Prepare for the primary polymaths

4th July 1997 at 01:00
Erasmus was said to be the last scholar who knew absolutely everything worth knowing in the academic world. But some will wonder whether even a polymath of his calibre could master the mile-long list of competences that will be required from new primary teachers in future (see TES2, page 20).

Daunting? It certainly appears so at first sight. But then Anthea Millett, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, has said that in future she wants teachers to be five steps ahead of their pupils - rather than just one. And once student teachers and their trainers find time to scrutinise the core skills, understanding and knowledge that will be required, they may discover that the list is less intimidating than they thought.

Nevertheless, the TTA should not expect any "thank you" letters from the teacher-training institutions, which are still smarting from last week's put-down from Ms Millett. "Teachers have been let down by too many of their teacher-trainers," she told readers of The Times. Some of the TTA's equally outspoken critics resent what they perceive as an attempt to "clone" teachers. Professor Ted Wragg has suggested that if government gets its way, all teachers - male or female - will soon be called Desmond and be made to wear the same clothes.

Such reactions are understandable. But then many English teacher-educators are remarkably sanguine about the new curriculum. Colleges have become almost inured to centralist interference, since the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education was established in 1984.

In any case, they know that the profession invariably manages to knock the awkward edges off government directives sooner or later. Some teacher-educators also acknowledge that the TTA did offer something close to real consultations this time; they see the decision to postpone the introduction of the English and maths curriculum to September 1998 as an indication that some of their anxieties were considered.

Even so, last week's developments have left the colleges with several serious questions to mull over. How can all this ground be covered in a 38-week PGCE course or the one-term super-fast-track courses for mature students that the Government is about to announce (see page 1)? Can an even heavier emphasis be placed on English and maths without neglecting the foundation subjects? Will the colleges' partner schools take one look at the increased workload and abruptly terminate their involvement with training? How will the initiatives remedy the two big deficiencies in initial training that many teachers identify - the paucity of advice on how to deal with children's behavioural problems and the failure to prepare them for any sort of real partnership with parents?

There is one other question that is slightly more frivolous but even more intriguing: whatever happened to Labour's plans to shift responsibility for initial teacher training from the government to the profession itself? Loyal readers who take The TES throughout the dog days of summer may recall that we reported last August that a Labour policy document on teacher training - arguing against "Stalinist" centralism - had been drawn up by West Lancashire MP Colin Pickthall.

The document was close to being adopted, Mr Pickthall said. It only had to pass through "the final political filter". Another four famous-last-words to add to the collection ...

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