Training tables under fire

24th May 1996 at 01:00
Teacher training is to be subjected to increasingly intense public scrutiny after the Government confirmed this week that work had started on designing league tables for teacher education establishments.

The tables, seen as an attempt to force a bracing market ethos into the last stronghold of the education establishment, could be published within months.

The Teacher Training Agency this week confirmed that the criteria for the tables would be decided shortly. Initially, a college's position would probably depend on reports from the Office for Standards in Education, which grade teacher training on a scale of 1-4.

But other controversial performance indicators, such as how many newly-qualified teachers from particular colleges found jobs, or which colleges were attracting the best-qualified students, would be considered.

The agency would not confirm whether the quality of the teaching of reading, concern about which precipitated the league table proposal, would be high on the list of possible indicators.

The idea was condemned as "bizarre" by the Association of University Teachers and "unwelcome" by the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers. There are also claims that OFSTED's inspection timetable would make the tables meaningless - this year, inspectors have looked at primary initial teacher training (ITT), but up-to-date reports on secondary ITT will not be available till next year or later.

The league table threat was sprung two weeks ago by Gillian Shephard after OFSTED's damning report on literacy in London, and appeared to take the TTA and OFSTED by surprise.

The Education and Employment Secretary restated her intention to the Commons education select committee last week - "I have it in mind to publish performance tables for these institutions," she said.

OFSTED itself appeared reluctant to become embroiled in a development that is certain to annoy the training institutions: "It's up to the TTA and the DFEE - we do not expect to be further involved. Our job is to complete the primary ITT inspections," said a spokesman.

OFSTED will have inspected primary ITT in all 68 relevant institutions by September and will then publish an overall verdict. Nine reports have so far been published and one college, Charlotte Mason at Lancaster University, failed.

News was also leaked to The TES this week that La Sainte Union HE College in Southampton, is likely to receive a critical report from OFSTED in June.

Many colleges have been pronounced "sound" (grade 3), but OFSTED said this week that this should be regarded as "barely adequate" rather than satisfactory, so it is likely that the final report on primary ITT will be critical.

Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said that league tables could have "a destabilising effect" on teacher supply.

"Students could be driven away from institutions where there is acute regional need, simply because their grade is 'only' satisfactory. The consequence will be schools without teachers." UCET is to meet the TTA to discuss the matter next week.

David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said that he could not believe that ITT league tables were Mrs Shephard's own idea rather than the Downing Street Policy Unit's - which is becoming the standard reaction when the Secretary of State announces something contentious. He said that universities were already overloaded with cumbersome quality assurance systems: "You could construct league tables of universities on the quality assessments done by the Higher Education Funding Council in different disciplines - but the idea of doing it just for teaching departments strikes me as a bizarre and senseless complication."

Carol Webb, deputy director of the quality assurance group at the Higher Education Quality Council, said that the council had not been consulted on tables, as distinct from quality assurance, and warned that the TTA would have to devise league tables carefully, "otherwise they could find themselves in very hot water".

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