Trainers rattled by inspectors' verdict

Chris Woodhead's report on primary teaching courses has not been well received. Josephine Gardiner reports

Teacher-training institutions joined in criticism of the embattled chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, this week after a report summarising last year's inspection of primary teacher training was finally released by the Office for Standards in Education.

The report had been due for publication in the autumn, but was repeatedly delayed while OFSTED completed reports on the individual institutions. The inspection visits took place between February 1995 and July 1996.

The education departments and training colleges claim that the report does not give a fair picture of the inspectors' findings on standards in the 67 courses and does not contain any evidence to justify either the re-inspection of the courses, which has already begun, or the imposition of the "national curriculum" for teacher training, which is due to be launched by the Education and Employment Secretary, Gillian Shephard, within the next two weeks.

Ian Kane, chair of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, called it "a big disappointment ... a poor reward for the efforts of Her Majesty's Inspectors."

Grudging praise, he said, is followed by "lists of minute criticisms designed presumably to put a negative spin on the total presentation and thus justify the chief inspector's expensive decision to do the job all over again". His view was echoed by several principals of teacher education departments and colleges.

The six-page report is considerably shorter and less detailed than an earlier version leaked to The TES last summer. It is also markedly less complimentary. The previous version was never published by OFSTED.

On English, the report says that "much that was seen was good and sometimes it was outstanding", but does not go into any detail, unlike the earlier version which said that on almost all the courses, students were being taught how to use "word-attack" skills such as phonics in the teaching of reading. This report says that in English, "training overall remains too variable" and that the teaching of writing is being stressed at the expense of speaking and listening. Subject knowledge is good, but "many students have insufficient detailed knowledge of English language structures", limiting their ability to teach the national curriculum.

On a more reassuring note, the report says that students receive good training in a range of approaches to the teaching of reading and have a good knowledge of children's literature. But this is immediately followed by the warning that in a "significant minority" of cases, students' competence is "insecure", and that on some courses students are not being prepared to teach phonics. The previous report stated that "almost without exception", students were being taught to use phonics.

The chief inspector's decision to reinspect primary teacher training followed the publication by OFSTED last May of an investigation into reading standards in three London boroughs in which poor standards were partly blamed on inadequate teacher training. The imminent national curriculum for teacher training was another consequence of this and will explicitly stress the importance of phonics. But the decision to reinspect has provoked a huge and continuing row both among the institutions (which claimed that Mr Woodhead was intent on finding evidence of poor standards to justify Government policy), and the HMIs who did the original inspections (who saw it as a slur on their work).

On mathematics also, this report tempers every positive statement with two or three negative ones. Preparation of students to teach maths is "mostly sound and often good, with some excellent practice", but in "a few courses" students are not trained to an adequate level of competence. Students' mathematical knowledge is "generally at least adequate", but "it is rare for training to recognise fully the different needs of those students whose subject knowledge is particularly weak and of those who have substantial subject expertise; this lack of differentiation is often a significant shortcoming".

The report also criticises the fact that students are allowed to specialise in teaching either the early or later years of primary education, limiting their "knowledge and experience across the full primary age range". This, it says, is particularly true of maths, but also applies to English where students teaching the later years lack understanding of how to teach reading and writing.

The report does not define terms such as "generally", "a few" or "significant number" with any precision.

It concludes by recommending that teacher trainers should concentrate on preparing students to understand language structures and to use phonics, mental arithmetic, and a "wide range of approaches in the classroom, including whole-class teaching as well as group work and individual learning." Trainers should also carry out a full "audit" of new students' subject knowledge at the start of the course.

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