Five prestigious teacher-training institutions are on a list of 21 universities and colleges which are to have their primary English and maths teaching reinspected under new, tougher rules.
The universities believe the decision by the Office for Standards in Education reflects a relentless determination to uncover evidence of "trendy" child-centred methods.
Only last week the Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard announced a new core curriculum for teacher training, which will place more emphasis on traditional teaching.
The universities on the list are now seeking legal advice because they fear that they could lose funding if their courses are downgraded. The Teacher Training Agency has confirmed that the evidence from the reinspection could result in a loss of accreditation and funding.
The five include the University of London's Institute of Education, which was awarded the highest possible marks when it was inspected during OFSTED's sweep of 68 primary teacher-training courses over the past academic year. The inspections were estimated to have cost Pounds 1 million.
Ever since chief inspector Chris Woodhead announced that he planned to revisit a selection of the courses because he distrusted the inspectors' rosy picture, there has been intense speculation about whether the institute would be on the list. Other high-scoring establishments to be revisited include Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln (former head Len Marsh was regarded as a leading exponent of Plowden-inspired education); Durham University and London's Roehampton Institute. All these courses were initially graded outstanding or good. Exeter University, whose professor of education Ted Wragg is Mr Woodhead's most outspoken critic, is also on the list.
Peter Mortimore, the London Institute's director, said the position was being discussed with lawyers. "To announce a reinspection only four months after the completion of the previous inspection is unreasonable, it amounts to double jeopardy." He added that given the recent intense press interest in the quality of primary training, "it will be impossible for a new team of inspectors to make what will be seen as impartial judgments."
Professor Graham Welch, dean of education at the Roehampton Institute, said: "We picked up on the grapevine that the Secretary of State and Chris Woodhead were not happy with the primary sweepbecause it did not demonstrate that the whole system was weak."
College principals were told they were on the list by OFSTED this week. It said they had been chosen so that OFSTED could focus on standards of teaching reading and number in postgraduate courses.
The inspection, said OFSTED will comprise three or four short visits between early November and early December and the teams will include headteachers with expertise in literacy and numeracy.
The exercise raises serious legal questions about the inspectors' right of entry to universities. Ian Kane, chairman of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said that the TTA's director, Anthea Millett, had already conceded that inspectors have no statutory right of access.
There is also a legal question over the colleges on the list that initially received "sound" gradings. Last week OFSTED and the TTA announced that, "sound" (grade 3) has been replaced by "complies with current criteria but requires significant improvement". Universities which lose funding as a result of the reinspection are likely to argue that this is unfair because other institutions with the same grades have been left alone.
Colleges to be reinspected are: Bath HE, Bishop Grosseteste, Ripon and York St John, Nene, Roehampton Institute and University of London Institute. University education faculties: Anglia, Brunel, De Montfort, Keele, Liverpool Hope, Loughborough, Derby, Durham, East London, Exeter, Greenwich, Plymouth, Reading, Warwick,Wolverhampton.
Courses get thumbs-up, page 9