Schools training scheme abandoned as funding crisis bites

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The Independent Online

Ministers are being forced to abandon a scheme designed to improve teaching standards and discipline in schools as a result of this year's education funding crisis.

One of the aims of the £59m programme was to give newly qualified teachers tips on classroom control and how to deal with unruly behaviour.

It was billed by the former education secretary David Blunkett as the centrepiece of the Government's attempts to improve the quality of teaching. The training was to have been made available from next year to all teachers with less than five years' experience.

But the Government has now told local education authorities that the scheme is being shelved, to help find the extra £800m that Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State, is to pump into schools over the next two years to avoid further teacher redundancies.

The decision has infuriated teachers' leaders, who insist it means ministers have been misleading them over the depth of the crisis. They said the decision meant that the Government was having to make severe cuts to find the £800m, instead of just using unspent reserves. Mr Clarke's office said the Government had always made it plain that such projects could suffer.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: "I am astounded that the Government continues to claim that it can solve the schools funding crisis. Its decision to renege on its promise of providing vital continuing training for all young teachers next year and instead give the money to schools is a sign of how deep the funding crisis is.

"Early professional development was the centrepiece of David Blunkett's plan to give all young teachers new to the profession that vital training in skills such as classroom management, pupil behaviour and assessing children's learning," Mr Bangs said.

In a letter to local education authorities informing them of the decision, Richard Harrison, deputy director of the Standards and Effectiveness Unit at the Department for Education and Skills, said: "I know this will be disappointing news for you."

He added that the Government's attempts to "restore confidence in the funding arrangements for schools" had forced ministers "to make some hard choices".

"One of the consequences of this is that the funding that had been earmarked [for the programme] in 2004-05 will now go towards reinstating planned reductions in the standards fund," he said.

There would still be money made available for professional development but it would be given to schools to decide how best to use it, he added.

However, Mr Bangs argued: "No one will be fooled by ministers' promises that money which was targeted for young teachers will stay with those teachers. Because of the funding crisis that money will have to now go on saving teachers' and support staff jobs. The casualties are teachers, particularly young teachers, for whom continuing training and staying up to date is the lifeblood of their work.

"Private companies believe that continuing training for their employees is essential for their success. Why doesn't the Government understand this principle?"

The training scheme was first tested in a dozen local education authorities in 2001. It was due to be introduced nationwide next April.