On the job means twice the work

19th May 1995 at 01:00
The Government's shift of responsibility for training teachers towards schools has contributed to serious problems in the system, reports Nicholas Pyke. When in the spring of 1992 Kenneth Clarke announced big changes in the way that teachers would be trained, it was fully understood that the trainers would be upset.

From the autumn of that same year, a portion of responsibility and money was taken out of the university and college departments and given to schools. All graduates wanting to be secondary school teachers would have to spend at least two-thirds of their year-long course in the classroom.

It was not anticipated that the supposed beneficiaries, the schools, would also object. Yet the past 18 months have seen a steady flow of withdrawals by headteachers from training schemes - many of them breaking long-standing arrangements to help their local university.

The heads cite a number of concerns, the principal among them that the difficult business of training new teachers is detracting from the schools' main purpose of teaching children. Harrow, which had been taking part in the scheme run by London University's Institute of Education, is the best known casualty so far.

This is to some extent - although not wholly - a question of money. Universities and colleges have been paying schools about Pounds 1,000 per student and have been shedding staff for their own part. But many headteachers have concluded that this is not enough to compensate for the scale of disruption entailed in the training.

There was an indication of this in last year's study at the University of Warwick which found that the "mentors" - the school staff charged with looking after individual trainees - were so stretched that their "mentoring" was squeezed into lunchtime and break.

According to the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, some higher education courses are now so short of suitable partner schools that they have been obliged to restrict their numbers. Some of the students they do take are sent hundreds of miles to find placements for teaching practice.

The UCET believes this is contributing to the shortage of trainees in shortage subjects. A survey earlier this year showed that of 57 universities, 18 had under-recruited in maths; 21 in modern languages and 15 in science. More than 50 had under-recruited on the BEd. The shortfall can, of course, also be blamed on the shortage of applicants.

The level of interest among schools is at any rate sufficiently low that the new Teacher Training Agency - the funding and regulatory body - is on a declared mission to accentuate the positive. This means persuading schools of the professional benefits likely to accrue from taking part in school-based teacher training.

Change in Scotland has been comparatively cautious. A "mentoring" scheme similar to the 1992 initiative in England will be introduced this autumn on a voluntary basis. But it has run up against damaging opposition from the Scottish unions.

The experimental School Centred Initial Teacher Training scheme has not been introduced north of the border. This involves 15 groups of schools in England which have been allowed to operate as mini teacher training colleges. They receive money direct from the TTA.

The two largest teacher unions in England have recently published studies suggesting widespread dissatisfaction. Primary schools appear the most concerned - institutions which, back in 1991, Her Majesty's Inspectorate had warned were too small for the large-scale commitment envisaged.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers received replies from around 200 schools involved in training. This survey established that payments to schools taking part vary between Pounds 400 per student and Pounds 1,000-plus, sums which the NASUWT said were "nowhere near adequate to recompense schools for assuming the leading role in teacher training". Nearly one in three schools received less than 30 per cent of the funds per student given by the Government to the university or college and there was an effective procedure for monitoring the expenditure on teacher training in only 44 per cent of schools.

More than a third of schools reported that involvement in initial teacher training had led to a worsening of teachers' conditions of service. In four out of 10 schools there was no limit to the overall amount of time that a single class could be saddled with a student and in 60 per cent of schools the teachers were not told how much time they might have to spend training students.

There was still greater dissatisfaction expressed in a paper based on a survey of 110 secondary and 56 primary schools by the University of the West of England and the National Union of Teachers.

Four out of five primary schools felt that the balance of responsibility has swung too much their way. This is also true of 56 per cent of secondary schools and more than a third of colleges and universities.

Secondary teachers said they did not have enough time to look after their trainees while both secondary and primary staff felt that training took time away from pupils.

The researchers identified a range of payments to schools from Pounds 160 per student to Pounds 2,000. The average was Pounds 1,000 per student in 1993-94 rising to Pounds 1,080 in 1994-95.

At the same time the schools involved did feel there were benefits for their staff, who were led to think about their own methods more closely. A gleam of optimism, and one the TTA will not put to waste.

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