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Universities damn 'costly' inspections

TEACHER-training inspections are chaotic and costly and do little to raise standards or help recruitment, universities have told MPs.

In a savage attack on the regime run by the Office for Standards in Education, the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers said the reinspection of primary teacher training alone had cost some Pounds 3 million - not including OFSTED's own costs.

Visits were so frequent that "feedback to individual institutions often appears after the end of the academic year and sometimes after the start of the next round of inspections," UCET officers told the education select committee.

They urged a four-year cycle of inspections unless there was evidence of poor quality, with each lasting no more than three weeks.

UCET also accused OFSTED of bias, saying school-centred initial teacher-training schemes got an easier ride from inspectors and the Teacher Training Agency, despite being generally poor.

The select committee is holding an inquiry into OFSTED'S accountability, reliability and value for money. This week's hearing - the first with new chairman Malcolm Wicks in charge - focused on its role in teacher training.

Universities have been unhappy that they are inspected under a different framework from the rest of higher education, and by agencies which appear antagonistic.

They are still smarting over the primary reinspection ordered by the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead. UCET calculates it cost members an average of Pounds 35,000 - the equivalent of a professor's starting salary or Pounds 2.8m across 80 providers. Despite the cost, they say there is no follow-up or help to implement changes.

Official rules for courses changed so often, most institutions were running three versions of their four-year undergraduate teacher-training course.

"Planning for new curriculum requirements and standardsI takes place simultaneously as the old requirements are inspected. Curriculum materials become out of date as soon as they are developed. Nothing is evaluated before it is changed."

Courses which scored well were allowed to expand, but could not find students, while the TTA cut the intake of those that scored badly, putting them in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, fewer high-quality teachers wanted to go into training, threatening a recruitment crisis to match that in students.

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