'Failed' teaching college faces uncertain future

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The Independent Online
Lancaster University is considering the future of its teacher- training college after it became the first to fail an inspection of its primary school courses.

Ofsted, the national inspection body, found that some students at Charlotte Mason College in Cumbria lacked the levels of literacy and numeracy needed to teach maths and English. In particular they were weak in spelling, grammar and phonics, all of which are now considered central to the teaching of reading.

The college, which is part of the university but which is based in Ambleside, could be merged with the University College of Saint Martin in Lancaster, whose courses are accredited by the university.

The report is bound to have come as a significant blow to the university. The only other teacher-training course to fail was the secondary provision at the South Bank University in London, a former polytechnic. That course was closed shortly afterwards.

The Ofsted inspectors found courses at Charlotte Mason deficient in every area they reviewed. While a few students had a good grasp of the English national curriculum, too many had "limited and superficial" knowledge. In maths, some students were unable to teach effectively because of gaps in their own knowledge.

A significant number of students were unable to plan a sequence of lessons properly, the inspectors said, and in some cases the work set was poorly matched to the ability and interests of their pupils. The quality of children's learning was poor as a result.

A team of five inspectors visited the college for four days in June last year, with a repeat visit in November. They observed teaching practice and training sessions at the university for the 830 students, 780 of whom were on a four-year undergraduate course and the rest on a one-year postgraduate scheme.

Yesterday the university admitted that it needed either to make a substantial investment in the college or to merge it, and said that a decision would be made at the end of May. However, the majority of students had been found to be able to teach effectively and some changes had already been put in place to address the shortcomings of the courses, it said.

John Halstead, principal of the college, said the conclusions had been based on the weaknesses of a minority of students. Other aspects of work in the department had previously received good reports, he added, expressing disappointment that Ofsted had chosen to base its findings on a small proportion of students.

"We have had massive support from ... the schools which employ our output. Getting on towards 100 schools have written in to say that their experience doesn't fit with that of the Ofsted inspectors," he said.