Last straws and red herrings

July 12, 1996

Anthea Millett (THES, July 5) is right to want to keep universities on board in the education and training of teachers. She is right to want a nationally available provision for all BEd and Postgraduate Certificate of Education students which gives them a flexible range of techniques, knowledge and understanding. But she is mistaken in thinking that a "national curriculum" for teacher education imposed through the machinery of national government and regulated by the Teacher Training Agency and the Office for Standards in Education is the best way to achieve these things.

There are at least three reasons why providers have responded negatively to this latest statement of intent from government: the national curriculum in schools gives little cause for confidence, it was, and remains, contentious and expensive; there already is a national curriculum of sorts in teacher education, in the form of highly specific regulations governing what shall be taught in programmes leading to qualified teacher status; above all, the idea that still more definition to this curriculum should be imposed by government agency carries the degree of regulation in teacher education too far. I believe it is this which might be the last straw for the sector.

Though the TTA has made genuine efforts to negotiate and consult with its providers (the bulk of whom remain in higher education) it is still - and always will be - prey to the passing enthusiasms of its political masters. Its credibility with those on the ground will always be compromised by this.

With the 1989 Education Act, the schools ceded to government their right to control the curriculum. It seems clear from the proposal in the latest White Paper that this is exactly what the Government would like to see in the universities: a system of educating teachers, controlled through legislation, regulation and the funding machinery, in which the providers do as they are told.

Those best placed to set out any national blueprint for the education of teachers would not be directly answerable to any minister. They are in the schools, the colleges, the universities, the parent associations, the local authorities, the churches, the commercial and industrial communities, in short, those, speaking for a broad consensus of the people.

MICHAEL NEWBY Dean, Faculty of Arts and Education University of Plymouth

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