The Government is facing a fierce battle with the universities over radical plans to introduce a national curriculum for teacher training.
Gillian Shephard confirmed on Wednesday that she would be introducing new regulations in September which will prescribe for the first time the content of what student teachers learn, rather than simply stating the desired outcomes.
The new rules will apply only to primary English and mathematics initially, but Mrs Shephard said: "That is just a start. I intend over time to recast all initial and in-service training . . . it will cover course content and qualifications...it's a whole new ball game." She insisted that the Government has the power to tell universities what to teach because it holds the purse-strings - universities already have to meet the requirements of the DFEE Circular 1493 on teacher training in order to receive funding, so the reforms could be introduced by rewriting it.
But the universities will resist or obstruct implementation of the proposals. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has been hinting that some universities may pull out of teacher training altogether.This would be awkward for the Government as it plans to increase recruitment by 50 per cent for secondary and 34 per cent for primary education by 2001 in order to meet population growth.
Patricia Ambrose, policy director of the CVCP, said: "The Government would be in a very difficult position if a number of universities decided to pull out. Partnerships [between HE and schools] require a lot of effort as it is; a lot of universities will say that this area is already causing problems and this latest move is a step too far."
She said that the CVCP would be lobbying Parliament about threats to universities' autonomy.
David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said he thought it highly likely some universities would be tempted to opt out of teacher training, and added that his members would be urging vice-chancellors "to stop the progress of the new document . . . I think that the universities will look at their charters, reflect on their historic freedoms and insist they are upheld."
He also warned that Mrs Shephard's proposal could be the thin end of the wedge, "a backdoor way of tearing up universities' charters".
But Mrs Shephard denied this, and suggested that the proposal could help recruitment if prospective students felt more confident that they would be properly prepared for the job. Mrs Shephard repeatedly referred to a 1992 Office for Standards in Education survey which found that 46 per cent of newly qualified teachers felt they had not been adequately prepared for the classroom.
Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, questioned the Government's assertion that teacher education needs reforming: "Their own evidence in reports from OFSTED, does not back it up." Out of 22 reports published so far by OFSTED on primary ITT, only two institutions have been found to be failing.
The new curriculum for teacher training, said Mrs Shephard, will be drawn up jointly by the DFEE, OFSTED, SCAA and the TTA, and the teaching techniques prescribed will be based on "what OFSTED has found to be effective".
Labour education spokesman David Blunkett accused the Government of rehashing old ideas to give them a harder edge (the TTA already has committees working on how to make the standards expected of all teachers more explicit).
Labour is to publish a draft paper on teacher training before the summer Parliamentary recess; its author, Colin Pickthall MP, said that although it would emphasise the teaching of reading, it would not prescribe so precisely what universities and colleges should teach.
Mrs Shephard's announcement was welcomed wholeheartedly by the National Association of SchoolmastersUnion of Women Teachers, whose spokesman said: "We have argued for a quarter of a century that training should be more practical", but David Hart of the National Association of Head Teachers condemned the Government's "unwarrranted interference".