What could be left out?

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
The debate in these pages about the Teacher Training Agency's consultation on a training curriculum and standards for new teachers is timely.

There is still time to submit responses before the end of the consultation process (May 8 in England, May 22 in Wales), but it is heartening to note that responses have already come in from a wide range of individuals and organisation s. Many are providers of teacher training; many others, however, are individual teachers,who also care a great deal about initial teacher training standards, and who have been encouraged to respond.

The TTA's consultation is probably the most far-reaching ever conducted in respect of initial teacher training. A series of national consultation conferences has been held across the country, and thousands of consultation packs have been distributed. Conscious of the need to hear the teacher's voice in the debate, we have actively sought to attract responses directly from schools and the teacher associations. The rate of responses so far received has been exceptionally encouraging. Views are diverse; but the unifying concern for the great majority of respondents is their commitment, which I share, to securing the highest quality provision for our future teachers.

I acknowledge Richard Daugherty's right to criticise publicly our proposals (TES, April 11), but hope he will also feel able to discuss his concerns directly with us. The areas on which we are consulting warrant detailed consideration. The standards for the award of qualified teacher status set out in more detail than ever before the core knowledge, understanding and skills on which effective teaching rests. And the new ITT course requirement s, for example, also propose that all primary courses must equip trainees with at least one specialist subject, and also promote the creation of new specialist courses, including phase-specialist courses for early yearskey stage 1 (ages three to eight).

Our consultation process has allowed large numbers to contribute face to face, ahead of any written submission they may decide to make. It has also allowed us to respond to and, I believe, in many cases allay the sort of fears that Richard Daugherty and some of the contributors to the Letters page (TES, April 25) clearly have.

I have, for example, drawn attention at our conferences to the way in which senior TTA officers worked closely with a variety of collaborators in formulatin g the proposals. This has ensured that the proposals benefited from the experience and expertise of many specialist advisers, including the subject associations, high quality providers of primary initial teacher training in English and mathematics, teachers, headteachers, LEA colleagues and other educationists.

The common cause uniting all the contributors to the proposals has been to develop and make public training curricula, course requirements and - perhaps most importantly of all - new standards for QTS, of which the profession can be proud, representing as they do a high but realistic threshold for entry into teaching.

I emphasise entry into teaching, because the proposals clearly allow for some candidates to be recruited to training on the proviso that they close any gaps in their subject knowledge by the time they are assessed for QTS. We could debate endlessly how best to describe the proxies for the appropriate level of subject knowledge - the key point is to secure widespread acknowledgement, inside and outside education, that the teacher has to be much more than just one step (or one national curriculum level) ahead of the pupils being taught, taking into account the wide ability range likely to be present amongst those pupils. Most trainees will have appropriate knowledge on entry to their course and, for those who don't, there are options for how to acquire any supplementary knowledge, including through information technology and supported self-study. But, in either case, have it they must.

Our proposals will not reduce the supply of high quality new teachers - quite the reverse, since they will make explicit what needs to be achieved and in so doing, will attract more of those individuals who are looking for a challenging and rewarding career.

Nor will our subject knowledge requirement s, or our proposed curricula for English or mathematics, be unmanageable within the different contexts of postgraduate certificate in education and BEd courses. We have been clear that the new curricula cover only a core which itself reflects only that which is essential, rather than what might be desirable. I hope that the test that someone reading our proposals will apply is: what would you leave out?

During the discussion groups we have been running with teachers, it is rare to find any deletion being suggested and, when one is suggested, several other teachers have jumped in to explain why this would be wrong. So far, many more additions have been suggested than deletions.

Everything that we have proposed is covered by the consultation. All that is set in stone is the importance of high standards - and making them explicit as soon as possible. I know that many who like the proposals retain a concern about the implementation timetable. Much turns on the degree to which the proposals are based on existing good practice, as we are being told by many of those already providing high quality training, rather than being a new burden. What is clear, however, is that these proposals do more than any other documents ever put forward by a public body to demonstrate just what an intellectually and socially demanding profession teaching is - a message which I believe is getting home to the public and politicians alike.

Anthea Millett is chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency

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