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Higher standards of teacher training

Professor Geoffrey Alderman fails to recognise both the serious failures in teacher training in some of our universities and colleges of higher education and the very real gains made by others as a result of the Teacher Training Agency's work.

The agency uses public funds to purchase training for the next generation of teachers. To ensure that the training it funds is of the highest standard, the TTA uses information about the quality of training to inform its funding decisions. The quality assessment framework we have developed jointly with Ofsted will provide invaluable information about the quality of provision, and will also form the basis of the performance tables proposals we have recently issued for consultation.

We need to ensure that the profession is well taught and that it attracts high-calibre candidates who, as well as being academically well-qualified, also display those other personal and professional qualities to which Professor Alderman refers. The TTA is clear about what these other qualities should include: a belief in the value of teaching as a profession; a command of subject taught, and an ability to inspire pupils. We should never, however, lose sight of the fact that, if we are serious about raising standards, the academic achievements of would-be teachers are very important indeed.

It is neither the TTA's style, nor is it in its interest, to act alone on all these fronts. We are committed to working closely and in partnership with colleagues in higher education and elsewhere to raise standards. Isn't it time Professor Alderman came on board?

Anthea Miller

Chief Executive

Teacher Training Agency

Funding at Oxbridge

You published (Your View, 21 November) a touching letter from the President of the Junior Common Room of Christ Church, Oxford, indicating the JCR's opposition to top-up fees.

I wonder whether in their debate the undergraduates took into account that through the college fee system they are already the beneficiaries of "top-up fees", and that those fees are fully reimbursed by the state.

This leads to an anomaly at the heart of the British higher education system, in that the college fees at Oxford and Cambridge are not brought properly to account when calculating costs at those two universities and when comparing them with other universities.

In this period of "waiting for Dearing" it would be more intellectually honest if it were plainly recognised that, as a matter of policy, those universities are more generously funded. We should then have it clearly demonstrated that quality is something that has to be paid for.

Professor R N Franklin

(Christ Church 1957-60),

Vice-chancellor, City University, EC1.

Physics under threat

Tessa Blackstone, Master of Birkbeck College (letters, 28 November) writes that "Birkbeck is confident that its wide range of courses enables an enormous number of adults to enter higher education, when they could not possibly have taken a full-time course in the traditional way." On the previous page she is quoted as saying, on the subject of universities being unable to replace and update research equipment, that "the quality of education we provide in our universities will decline."

Readers will no doubt be interested to know, then, that a recent "consultation document" published by a working party of which Baroness Blackstone was the chairman, recommended not only that Birkbeck's teaching hours be extended from 6-9 in the evenings to 5-9, making it impossible for most working people to attend lectures, but also the closure of Birkbeck's physics department on the grounds that over the last few years the department has run at a financial loss. The closure will mean the loss of 50 per cent of the part-time undergraduate physics places and 100 per cent of evening part-time physics places in the country. And the reason for the deficit? Because the physics department has, over the last few years, invested in some of the best research equipment in the country, placing it in excellent stead for securing a future for British science in the 21st century. What a pity that Baroness Blackstone does not seem to be able to practise what she preaches.

Louise Dash

(4th year MSc Physics student, Birkbeck College), London N4 1EQ

The goodwill of amateurs

There is a warm welcome for Maureen O'Connor's article on school governors which identifies important issues that have received little attention and need public discussion.

The shift of power and responsibilities from LEAs to school governors by the 1988 Education Act was consistent with the populism and hostility to expertise which characterise the present government. Experience and expertise is ignored in the cases of teachers, judges, prison governors and a host of others.

Amateurs who are school governors carry important responsibilities. Few have either the time or the training to discharge the role for the full benefit of the school. I have been one of those amateurs. Most school governors work very hard indeed. Schools should not have to rely on their goodwill to progress routine matters.

There will always be crisis schools with a high profile whatever the system of governance. The real issue is the vacuum in support for the ordinary school. It is a particularly unhappy development in these difficult times.

John Oliver

Barbican, EC2

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