University-based teacher training is in jeopardy following the Government's announcement that it intends to set course content. The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals has warned that plans to define the essential content of teacher training programmes could prove to be "the final nail in the coffin" for some education departments.
Proposals unveiled by Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, for a national curriculum in teacher training, are likely to cause some universities to "start to think very seriously about whether they want to carry on in teacher education", said the CVCP this week.
The Universities Council for the Education of Teachers added that some of the major providers of teacher training courses could consider pulling out in the face of increasing prescription, constant change and funding cuts.
Mary Russell, UCET secretary, said: "If Government interference is going to increase then even the stronger providers will be tempted to throw teacher training overboard and concentrate limited resources on something less fraught."
The CVCP plans to take legal advice on whether the Education Secretary has the power to prescribe course content. Patricia Ambrose, the CVCP's policy advisor on teacher training, said: "We have found nothing in the legislation to support Mrs Shephard's view."
Universities and colleges contacted by The THES said they would hold out for the general election before giving up on teacher education. Martin Booth, head of education at Cambridge University, was unmoved by Mrs Shephard's resolve. "The university is committed to maintaining control of its teacher training," he said.
Uncertainty over quality inspections for teacher training, the results of which have a direct impact on funding, is adding to the pressures on education departments. The inspection agency Ofsted confirmed this week that primary teacher training courses whose quality inspection reports are still being published are likely to be re-inspected soon.
A spokesman said this would allow for a more detailed look at areas already inspected and a broader look at those not covered in the first round of visits. But institutions are worried that while the first inspection sweep has brought mostly good results overall, a second might prove more critical, leading to funding cuts.
John Cater, principal of Edge Hill College of Higher Education and chairman of the Standing Conference of Principals' teacher education group, claimed that even a "sound" quality rating - defined by Ofsted as provision with "shortcomings, if any, balanced by positive features" - leads to funding cuts of up to 10 per cent under the current funding system. The Teacher Training Agency has confirmed this is possible.
Dr Cater pointed out that under the TTA's new funding system a "sound" rating also meant no growth in student numbers. "A small change in your rating can mean the difference between being able to grow by up to a third and not being allowed to grow at all," he said.