Training agency slow to win hearts and minds

14th February 1997 at 00:00
Anthea Millett's "voice of reason" (TES, January 31) changed its tone for one all-too-revealing moment to demonstrate what I believe lies at the root of the unhappy situation currently hampering teacher education: "Once you've got them by the finances, their hearts and minds will follow."

I suggest this is most unlikely. You may bludgeon the training providers to do as you tell them for fear of financial reprisals, but you do not thereby win their hearts. Instead you build up a bitter debt of hostility among those who actually do the work of preparing tomorrow's teachers. Still less their minds, when your strongest argument is brute force. If this is the best the Teacher Training Agency can do in the matter of constructive partnership with the ITT providers, the profession faces a bleak future.

The relationship between these providers (mainly the universities) and the TTA is probably beyond salvage now, having gone from bad to worse over the relatively short time since the TTA started funding the system. Vice-chancellors reportedly look to the heavens in signed despair every time TTA's name is mentioned. Teacher educators, bowed down under the weight of its twice-weekly "consultative" documents, treat the quality of thinking coming from the agency with contempt. And schools are rumoured increasingly to be questioning whether they want anything more to do with a doctrinaire quango which, in so short a time, believes it has found the clue to righting all the wrongs of our education system while the rest of us are still fumbling around in the dark. The ability of the TTA to win hearts and minds is yet to be tested.

What is so disappointing is that it could have been otherwise. A funding agency for this important work could have entered into a partnership with higher education and schools to improve a system which has for too long suffered often damaging and always disruptive change. (The new "national curriculum of teacher training" is a case in point.) The TTA will, of course, claim that it has consulted with the providers (true) and so reached consensus at every step of the way (not true - we who respond have seen few signs that any of the points we raise are taken seriously). You cannot consult intelligently when one side threatens, by removing its funding, to remove from the debate those on the other who do not agree with its position.

Imagine a situation in which the TTA and its bellicose watchdog, the Office for Standards in Education, had shown just a little respect for those with whom they found themselves engaged. Contentious as was the establishment of the TTA, prising the education of teachers away from all other higher education provision (contrary to the same Government's earlier policy of moving it more securely into the HE mainstream), nonetheless it did give the education and training of teachers its own funding line in the public expenditure round.

It might have become a powerful banner around which all those engaged in preparing new teachers could have mustered in propounding the case for better methods and adequate resources. Instead, the doubts raised at its inception (of another unelected group fronting the policies of an ideologically-driven Government) have proved all too substantial.

Better sense will have to prevail if we are to bring talented men and women into the teaching profession and offer them a career which satisfies their demands for decent standards of reward and high levels of intellectual satisfaction. The kind of reductionist, tick-box, do-as-you're-told approach imposed by the TTA and OFSTED is moving us in quite the opposite direction.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL NEWBY Dean of the Faculty of Arts Education University of Plymouth Douglas Avenue Exmouth, Devon

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