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Woodhead's project gets bad marks

Growing numbers of school-centred teacher-training courses are falling foul of the inspectors. Jo Gardiner reports

Growing numbers of school-centred teacher training courses are getting bad marks, while chief inspector Chris Woodhead pushes ahead plans to extend the scheme.

This week, it emerged that an Oxford-based scheme has been judged to be even less effective than its counterpart in Bedfordshire.

Inspectors found that the Oxford Consortium, which trains students for primary postgraduate certificate in education courses, is failing in five crucial areas: the design and content of the course; its ability to develop students' skills; students' subject knowledge; students' ability to assess pupils and mentors' ability to assess students are all unsatisfactory.

A course only has to fail on one of these areas (known as "cells" in OFSTED jargon) for the Teacher Training Agency to withdraw funding - but courses have to be inspected again before this happens.

The Oxford scheme brings the total of published reports on unsatisfactory SCITT (School-Centred Initial Teacher Training) schemes to seven, and underlines the fact that Office for Standards in Education inspectors are finding school-based teacher training to be markedly less successful than traditional university and college-based courses.

It is also embarrassing for Mr Woodhead, who announced two weeks ago that 49 primary schools had been recruited as "beacon schools" in an attempt to breathe new life into the SCITT scheme. Mr Woodhead is known to suspect that university education departments are still peddling outmoded progressive teaching theories.

Ironically the Oxford SCITT scheme, according to the OFSTED report, is failing in precisely the sort of areas that the chief inspector has repeatedly stressed are crucially important at primary level, namely, subject knowledge, the teaching of reading, number and the ability to make use of whole-class teaching.

At key stage 1, the report says, "students do not have sufficient knowledge of phonics to teach reading and writing effectively or sufficient understanding of the relationship between addition and multiplication".

In English, "students could not name authors with whose writing children might be expected to be familiar at the end of either of the primary key stages". They also lacked confidence in their ability to manipulate numbers.

John Tomlinson, academic secretary of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said: "The chief inspector himself says in this annual report that SCITT schemes are not attracting the well-qualified students, and many of them are getting poor OFSTED reports. Therefore it seems odd that the chief inspector is emphasising this, the failing end of the teacher training spectrum.

"SCITT schemes represent just 2 per cent of teacher training. If the same amount of effort were directed to the other 98 per cent - the partnerships between higher education and schools - it would be very welcome in terms of morale."

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