Proof of the pudding is in the teachers
Teacher-trainers improved their courses last year but the entry qualifications of their students remained largely unchanged, according to the latest statistical report from the Teacher Training Agency.
The ethnic and gender profile of students also changed little in 1999-2000, despite government targets aimed at increasing the number of black and Asian teachers and male primary teachers.
Only the quality of courses showed steady improvement, judging by the initial teacher-training performance "profiles" published by the TTA. Fewer of the 113 providers were on the borderline "D" rating and more were ranked "very good" by inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education.
Professor Alistair Ross, of North London University, who has conducted his own analysis of the TTA data, draws a different picture of training providers - by taking into account the type of students and success rate for producing working teachers. He says those institutions rated most highly by OFSTED are often not the ones that meet TTA demands for a racial and gender balance in teaching.
The TTA's new report shows that the numbers going into teacher training in 1999-00 - the year covered by the 2001 profiles - were down on the previous year, from 26,199 to 25,432. This year's (2000-01) recruitment figures looked like going the same way until ministers announced the introduction of pound;6,000 training salaries in March 2000. They claim that, as a result, recruitment rose for the first time in eight years last autumn, to around 28,000.
In 1999-00, the only incentive was the newly-introduced pound;5,000 "golden hellos" for students training in the secondary shortage areas of maths and science. It seemed to have some impact, with trainee numbers up by 217 (21 per cent) and 95 (5 per cent) respectively on the 1998-99 figures. Information technology was also up 19 per cent, but modern foreign languages and English - all now shortage subjects eligible for the latest "hellos" - were down 11 and 9 per cent.
However, the entry qualifications of those accepted on to maths and science courses showed little improvement, despite the larger pool of applications from which providers could choose candidates. The percentage of postgraduate maths trainees with 2:1 or first-class degrees was down slightly on the previous year, from 37 to 36 per cent, but up for science, from 42 to 44 per cent.
Overall, the proportion of undergraduate students starting primary training with at least 20 points at A-level (equivalent to a B and two C grades) was down slightly, from 19 to 18 per cent. Slightly more secondary postgraduate trainees (48 rather than 47 per cent) had 2:1 or first-class degrees.
Gender and ethnic origin
The number of men entering training barely changed, with 13 per cent and 37.6 per cent starting primary and secondary courses respectively. The TTA has a target of ensuring that 15 per cent of primary trainees are men by 2002-03.
An extra 71 minority-ethnic students were recruited in 1999 compared to the previous year. The increase, from 1,599 to 1,668, meant they made up nearly 6 per cent of primary and 7.5 per cent of secondary trainees. The biggest increase was among Asian students in primary training - up 15.7 per cent, says Professor Ross.
The TTA's target is to increase minority-ethnic recruitment overall to 7.5 per cent by 2000-01 and 9 per cent by 2005-06. Around 14 per cent of all university students and around 12 per cent of pupils are from minority communities.
Variations in quality
Professor Alan Smithers, of Liverpool University, said: "There has been little change over the four years these profiles have been coming out, in terms of the proportion of men, students' entry qualifications, and the proportion recruited from ethnic-minority backgrounds. But there is improvement in the basic inspection grades."
The problem is that providers are not able to select trainees because of the limited number of applicants wanting to join the profession, he said.
He also noted huge variation in the quality of entrants to different courses. At Homerton College, Cambridge, 67 per cent of primary trainees had at least 20 A-level points and only 3 per cent had access qualifications. At Derby, the equivalent figures were 5 per cent and 36 per cent respectively. Both managed to attract an above-average number of male primary trainees (14-15 per cent), but ethnic-minority students made up only 2 per cent of the Homerton cohort compared with 12 per cent of Derby's.
Professor Smithers added: "Institutions like North London, East London, and Huddersfield, which by and large have very low entry qualifications, would say this is because they are targeting ethnic-minority recruits, who often don't have traditional qualifications. But it does reflect demand for places."
However, a value-added analysis of the tables turns them on their head - and puts North London above Homerton, according to Professor Ross (see tables,above).
There is a weak correlation between entry standards and output, he notes. But ranking college providers according to student entry standards, the number of trainees qualifying, and those who go on to teach, puts his own institution at the top of the primary school list, with Homerton 61st. Greenwich tops the secondary school value-added table.
North London also tops the primary table when he ranks institutions according to how much they contribute to TTA targets on gender, race, and meeting regional demand for teachers. Homerton College comes 16th. London University's Institute of Education tops the secondary table, with Cambridge 11th and Oxford 31st.
Perversely, the institutions rated the best by OFSTED tend to be worse at providing the teachers that are needed most (male, ethnic minority, and in the regions of greatest need), says Professor Ross.
"The key question is not what students have when they come into teacher training, but what they have got when they leave," he said.
See www.canteach.gov.uk for the ITT Performance Profiles 2001. Paper copies will be available in September and can be ordered from the website. Next year's profiles will only be available in electronic format.