Trainers go to the back of the class

Teacher educators have themselves to blame for being expelled from univ ersities, writes Judith Judd
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The Independent Online
Teacher trainers in England were so complacent and out of touch that they deserved the drastic reforms recently thrust upon them by the Government. In the Sixties and Seventies they escaped from classroom teaching to enjoy a more comfortable life in colleges and universities. And they spent too much time on irrelevant sociological theory and too little on the practicalities of how children should betaught.

This verdict comes not from a right-wing think tank but from a new study prepared under Dr Harry Judge, former director of Oxford University's department of educational studies, which trains teachers.

The University and the Teachers in France, the United States and England provides a rare glimpse into how researchers from abroad see us. Dr Judge writes about France, Michel Lemosse from the University of Nice about the US, and Lynn Paine and Michael Sedlack from Michigan State University write about England.

The research, supported by the Spencer Foundation of Chicago, is based on visits and interviews in schools, universities and the Civil Service over four years. It takes 1963 as its focal point and looks at events before and since.

The two Americans blame teacher educators for the attacks on teacher education in England that led to the government's decision to remove it from universities and base it mainly in schools.

Their criticisms are uncompromising. They argue that the backgrounds of teacher educators in the Sixties were poorly matched to schools' needs. Many in primary teacher training had experience only of secondary teaching: they were subject specialists withlittle idea of how young children learned.

The "mother hens" who were committed to primary teaching but had little academic expertise had virtually disappeared from teacher training colleges.

"Teacher educators had fully embraced the academic culture of the university disciplines or were otherwise determined to flee classroom teaching.

"Instead of practising in schools, they hoped instead to secure and sustain the prerogatives of higher education faculty members," says the study.

No wonder politicians and the public questioned their credibility, it says. Yet teacher trainers were slow to realise what was happening to their standing in the community.

Those in universities and polytechnics seem to have been lulled into a false sense of security by the government's decision to close most teacher training colleges in the Seventies, when the demand for teachers fell sharply. The bulk of teacher training was left with the universities. "With the long-established universities the teacher education community felt protected by the halo of traditional autonomy. Certainly in their eyes, the government had targeted the right culprit: the weak and disreputable colleges," says the report.

Almost everyone overlooked the need emphasised as early as 1970 in the James Report to redress the balance between academic and professional needs by connecting teacher education and school teaching.

Schools, say the authors, believed trainers put on courses for their own convenience rather than to help new teachers to teach better. "School teachers and administrators often felt they had little choice but to suffer this arrogance."

The research endorses the view of the right that teacher training was more interested in sociology than teaching. Since the Sixties, theory, particularly the social and behavioural sciences, had been at the heart of educational studies. "Few lecturers worried much about the professional application or the relevance of this segment of professional knowledge."

So the teacher training establishment had only itself to blame when, in 1992, Kenneth Clarke, then Secretary of State for Education, announced that schools, not universities, should take on the main responsibility for teacher training.

Later, ministers went farther and decided that funds for teacher training would be controlled not by the Higher Education Funding Council, which distributes money to universities, but by a new quango, the Teacher Training Agency.

Will the changes make big improvements to teacher training? Dr Judge questions whether they will. Comparing the English system with those of France and the US, he asks: "Can it be right for Britain alone among developed nations to split the education of teachers from higher education itself?"

He points out that while England has been moving teacher education out of universities, France, for the first time, has been moving it into them, with the creation of new university institutes. The study shows that these seem to be working well. Since 1990, the number of entrants for exams for admission to secondary teacher training in the institutes has increased by 85 per cent. "Teaching has at the same time become more attractive and more selective," says Dr Judge.

In the US, too, teacher training remains within universities, though it is more secure within some colleges and in some states than in others. Professor Lemosse also complains that academic standards in teacher education are slipping.

Yet even in France and the US, the relationship between universities and teacher trainers is uncomfortable, the authors argue. Education, they suggest, may never find a secure place as a mainstream university subject.

`The University and the Teachers, France, the United States and England', by Harry Judge, Michell Lemosse, Lynn Paine and Michael Sedlak is published by Triangle Books, PO Box 65, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 OYG, £24