Is teacher training to be purged or promoted? Anthea Millett talks to Josephine Gardiner. According to what paper you read, the Government's latest plan to "recast" teacher training is one of two things. It is either a belated attempt to irradiate the cancer of Sixties-style progressive teaching at its root in the universities, or it is part of Gillian Shephard's strategy to head off the Tory Right by getting tough with the last bastion of the educational establishment.
Anthea Millett, the chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency - which will be the major player in devising the so-called national curriculum for student teachers - is not perhaps the figure one would expect to find leading such a purge. Rather than taking up a flamboyantly punitive position, she prefers to present the Education Secretary's announcement as an affirmation of the TTA's wider campaign to raise the status of teaching by transforming it into a structured profession, making the standards required of all teachers more explicit at every level.
While she admits that the TTA faces a daunting task in attempting to meet the Government's target of increasing the number of secondary teachers by 50 per cent and primary teachers by 34 per cent by 2001, she insists that this does not conflict with the drive to raise the quality of recruits.
"Until we can convince the profession that it is a profession, with appropriate professional qualifications, we shan't attract the quality of people we want. At the moment, there is nothing for teachers that recognises what they are doing or how good they are." The TTA's own research apparently shows that the perceived lack of structure in teaching is a bigger turn-off for potential recruits than the pay.
It is the vagueness of the current specifications for what teachers should be able to do, she suggests, rather than the dominance of any particular ideology or method, that is causing the problems - making teacher-trainers and student teachers uneasy about their abilities, and inspectors unsure what they are supposed to be judging.
The new criteria for teacher training will specify explicitly what student teachers should learn, and how they should be taught to teach it. This, as Ms Millett emphasises, is the crucial difference between the new and old approach: the existing Government circulars on teacher training (992 and 1493) simply describe what a good student ought to look like at the end of the course. In primary teacher training, for instance, circular 1493 says that students should be introduced to "a range of teaching methods I so that they can offer whole-class teaching as well as individual and group work".
"There is a big difference," says Ms Millett, "between saying they should be introduced to a range of methods, and showing them how to use them". But she will not confirm that universities will be told to recommend one method over another, although she says that personally she feels that whole-class teaching is not used enough. "I would hope that students would gain from ITT a good grounding in all the major methods, and more importantly, how to use them, so that qualified teacher status becomes a professional rather than an academic qualification." Mrs Shephard has promised to announce details of the first part of the new curriculum, which will cover primary English and maths, early in September.
Ms Millett dismisses the universities' argument that the reforms violate academic freedom: "If we were saying that on day one, week one, you will teach the following between 9 and 10 in the morning, we might see the point, but it won't be anything like that."
Much of her work since the TTA's inception two years ago has been taken up with establishing professional national standards for four points in a teacher's career: the end of training (qualified teacher status), "subject leader", "expert teacher" and head. Mrs Shephard has now cleared the way for the TTA to develop qualifications for all these levels.
Preliminary proposals for the headteacher's qualification exist, and draft modules for consultation are due in August. TTA staff have apparently been surprised by the way some commentators have misread or prejudged the TTA's intentions. "Some have suggested that the Nietzschean Will to Power will be the only qualification necessary, while others have criticised us for not doing what we actually plan to do," says a TTA spokesman.
Other plans include the reform of the induction year - new teachers are introduced to the job in too haphazard a way, says Ms Millett. From next summer, every student teacher will leave college with a personal profile, listing their particular talents and their "competencies" that need to be built up by the school.
Ms Millett believes that if teaching is to become a respected profession, classroom practice must have a clearer relationship with research. A paper published by David Hargreaves earlier this year, which contrasted the dominant role of research in medicine with its absence in teaching, "reflects the general view of the TTA," she says. The TTA is expected to announce this week that 30 teachers have won a total of Pounds 60,000 to carry out classroom-based research projects.
The universities and colleges have pointed out that OFSTED's inspection of primary ITT does not, so far, support the notion that teacher training is in trouble. Ms Millett refuses to comment on reports that OFSTED, exasperated by the dearth of hard evidence about "trendy teachers", plans to reinspect primary ITT next year using tougher criteria. But she said the agency is collaborating with Ofsted on a "new framework" for ITT inspection, and OFSTED has confirmed that there will be "more focused" reinspection.
She also said that one "unsatisfactory" inspection grading is enough to trigger a review by the TTA of the college's accreditation and funding.