Viewed with fear and loathing in anticipation by the university education departments, the Teacher Training Agency got off to a slow start, but finally put on a more acceptable face than expected.
All the fears have not been allayed of course. The new funding review, linked to quality issues, which has just been commissioned from Coopers Lybrand (page 5) will keep many university providers of teacher education on their toes and tenterhooks for some months to come. And, as our News Focus report (page 10) reveals, neither school-based nor school-centred training (which transfers funding and responsibility into the mentoring schools to greater or lesser degrees) is yet enticing enough schools to seize the reins.
All the same, the TTA is a rare quango in that it speaks with a professional voice, and its readiness to take up neglected professional issues such as in-service training have to be welcomed. After all, it is more than 20 years since the seminal James Report proposed a more integrated approach to initial, induction and in-service training, a proposition widely endorsed and never acted on, but on which the TTA is now making a start. To say it is overdue is inadequate. It is frankly incredible that this is the first time that a thorough review of in-service training has been undertaken.
As Anthea Millett, former HMI and now the TTA's chief executive, reminds us in the adjacent column, there is very little hard information available about the relevance, quality or impact of in-service, and yet far more is spent on it than on initial training - nearly Pounds 500 million as against Pounds l70 million in a year - and far more teachers are affected.
Creating a coherent professional development framework out of the present fragmented non-system will not be easy, however, not least because it has been successive government policies which have created the mess. Funding cuts and rule changes have progressively cut back the length of courses and moved them out of the university departments and into the schools, so that a second degree course has become a rarity (paid for by the teacher), a term's secondment not much more frequent, and the norm a few days in your own school, or certainly within the local education authority. Meanwhile, LEAs have lost much of their own power and finance to develop in-service policies, and the current system of grants for education support and training has emphasised central government priorities and been liable to a capriciously short-term life.
Another critical factor from the point of view of the individual teacher's development has been the waning power of the good local education officer to spot potential talent on the way up, and make sure that the right opportunities were there for training and promotion in other authority schools. One of the most serious results for teachers of the sidelining of LEAs and the dissolution of Her Majesty's Inspectorate has been the virtual destruction of any sort of career structure for teachers.
It may well be that the demand for a professional development framework will be one of the clearer answers that comes through from the TTA's big consultation exercise but that still may not solve the central problem: who (or what) is in-service training for? Is it primarily to further government or LEA policies, to improve the quality of teaching and management of the school (and thus the needs of its children), or the professional development of teachers?
Probably the answer is all three, though the emphasis now needs to switch towards the last two in the list. But the TTA needs to be clear that the teacher's needs may not always be synonymous with those of their current school. And in the current decentralised set-up, that may be harder for even a centralised agency to address than establishing a national focus or more efficient targeting.