With reference to the article entitled "Poor A-levels? Try Teaching" (REVIEW, 9 September), I read with interest the analysis of the Teacher Training Agency's Initial Teacher Training League Tables, provided by Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson. It is regrettable that they took such a conservative stance, stressing A-level entry points and degree classifications rather than the impact which training providers have on their students and their success in finding employment.
The University of North London tops the table for the proportion of students of primary trainees coming through access routes rather than A-levels. On qualification, these teachers meet the TTA's standards and achieve Qualified Teacher Status. Thus, in terms of added-value, we are achieving more than institutions whose students all have high A-level scores. We also top the table for the proportion of ethnic-minority students. It is a TTA priority to improve in this area and we contribute substantially to this.
However, a characteristic of our intake (local and mature students, many with young families) is that many have to interrupt their courses due to financial hardship, pregnancy or other family problems. Thus, not all qualify immediately; a significant minority still have teaching practices or course work to complete at the end of the year. In our experience, the vast majority of these students do eventually qualify and take up teaching posts, showing enormous tenacity and determination.
We top the league tables for proportion of primary trainees in teaching jobs in the year after qualification (97 percent of BEd, 100 percent of PGCE), a fact which Smithers and Robinson curiously omit. London is an area of teacher shortage. Recent research, carried out at this university and reported at the British Educational Research Association's recent conference, found that teachers who trained in London, and who had been brought up there, were the most likely to stay in London throughout their careers.
BRIAN A ROPER
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive University of North London
The TTA performance tables are not designed to be manipulated using the statistically suspect methods employed by Smithers and Robinson.
The results are a distortion of relatively accurate TTA figures. The only real measure of the quality of teacher training is provided by the Ofsted inspection. This looks at the things that matter: the quality of training and the standards achieved by trainees. However, Ofsted, unlike the Quality Assurance Agency, is selective in the subject matter it inspects. Despite this, it provides the best quality data currently available for teacher training. Its ratings show that school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) schemes consistently underperform those provided by colleges and universities. For example, only one of the primary SCITT schemes is in the top two TTA quality categories, compared with 36 of the higher education providers.
The SCITT performance in secondary subjects is no better, with no scheme being awarded the two top quality ratings for all the subjects covered.
Smithers and Robinson use statistical multipliers to give a quite different impression.
Entry standards form part of the Ofsted inspection process. This means they are counted twice in Smith and Robinson's calculations. Both the TTA and Ofsted recognise that A-levels are only one of many means of measuring the quality of entry. Using them as a twice-counted quality indicator means that those institutions either recruiting mature people with professional experience and qualifications or younger entrants who have studied GNVC will appear to have "poor" quality.
Smithers and Robinson note that between a quarter and a third of graduates enter teaching. This grossly underestimates the number actually employed. For instance, all those employed in education-related posts in museums and so on, and those going on to higher level study in education, are discounted from the figures.
The true employment rate after teacher training compares very well indeed with the rest of higher education and is over 90 per cent for most universities.
PROFESSOR KATE ASHCROFT
Chair, Management Forum, Universities Council for the Education of Teachers
Is maturity an advantage?
Next week I will be starting PGCE teacher training in secondary science/physics, but I remain unclear about job prospects.
I am a mature student in my late forties. Some people tell me that there is a real shortage and that age, maturity and being a man will be an advantage.
Others say there is no real shortage except in London, that heads prefer younger teachers, that there are thousands of unemployed older teachers and that I may well not get a job.
I have already contacted the TTA and the Association for Science Education, but there is no solid information available. I have also spoken to my tutor, who acknowledges that there is a bias toward younger teachers, but tells me "not to worry". I would appreciate contact with qualified science teachers (particularly mature science NQTs) to hear about their experiences.
69 Cambridge Rd, Oakington, Cambridge CB4 5BG. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org