Education: Benefits in DIY training: Karen Gold visits a school where the pupils are not the only ones learning and another in which appraisal is met with enthusiasm rather than anxiety

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MIKE BERRILL almost collided in the corridor with a bulky 15- year-old making a rueful exit from a nearby classroom. 'Go and wait in my office,' he told the boy.

Once the miscreant was out of earshot, the deputy head of Challney Community College, in Luton, Bedfordshire, explained: 'His teacher started training this term. He knows he can send anyone who gives him any trouble to me. It's a safety net: at the beginning of term he was throwing four boys out a week. Now it's one a week, and hopefully by Christmas it will be none.'

That teacher is one of five at Challney who are learning on the job. Several hundred other schools in Britain have licensed teachers, but Challney - an 11-16 boys' comprehensive alongside the M1 - is the only one not linked to a teacher training college: it is, in other words, the nearest thing Britain has to a teacher training school.

The Department for Education wants schools to train their own teachers, but many schools are wondering what is in it for them. Mr Berrill says there are two main benefits: better quality teachers and improved motivation for staff as a whole.

Challney has always found it difficult to recruit good teachers. Its exam results are good, but its buildings are poor. Teachers coming for interviews have been known to drive off the motorway, through the school gates and out again without stopping.

The school was sometimes obliged to use unqualified instructors instead - but according to Mr Berrill, qualified teachers straight from college were not necessarily any better. 'Too often in the past we have had people come here from college who have had fantastic judgement but no competence,' he said.

To improve quality, the school instituted a system of mentoring: linking inexperienced teachers to more experienced ones. Senior staff brainstormed a list of more than 100 qualities of good teaching, and set them in a framework of 12 teaching competences; not a foolproof recipe for good teaching, they readily admit, but a necessary baseline.

Four of the five licensed teachers recruited were from the ethnic minority groups that form two- thirds of the school's pupils. Mohammed Riaz, for example, was an electronics engineer and volunteer Muslim youth leader when Challney approached him to be a learning support assistant for Urdu-speaking pupils. After six months, he was persuaded to train as a maths teacher on the licensed-teacher scheme.

Senior staff say that Muslim pupils identify with him and are therefore more committed to the school. Mr Riaz said he would never have considered teaching if he had not been able to train on the job: 'I'm a practical person. This way, I could show I could do it without having to produce too much paperwork.'

Challney's trainees must work through an Open University course covering educational philosophy and psychology. But on the first day they are put in front of a class. 'They are constantly with the mentor, so they get a growing sense of what they might become,' said Mr Berrill. 'The mentor will demonstrate. There will be collaboration: 'I'll take a bit of this lesson, then you take a bit; I watch you, you watch me.'

'There's discussion beforehand, where the mentor might say: 'I'm not going to look at your resources or planning today, I'm going to look at your performance, your voice, your movement, your gestures.'

'The very act of having someone in your room looking at these things makes you reflect on them. You think: 'He's listening to my voice. I had better think about my voice. Am I being expressive? Yes, I am being expressive.' It's a powerful learning experience.'

Performance, resources and planning are three of the 12 Challney competences; others include classroom control, rapport with pupils and subject knowledge. 'Teachers who go through this process are better trained because teaching is fundamentally a practical activity,' Mr Berrill said. 'It's like riding a bike: you can't talk about it for very long before you have to sit on it and let someone push you off.'

Many teacher educators disagree. Tony Edwards, professor of education at Newcastle University, attacks competence-based teacher training in a report just published by the National Commission on Education. Lists of competences, he argues, imply that good teaching can be instilled through a checklist, ignoring the variety of approaches used by good teachers in different subjects and contexts.

Education ministers have accepted this argument to some extent and say trainee teachers should have experience of more than one school. More recently, however, they have indicated that they are attracted to the idea

of 100 per cent school-based


Mr Berrill has put in a bid to the DFE for Challney to supervise the training of 24 new teachers. Senior staff have met officials at the department to argue their case, and the college is awaiting a reply.

Challney staff argue that schools can teach theory and practice side by side. 'We always get parochialism thrown at us. It's as if people in schools aren't able to read books or go anywhere,' said Mr Berrill. 'We will bring in the best teachers in their field in Luton to train our teachers.

'As we have helped new teachers to develop, we have had to develop ourselves,' he said. 'The teachers involved in mentoring have been reborn. Heads of department are alive to the needs of their departments in a way they never were before. We talk about education here. We are now a thinking, developing, reflective institution.'

(Photograph omitted)