Personally speaking

A quick fix approach to assessing teacher training will not serve the nation well and will represent poor value for taxpayers' money
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The Independent Online
Crisis point has been reached in relations between the government agencies responsible for teacher training and the institutions that train the nation's teachers.

In fact, a boycott is threatened. Angered by education inspectors' attempts to rerun some inspections of primary teacher training, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has called on its members not to co-operate with their inspections.

Absurd deadlines for the production of material needed for inspections of secondary teacher training have added fuel to the fire. Now comes news that the teacher training agency has savaged the final report of the joint planning group, established last year to agree the broad framework for a single quality-assurance agency for the whole of higher education in the United Kingdom.

The final report of the joint planning group is not to everyone's liking. But the vice-chancellors have accepted it in principle, not least because it seeks to preserve university autonomy (especially in the realm of academic standards) and something of the notion of self-regulation.

That is precisely why the teaching training agency has rejected it. While the agency recognises that quality and standards are in the hands of those who manage and deliver higher education, it believes the report is too heavily weighted towards the interests of the providers.

It wants to see a quality-assurance system that preserves its own role in directing quality, standards, recruitment and development within the teaching profession.

The agency's own quality-assurance model was unveiled at the beginning of September, when it launched - together with Ofsted - a draft framework for assessing standards of teacher training. Two weeks later, Ofsted and the teacher training agency went to the trouble of holding a three-hour consultation with those involved in initial teacher training. Neither the answers they gave, nor the document itself, inspire confidence that the agency or Ofsted have really thought through what they are trying to do.

The framework seeks to measure "quality" and "standards", but nowhere are these key terms defined. The word "good" occurs frequently: for example, teaching competence is to be assessed by reference, inter alia, to the extent to which newly qualified teachers achieve "a good standard of discipline", or to which they make "good use" of information technology. But what is "a good standard of discipline"? The framework has no answer.

The section dealing with the selection and quality of student intake is, however, revealing in a manner that was, perhaps, unintended. Inspectors will be looking for evidence that "high-calibre entrants of both sexes" are recruited to initial teacher training. Further on, we learn that "high calibre" means A-level scores and degree class. The possibility of recruiting mature students with non-standard qualifications (those, for instance, who have spent many years in industry and who have a natural flair for teaching their subject at secondary level) seems not to have occurred to those who drafted the framework, while the reliance on degree class, without specifying appropriateness of degree or performance in individual components, is reflective of the unthinking approach that permeates the entire document. "Both sexes" is fine, but what about ethnic minorities?

In short, the draft framework - unlike the joint planning group report - is not "mission sensitive", and is not meant to be. Teacher training institutions which have historically prided themselves on their ability to attract, as potential teachers, those with limited specialist academic credentials but who none the less possess other qualities that fit them well as school teachers, have found little comfort in the framework, which exudes outmoded elitism.

Reading it, and attending the consultation, left me depressed rather than angry. Its "quick fix" approach to assessing teacher training will not serve the nation well, and an assessment regime based upon it will represent poor value for taxpayers' money.

Clearly, there is some fence-mending to be done between teacher training institutions and the teacher training agency and Ofsted. This will be made much easier once Ofsted and the agency publicly abandon the presumption that they should be recognised as the ultimate arbiters of quality and standards in teacher training, and once they realise that a genuine partnership is needed with those who train the nation's teachers.

Professor Alderman is head of the academic development and quality assurance unit at Middlesex University.