Universities and colleges agreed at a crisis meeting last week to resist the controversial reinspection of primary teacher training courses by mounting a legal challenge to the inspectorate's right of access to their premises. They also agreed to tell the inspectors in charge of their individual cases that they would be withdrawing any further co-operation until their concerns are satisfactorily addressed by the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, and the Teacher Training Agency.
The reinspection of the 20 institutions on the "hitlist" was ordered by Chris Woodhead in June to provide a sharper focus on English and maths. It is due to start next week.
According to the funding agreement between the TTA and providers of training, inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education must be given access to the premises "at all reasonable times". But the institutions argue that both the timing and the justification for the reinspection is wholly unreasonable given that it will coincide with inspections of secondary subject training and will be conducted under new criteria - which are likely to be superseded when the national curriculum for teacher training comes into force next September.
Six of the 20 institutions have still not received their reports from the first inspection of primary training, which cost the taxpayer Pounds 1 million. Estimates suggest that the reinspection will cost another Pounds 500,000.
The 20 institutions have sent a strongly worded letter to Chris Woodhead, protesting about this and pointing out that the reinspection could damage the already fragile relationship between the universities and the partner schools. They have also demanded clarification on the status of courses that are downgraded as a result of the reinspection. If they are downgraded, and TTA money is lost as a result, the institutions will argue that it would be unjust as other courses have not had to submit to reinspection. They have asked Mr Woodhead to reply by today, and have agreed that if they do not receive a satisfactory answer they will circulate an open letter to the Education Secretary via the national press.
Patricia Ambrose, policy director for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which organised the meeting, said this week: "The reinspection is open to a strong legal challenge. People feel that they are being asked to participate in an exercise whose objectives are far from clear at a particularly awkward time. It is now very likely that a significant number will decide to resist the reinspection."
Ian Kane, chairman of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, suggested that the reinspection of teacher training also involved "a hidden inspection of schools. If inspectors find poor practice in the partner schools, such as the use of a reading scheme they don't approve of, then they will report that to Ofsted's schools team. This could trigger another inspection of the school." This prospect would naturally agitate the school staff.
Meanwhile, the London Institute of Education, which has protested bitterly about being selected for reinspection after receiving the highest possible grades the first time round, has just received the draft copy of its report - 12 weeks late. The report, said a spokeswoman, has proved to be "as overwhelmingly glowing as we had been led to expect".
The Institute is still awaiting legal advice on its position regarding the reinspection. Last week its director, Peter Mortimore, launched an attack on Ofsted by publishing a highly critical report on the inspectorate's investigation into reading standards.