The Government has postponed a plan to increase the amount of time trainee teachers spend on placements in primary schools, amid warnings that the teaching of phonics could be damaged if the plan is implemented.
The Department for Education announced in March that it wanted to increase the time that postgraduate primary trainees spend in schools from 18 to 24 weeks from September. It has now delayed the change until August 2013, after universities warned that they would not have enough time to consult schools or redesign courses.
James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, welcomed the postponement but warned that the plan still risked undermining the teaching of phonics, as schools would struggle to deliver the consistent, high-quality training available in universities.
Considerable work has been done by teacher training providers on phonics over the past five years, he said. Universities could get a single message out to schools that might otherwise have "100 different ways of doing things", he said.
"Universities are on top of the phonics agenda and can be used as a way of getting that message into schools. They will still do that, but this could make it more challenging."
Mr Noble Rogers said that the cut in the time primary student teachers spent in universities would also mean less time on other aspects of training, including behaviour and maths.
"Student teachers ought to spend most of their time in schools - there is no doubt about that," Mr Noble Rogers said. "But there could be downsides to this, as well as upsides. You need the school bit, but don't overlook the benefits of having training delivered by the centre."
John Coe, chairman of the National Association for Primary Education, said: "I welcome this postponement because, with the government's emphasis on the core skills such as maths and English running like a thread through the whole of children's learning experience, this will allow trainees more time to learn those skills."
Simon Pratt-Adams, head of education at Anglia Ruskin University, said the line between school and university-based training was becoming blurred. His tutors visit trainees during their school placements and are regularly in contact via email and virtual learning environments. On phonics, Dr Pratt-Adams said: "If we work closely with schools, it is something we can do in partnership."
Mr Noble Rogers also fears that some primaries might not have the capacity to take student teachers for another six weeks from 2013 and could withdraw from initial teacher training as a result. "There will be an issue about the ability of small schools - whether they can or want to take the teachers for the extra time," he said.
A DfE spokeswoman said the increase in school-based training for graduate primary student teachers had been deferred to allow universities and their partner schools to prepare.