Education: Teacher training inspection is 'out of control': letters

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Lucy Hodges' account of the current inspection of Initial Teacher Education ("Stormy days as the inspector targets trainers, Education+, 5 February) was a good example of investigative journalism. She asked the simple question: "What is going on?" The simple answer is that inspection is getting out of control.

In my institution, there have been 12 inspections over the past three years. These inspections have involved 20 inspectors for more than 150 days. We heard that our primary course was to be re-inspected six months before we had even received the report of the original inspection in which we achieved top marks across the board. This level of inspection is extremely expensive. As well as the high costs of maintaining Ofsted, the attention of tutors and school partners is being distracted from the development of the new National Curriculum for Teacher Training.

Furthermore the methodology of the inspections is seriously flawed. Inspectors can fail a course (and thus remove an institution's ability to train teachers - with the attendant financial and job penalties of a sudden loss of business) if there are disagreements over the grades given to one or two students by their course and school team and the grades awarded by the inspector. Given that the grades will be mainly based on different observations of the students possibly teaching different pupils, at different times, attaching such a severe penalty to the lack of total correspondence in grading between the course tutors and the inspectors is quite unreasonable.

My colleagues and I have no doubt that teacher education can improve and that it should be subject to fair inspection. Course tutors need to continue to find new ways of linking subject knowledge and teaching skills. In order to be innovative, however, tutors and teachers need confidence. The current negative attitude towards teacher trainers stands in stark contrast to the freedom that many in the business sector see as essential to world class developments.

As Lucy Hodges' article showed, universities and colleges need to inform each other more fully about how the inspectors are treating them. I am inviting, therefore, those vice-chancellors and heads of colleges who have experienced the negative effects of inspection to a meeting at the Institute of Education. Let us review objectively what has happened, learn from our mutual experience and report any lessons to the Government, the teaching profession and to the general public.

Professor Peter Mortimore, Director, Institute of Education, University of London

The relevance

of research

The Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University suggests (View From Here, 26 February) that the weight given to the research assessment exercise (and the funding associated with it) should be modified, and that "all that is needed is for institutions to be given premium funding for excellence in teaching." This seems to overlook the positive correlation often found between high grades in RAE and high grades in "teaching and learning" assessments. There appears, at least, to be a case worth arguing that - while it is true that some academics escape from teaching by devoting their time to research - good teaching at university level comes from staff who are personally involved in extending knowledge in their subjects.

One problem, therefore, is how it encourages research among colleagues whose original contracts may not have included this requirement, and how to help them to relate their own research (as well as other people's) to their teaching.

Eric Sainsbury, Fulwood Road, Sheffield

Let's give visual arts a look-in

I applaud the Government's timely initiative to establish a National Advisory Committee on creative and cultural education "to target innovation and creativity in young people".

This is particularly welcome in the wake of the introduction of literacy hours in primary schools, which threatens to push non-core subjects - in particular, the arts - still further towards the edge of the curriculum and to the margins of children's lives.

The calibre of the committee is impressive and offers real potential for taking an in-depth look at the complex issues and ideas that should shape our views of the arts in an educational context.

However, as it stands, the committee's expertise is heavily weighted towards the performing and literary arts. There is an urgent need for an additional appointment to ensure that the visual arts are as well represented as music, dance and drama. This would restore the balance of the committee, significantly enhancing its authority.

It would be ironic if the first task of the Secretary of State for Education in the 21st century were to be the introduction of a "visual literacy hour" to counter increasing visual illiteracy - in an age which will surely be dominated by visual modes of communication and learning.

Roy Prentice, head of art and design education, Institute of Education, University of London


keep out!

On having read the article by Lucy Hodges ("A taste of economics on a Saturday morning", Education+, 26 February), I felt compelled to write and air my frustration. The article pointed out that the scheme in question was aimed "not at the high-flyers, but at those being predicted to get grade Cs at A-level. The idea is to give a leg-up to people who are intelligent but are underperforming".

It was for this reason that I was so alarmed to read of one pupil in particular who, although having been predicted to get two As and a B at A-level and having been described as a "high-flyer", gained entry to this pilot programme. This pupil could obviously not be described as "underperforming" and therefore I find it hard to understand why her teacher felt the need to shortlist her.

As many more applied than were chosen, surely there must have been other pupils more deserving of this excellent opportunity.

Mark Savage, accounting student, University of Abertay, Dundee

Fact and

pure fiction

David Pedgley's criticism of inaccurate books struck a chord with me on two counts ("Useless books cast a gloom", Education+, 19 February).

Firstly, as an illustrator of children's factual books, I sometimes work with data which I know to be wrong, but which is never corrected. Usually, someone tired or bored with a project will say: "it doesn't matter" or "it's too late to change it". On one occasion, an error-ridden diagram about the food chain was not changed because the page designer would have had to "spoil" his layout.

Second, as a child avidly interested in sensational "paranormal" claims, I read many books, some in my school library, which I have since confirmed are full of errors, or are entire fabrications.

Several of those within publishing are on record cheerfully admitting this, and collecting or withdrawing such a best-selling paperback would, of course, be unthinkable.

Mr Pedgley may want publishers to ensure that standards of accuracy are improved for the sake of our children, but I'm afraid there are baser and more cynical forces at work.

Richard P. Ward, Courthill Road, London SE13

Keeping state pupils separate

Contrary to the statements in your article ("All aboard... fee-paying schools reach out to state sector", Education+, 19 February), as a parent with two children in the independent sector I do most strongly object to facilities and teacher time being given to state sector pupils.

Previously, under the assisted places scheme, the government paid for pupils. Now it appears we parents are expected to subsidise state sector pupils as well.

As it is, we already pay twice over for our children's education - once through taxes and again through fees.

Not all parents of children in the private sector are rich. Amongst the parents I know are a woman who holds down three jobs, a mother who works in an open air market, a couple who run a bakery 18 hours a day, people who work in shops and offices, self-employed, doctors, solicitors and many, many teachers.

Most are couples who work and none are super rich. Indeed, many are educating two or three children and find it a continuous struggle to pay the bills.

If Marks and Spencer were to start making some customers pay whilst others went free, there would be an outcry. And if the independent schools have hidden resources, they should use that money to reduce costs to all.

WJ Sangster, Hereford

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, EDUCATION+, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Include a day-time telephone number. Fax letters to Education+ on 0171 293 2451; e-mail: Letters may be edited for length and clarity.