Failed teacher inspections cost pounds 1m

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Around pounds 1m has been spent on primary teacher training inspections which have failed to deliver enough information about the teaching of reading and arithmetic.

Yesterday Chris Woodhead, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, announced that the courses would be reinspected using different rules, to ensure that the reports focused on literacy and numeracy. He said the original inspections were not designed to investigate details of student training in the basic skills needed.

Head teachers are to be drafted in to strengthen the teams of inspectors who carried out the original inspections of 34 of the 67 primary teacher training institutions.

Many teacher training inspectors are angry about the decision to reinspect the courses, which they see as an attack on their professional judgement. The quality of training to teach English was found to be good, or very good, in over half the courses inspected. Overall, five institutions were found to be unsatisfactory.

Teacher training and Her Majesty's Inspectors have long been targets of right-wingers who accuse both of peddling progressive methods.

Mr Woodhead is an outspoken supporter of traditional methods, including phonics in the teaching of reading. He made a robust defence of his decision to reinspect courses.

He denied that he lacked confidence in his inspectors' judgement, refuted the suggestion that the initial inspections had got it wrong, and rebutted the view that the exercise had turned out to be a waste of time and money.

The first inspections, which ranked colleges on a scale of one to four, had taken a "broad sweep", he said, to provide the Teacher Training Agency with information that had enabled it to allocate money according to quality. Mr Woodhead said: "Far from undercutting the evidence from these inspections, these further inspections will build on the findings at a time when the focus nationally is so clearly on basic skills of reading and arithmetic. We feel it is imperative that we look again at these areas."

The new inspections will use different criteria. The four-point scale will be replaced by a seven-point scale. The inspections will include colleges which got high ratings, as well as those which did badly.

At present, colleges which are graded "three" are pronounced "sound" which is interpreted as meaning that they have both strengths and weaknesses.

Mr Woodhead said evidence in a report earlier this year on literacy teaching in three London boroughs, and his own conversations with head teachers, suggested there was disquiet about the way courses equipped students to teach reading.

Ivan Reid, vice-chairman of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said: "Mr Woodhead cannot be acting on the evidence of his own inspectors. I can only assume that today's announcements have been born out of political concerns.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, yesterday announced that performance tables for teacher training would be published next year, based on inspection grades, student entry qualifications, their success in obtaining teaching posts and students' and employers' views.