A training agency fit for the scrap heap

November 15, 1996

TEACHER Training Agency chief executive Anthea Millett's recent lecture and some of her claims for agency achievements warrant a response.

One claim is that linking funding to quality has given inspection impact. Quality assessment proposals, finalised this week by the agency, are a shambles. The key framework document has recently segued through one of the most disreputable consultation exercises the system can recall. Half the framework - audit - belongs in the TTA's domain, but what audit involves remains unexplained.

A further claim is that the funding of initial training is now transparent and fair. But the methodology overtly discriminates in favour of SCITT (school-centred) schemes; it shifts resources away from PGCE towards BEd; and it has failed to penetrate the complexities of sharing responsibility for funding with the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Suspecting discrimination against the older universities, which are not represented among the TTA board's members, the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers requested, in the interests of transparency and fairness, a chart of winners and losers. We are still waiting.

Ms Millett makes claims about teachers' professional development. The TTA has acquired Pounds million of a Pounds 400 million in-service training budget, taking over from the funding council responsibility for award bearing courses. The TTA is making proposals for recycling that money which could destabilise provision and lead to the collapse of courses in mid-stream. The proposals point insidiously towards the development of a two-tier profession, with a thrust towards managerialism rather than leadership. In characteristic fashion the envisaged mechanisms will be burdensome - more money for bureaucracy, less for professional development. Teachers' professional development is not safe in the TTA's hands.

At least we are spared any assertion that the TTA is meeting the needs for an adequate supply of teachers. This should have been the priority. Instead they scrapped the TASC (Teaching as a Career) unit, and replaced it with an advertising agency - Hill and Knowlton, little-known within education. TTA also scrapped the bursary scheme, leaving in limbo for months the money to promote recruitment. They are now making positive moves - two years late, but hopefully not too late.

The TTA must watch its Ps and Qs. P is for patronising. Some individuals have a line in condescension that develops arrogance into an art form, illustrated by the breathtaking assertion that the TTA has brought to the fore the link between research and classroom practice. Ignorance can be the only excuse for writing off decades of high-quality practical research. The TTA's ignorance is unsurprising because the agency has avoidance strategies for unwelcome messages. UCET is an organisation of several specialised committees (eg primary, research, continuous professional development) onto which each institution nominates whoever it feels is most suitable. This represents a pool of several hundred knowledgeable individuals, largely ignored by the TTA. Nor does the TTA often use the old Council for National Academic Awards system of inviting nominations generally. It eschews the representative principle in favour of serendipitous selective preferment.

Q is for quango, and the TTA's costs grow with each new "initiative". Don Foster, Liberal Democrat spokesman for higher education, has established via parliamentary questions that in 1995/96 the TTA spent Pounds 2.4 million on administration costs, more than half being staffing costs. UCET would like to see a more accountable and open TTA. One assumes board members act with integrity but it cannot be right in these Nolan times that there is no way to check. As well as the winners and losers chart, UCET would like to see the board papers. Not just the minutes; we would like to see the raw data that lies beneath claims for consensus or agreement and we have asked to see the individual responses to consultation exercises. Teacher education should not have been removed from its higher education context. It makes financial management difficult and also gives out the bad signal of seeking to decouple the teaching profession from higher education, unlike other professions in England and other developed countries.

When I became the UCET chair it was put to me - by the TTA - that we were uniquely reactionary and reactive. Subsequently I have been in meetings with higher education and teacher associations, Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals' groups, parents and governors groups and more. We are not the ones out of step. Nor are the above groups short of proposals. Well-argued and evidenced, they show that any general teaching council replacing TTA's policy role would have a thoughtful, well-researched approach, and another quango could bite the dust.

Ian Kane is head of Didsbury school of education, Manchester Metropolitan University and chair of UCET.

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