Modern methods face squeeze in plan for a return to the past

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A national curriculum for teacher-training colleges that would squeeze out modern teaching methods is being planned by the Government, it was confirmed last night.

The Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard, hinted at the plan in setting out a programme of radical change while counter-attacking senior Conservatives who had tried to undermine her.

The party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, is believed to have asked the Prime Minister to bring in a right-wing junior minister under Mrs Shephard in a July reshuffle. Some ministers feel she has failed to put Labour on the defensive over schools.

Conservative right-wingers will approve strongly of the new plan for teacher training, to be announced next week. They have long seen the universities and colleges of bastions of 1960s progressive teaching methods they want to stamp out.

In future, trainee primary teachers will be taught to use whole-class teaching and phonics, and be required to attain a certain standard of basic knowledge in English, maths and science.

Last night the Teacher Training Agency, course overseer, confirmed the planned overhaul and said it would ensure students and schools knew what was expected of them. Anthea Millett, the agency's chief executive, said: "I believe that common attainment targets could be introduced for primary teacher training, focused on the subject knowledge and teaching skills required by teachers."

Although full details will not be released until September, the plan is bound to cause immediate outrage among teacher trainers, who guard their freedom fiercely. It will probably lead to legislation in the autumn and be fought over fiercely in Parliament, particularly in the House of Lords, where many former vice-chancellors sit.

Mrs Shephard yesterday set out a timetable for education changes stretching into autumn, in an attempt to reassert control of her portfolio The first, she said, would be the reform of funding for 16- to 19-year-olds' education revealed in the Independent yesterday, which will appear in the Government's third competitiveness White Paper next week.

Other changes to be announced in the next few months will be outlined in an education White Paper due at the end of June.

The paper will plump for greater school selection, and look at ways of giving opted-out schools more freedom, delegating more funds to local- authority schools and strengthening the Government's specialist technology and language schools.

Mrs Shephard said yesterday that whole-class teaching methods being used in Barking and Dagenham, for which she has just awarded a 165,000 grant, should be looked at while the reform of teacher training was being worked out.

Ofsted, the school inspection body, could be given powers to inspect the ways in which local authorities met their targets for improvement, she said, and there would be legislation in the autumn on school discipline.

Asked about reports that Dr Mawhinney was unhappy with her performance, she replied: "You had better ask him." She added that he had telephoned her after seeing newspaper reports of the split, but declined to reveal what he had said.

Letters, page 11