Tories step in to prescribe teacher training

Judith Judd finds that Ministers are about to rewrite the rule book on what is taught in class
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The Independent Online
Ministers are to prescribe teaching methods in detail for the first time, Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, announced yesterday.

She said that all new primary teachers would in future have to learn how to teach English and maths in ways approved by the Government.

Her statement came on the eve of a White Paper which will show that Britain is falling behind other countries in literacy and numeracy.

Her decision is a victory for traditionalists who have long argued that teacher training departments are to blame for sloppy and trendy teaching in schools.

Under new rules, new teachers will have to be taught to use approved methods. Mrs Shephard said these would include phonics, matching letters to sounds, to teach reading, mental arithmetic for maths and whole-class teaching.

The new national curriculum for teacher training will apply at first only to primary teaching and to English and maths, and may be extended later to other subjects and to secondary training.

She said the Government may not need legislation to make the regulations to impose the new measures. "It is a whole step forward. It is a different ball game. If we have a situation where 46 per cent of newly qualified teachers can say they don't feel equipped to deal with the challenges of the classroom, then there needs to be more prescription."

A new framework would also be drawn up to train existing teachers. Details of the framework and the new curriculum will be disclosed in September. The actual percentage of time teachers must spend teaching the whole class may be specified, Mrs Shephard said.

She briefed journalists on a series of measures the Government was taking to improve standards. Earlier she denied on BBC Radio 4 that yesterday's announcement had been prompted by complaints from right-wingers that she is not being tough enough on Labour.

Headteachers warned the Government not to tell teachers how to teach. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We support the need to reform teacher training. But any attempt by the Government to impose particular teacher training methods will be resisted ."

Some teachers gave the announcement a guarded welcome. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the decision was long overdue and would be supported by most teachers. "The great majority of teachers are very different from the trendy Wendy woolly jumper people - they exist but they are in a small minority."

He blamed the Government for procrastinating over teaching methods and for listening to advisers, inspectors and administrators.

Earlier, Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector for Schools, continued his crusade against progressive teaching methods at a Confederation for British Industry conference.

Too many teachers believed the progressive "nonsense" that "we should encourage children to make decisions and choices before they have been taught something about that which they are deciding on choosing between".

Professors and pundits hailed such "thinking" as the pinnacle of good practice.

"Let's be crystal clear about what we want from our schools and implacable in our determination to root out those specious ideas which impede progress."

Mrs Shephard told the conference that a skills audit to be published in today's Competitiveness White Paper shows that Britain scores well on higher education and IT skills but badly on literacy and numeracy and in some key work-related skills.

The paper compares Britain with France, Germany, Singapore and the United States.