Important tasks for the TTA

November 22, 1996

Ian Kane's view of the Teacher Training Agency (THES, November 15) amounts to little more than a collection of cliches, which can be summed up as: quangos bad, general teaching council good. A GTC may well have a positive role to play in the future, but the TTA has the job of tackling the here and now.

Ian Kane's note of indignation is not shared by most of the teacher trainers in higher education that I have met, and I have visited nearly every provider of initial teacher training. Reasoned debate on how to raise the quality of teacher training, thereby raising levels of achievement in our classrooms, is now the order of the day in most education circles. The days of "trust me, I'm the professional" are over.

The issues facing us are far too important to be reduced to a game of name-calling and political point-scoring. Whatever Ian Kane's personal views of the TTA there is one thing on which we should all agree. It is the TTA that has put teacher training on the political agenda. For, however much the profession has been subjected to the media spotlight, the TTA has fought the corner on behalf of the profession, arguing for a professional framework which recognises that the vast majority of teachers are competent and receptive to developments that are quite clearly linked to improving levels of achievement among pupils. It has also been the TTA that has managed to link issues of quality and funding, using the latter as a lever in improving standards among providers of teacher training.

We have introduced much needed openness and accountability. This agenda has nothing to do with self-aggrandisement, and everything to do with a desire to see improvements in how our teachers are taught, and how they, in turn, teach future generations. It is also about money. Surely we owe it to taxpayers to ensure that their money is well spent - the figures involved exceed Pounds 150 million.

The TTA has succeeded in developing fruitful relationships with many providers of teacher training. They recognise the incentives we have built in so that more students can go to the best providers. It is interesting to note that several leading academics have, privately, expressed support for the TTA's single-mindedness on quality. They do not, unsurprisingly, want to be associated with reactive and reactionary views.

This same audience has also responded so well to the TTA's framework on funding, built solidly on strategic planning by higher education providers. Where else in higher education are there three-year student number contracts, based on planning meetings with the funding body? Where else is there an Pounds 8 million allocations scheme without the dead weight of centrally determined bursaries to help universities and colleges attract and support students in key areas of under-recruitment? Where else are historical funding differences, under which teacher training often had to be subsidised from precious research budgets, being tackled - and to sensible timescales?

This, and so much more, is what the TTA is doing to raise standards. We cannot sit on the sidelines waiting for the day when a general teaching council may be created to take forward much of the work that is of central concern to us. Rather, we believe that action needs to be taken immediately if we are serious about raising standards, and that means taking action on recruitment, training and teaching.

We need to raise the quality on all three fronts to ensure that teachers throughout their professional career benefit from a framework of professional development that puts them on a par with other careers in order that they may provide the best for pupils in their charge.

There is much that has been done in the agency's short history. Much more needs to be done, and we will work with everyone with an interest in improving quality in teacher training and in education generally. The TTA's work has been typified by a partnership approach and we are willing and ready to work with everyone capable of thinking from first principles about the issues we need to tackle.

In its search for new approaches the TTA will encourage, rather than stifle, debate, but we do not fight shy of making tough and uncompromising decisions when it comes to matters of quality. We would be failing in our public duty if we settled for anything less.

Anthea Millett Chief executive Teacher Training Agency

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