would not still have an agenda for improvement after only six months of existence? The real issue is whether these first formative inspections should be published, vulnerable as they are to being exploited to criticise unfairly a powerful and much-needed route to training quality teachers.
The shortcomings outlined in the report, far from leaving us despondent, have encouraged us in our desire to train teachers in schools. The consortium continues to demonstrate good practice; last year's cohort was successful in gaining employment, in competition with trainees from other providers, and we feel confident that this year will see enhanced success. The report confirmed our own views on development needs, and changes put in place by the beginning of our second year of operation have already been favourably viewed by this year's OFSTED team.
More generally, we would argue that the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers has to recognise that some trainees prefer the school-centred approach to training, and that, for others, it offers the only route into the profession and that the quality of our training does not suffer at all in comparison with our experience of teacher training in partnership with higher education.
At a time when recruitment to the profession is difficult, it is right that a variety of training should be available and that it should be inspected rigorously, but with regard to the essential differences between school-centred and HE models. We remain committed to the principle of SCITT and share the OFSTED team's optimism that the consortium's provision will be successful in meeting their criteria in this year's inspection.
F J BIRKETT, D W GOODE, M THOMPSON
Co-ordinators North Bedfordshire SCITT Consortium Sharnbrook Upper School Bedfordshire