Blunkett's axe hovers over TTA

February 12, 1999

Speculation that the government is prepared to abolish the Teacher Training Agency is mounting after last week's announcement of a review of the "future need" for the agency's functions.

The announcement by David Blunkett, the secretary of state for education and employment, that ministers plan to seize control of key TTA responsibilities and to "take a more direct lead role in current policy" has also excited the agency's critics.

In opposition, Labour had promised to abolish the TTA. But the agency's opponents were disappointed when, after the election victory, Mr Blunkett outlined a wider role for the agency. Now he appears to have cooled.

In a guidance letter from Mr Blunkett to TTA chairman Clive Booth released last week, Mr Blunkett said that he was bringing forward a routine five-year review of the TTA, which was due later this year.

"Given the major programme of work ahead of us on teachers, I believe it is sensible to launch now the formal review of the TTA's role and functions," he said.

In a parliamentary answer last week, the government said the review would look at the "likely future need" for the TTA's functions. It would "consider whetherI some or all of the functions of the TTA can be carried outI by another public, private or voluntary sector body or otherwise within government".

Mr Blunkett said the review should "look at the TTA's role in the context of the establishment next year of the General Teaching Council".

The results of the review will be known in April, but Mike Newby, chairman of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, believes that it could mark the beginning of the end of the TTA. He said the TTA would be irrelevant when a General Teaching Council is running.

"The GTC will be the voice of the profession and will be infinitely more authoritative than an unelected quango," he said. "This is a golden opportunity for the government to really work in partnership with the profession."

The TTA's critics have also been encouraged by shorter-term moves by ministers to veto key TTA responsibilities in implementing the green paper on the future of teaching. Mr Blunkett said: "Ministers should take the clear leading role in consulting on and taking forward the green paper agenda."

Ministers will push plans to set mandatory qualifications for head teachers under a "leadership college" and to design a fast-track promotion scheme for teachers.

Mr Blunkett said his department would look to appoint advisers who would work "directly with us".

Nevertheless, the TTA reacted positively to the new guidance. It stressed the routine nature of the five-year review and welcomed tasks that the government had set for it. Mr Blunkett invited the TTA to take responsibility for some elements of the reform agenda. He asked the agency to produce guidance, by next month, on plans to modularise postgraduate training courses, on proposals for numeracy tests for trainee teachers and on plans to extend pre-course teacher training.

Mr Booth welcomed these tasks as "crucial areas for reform". TTA chief executive Anthea Millett said she welcomed the TTA review to "ensure that we have the best possible platform for our future development".

Mr Blunkett also offered the TTA reassurance. "The TTA has an important role to play in relation to its core functions as the funding agency for teacher training."

But UCET was unconvinced. "Its funding function is not a sufficient reason for the TTA to remain," Professor Newby said. "There is no reason why the Higher Education Funding Council should not fund teacher training."

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