Sector fears Shephard's course intrusion

February 21, 1997

The new teacher training national curriculum is not only an inappropriate electioneering ploy but an intrusion into the autonomy of higher education, vice chancellors, principals and higher education bodies argued this week.

Gillian Shephard, secretary of state for education and employment, announced details of the new national curriculum for initial teacher training this week. Her "shake-up" offered few surprises - "higher hurdles" before a student gains qualified teacher status, and a prescribed curriculum to ensure trainee teachers themselves have a firm grasp of the "three Rs" before trying to teach them.

The content of the new curriculum has proved largely uncontentious, but higher education representatives are alarmed at a quiet expansion of the Government's power to intervene. "We inherited a teacher training system in which higher education called the tune," said Mrs Shephard. "Through no fault of their own, teachers are being allowed to leave some teacher training colleges without essential knowledge. This is the next big step to tighten up the controls and I'm taking up new statutory powers to do so."

In order to implement the curriculum, Mrs Shephard will amend the 1988 Education Reform Act, which has so far prevented her from prescribing teacher training course content. The amendments will be laid in the House "shortly", a Department for Education and Employment spokeswoman confirmed, and are expected to pass smoothly "without debate".

The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals has led the criticism. "We are not opposed to moves to continue improving standards," said CVCP policy adviser Patricia Ambrose. "But we don't think it's appropriate for the secretary of state, or a government of any persuasion to be in a position to prescribe the content of a course - it is too open to political manipulation." The CVCP has called for the establishment of a General Teaching Council.

The Universities Council for the Education of Teachers went further with its criticism. "It is really dangerous," said UCET secretary Mary Russell. "It means that any secretary of state could soon be interfering with any higher education course they fancied."

Consultation ends in May, and new courses are expected to be running in higher education by September 1997. The CVCP is still considering the feasibility of a legal challenge to the Government's moves.

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