Have important opportunities for management and in-service training been axed? Phil Revell on funding changes fro staff development
In-service and management training opportunities in higher education could be reduced or disappear altogether in some areas as a result of funding changes by the Teacher Training Agency. The Open University, which has lost almost pound;1,500,000, is just one of 36 higher education institutions to lose out in the new arrangements announced for teachers' professional development.
OU pro-vice chancellor Geoff Peters reacted to with "astonishment and regret" at the decision.
In many universities higher education degrees for teachers will no longer be viable and some departments could close leaving teachers with no locally available options for higher education.
But Anthea Millett, chief executive at the TTA, robustly defended the new funding arrangement. "Our new funding methodology puts the interest of teachers and pupils foremost," she said. "The days of providers getting INSET funds simply because they had them in the past are over."
The decision reflects a change in the way that money for professional development is allocated. Last year the TTA and the Higher Education Funding Council conducted a survey of courses to discover which were aimed primarily at teachers. It was agreed that the TTA would be responsible for funding those courses and monies were divided up accordingly.
The TTA then invited bids from universities. Previously funds had been distributed on the basis of a formula. One aspect of the process which has caused universities some grief is its all-or-nothing nature. Institutions have been shocked to find that their entire provision for professional development work has been cut.
The agency, which has had a uneasy relationship with many universities, had been trying to develop a "new consensus" about the best way to approach the funding of in-service work, but the latest funding decisions have been greeted with dismay by winners and losers alike.
John Bull, vice chancellor of Plymouth, has written to Anthea Millett to express "a sense of disbelief and outrage". He argues that the decisions have been taken in an information vacuum.
"They've removed about 50 per cent of the providers," he told The TES. "But neither Ofsted nor the TTA have reviewed the quality of provision."
Professor Bull also makes the point that initial teacher training and professional development for existing teachers run side by side in many institutions. He argues that there is considerable synergy between the two. "These cuts will impoverish initial teacher training because links with schools and teachers will be reduced. Staff losses in the HE institutions affected will damage ITT courses. Overall the process will destabilise existing providers."
Outside the HE sector reaction was more considered. In Liverpool all three HE institutions bid unsuccessfully, but principal adviser Anne McArdle's first reaction was, "Dare I say it, but it levels the playing field."
Liverpool, like many other local education authorities offers professional development courses of its own and Ann McArdle sees HE courses as competition.
She did concede that the total loss of higher education facilities could have implications for the accreditation of courses and was concerned that the initial teacher training offered by the three institutions would be affected.
The geographical distribution of the remaining courses is also causing alarm. Some areas of the country, notably east London and the south coast have benefited from increases, but others seem to have been left in a vacuum. From Gloucester north to Lancaster along the Welsh border there is now no higher education for teachers. Worcester College, Wolverhampton University, Chester College, Staffordshire University and the three Liverpool institutions have all lost funding.
Clive Wilkinson, principal inspector with Worcester, was surprised and disappointed by the news that his local provider would soon not be able to offer courses. "We have an existing relationship with the college," he said.
"Relationships are good, we share some staff and premises."
Mr Wilkinson felt that teachers in the area would probably not be able to sign up with more remote alternative institutions. "An entitlement to lifelong learning is being axed."
This point was taken up by others who pointed out that plumbers, solicitors and personnel managers were able to go to universities to further their professional development and be supported by funds from the Higher Education Funding Council.
"Teachers will be the only professional group not to have this option open to them," said one. "Their freedom to choose is being removed."
The TTA argues that the new funding arrangements follow two years of consultation and that "for the first time monies have been allocated in a transparent way".
Some money has been held back in case there are anomalies in geographical distribution or gaps in provision, but the bidding process is being robustly defended.
"The priorities were long-term school improvement, linked to local needs and supported by research linked to school effectiveness," argued Frankie Sulke, a TTA executive.
"Every single institution selected has a very strong research base. The new system has opened up funding to new providers, areas denied access to funds by the old formula-based system."
Certainly the successful bidders are happy. The College of St Mark and St John in Plymouth had a bid accepted which involves close co-operation with Cornwall education authority. Angela Perlmutter, Cornwall's principal adviser, was "delighted" by the success.
"This bid has identified the things that teachers need in schools," she said. "A lot will take place in Cornwall, which is far more accessible for teachers who realistically couldn't travel to Plymouth."