V-cs attack teacher training changes

November 8, 1996

Vice chancellors and principals are challenging the Government's bid to dictate the content of teacher training courses and to re-inspect university and college education departments.

They are preparing to mount an attack on proposals from Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, to give her the power to create a "national curriculum" for initial teacher training.

And they have warned Chris Woodhead, head of the inspection agency Ofsted, that institutions may refuse to make arrangements for re-inspection of their primary teacher training courses unless he answers criticisms of the timing of the proposed visits.

Mrs Shephard has given higher education institutions until January 24 next year to respond to plans to amend the Education Reform Act 1988 so that her department and the Teaching Training Agency can prescribe the content of teacher training programmes.

She proposes to change the definition of an accredited institution in the Act by the addition of the words in italics so that it reads: "an institution accredited by the Teacher Training Agency or, in Wales, by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, as a provider of courses satisfying such provisions as to curricula and other criteria as may from time to time be specified by the Secretary of State".

The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals fears that the change could be the thin end of the wedge. It believes that it could lead to the Secretary of State prescribing the content of other higher education courses.

Patricia Ambrose, CVCP policy advisor, said the change could set a dangerous precedent. The TTA would become the first funding body to have control over higher education course content.

"We will have to consider seriously mounting a challenge to these proposals," she said.

Meanwhile, the CVCP has written to Mr Woodhead complaining that the imminent re-inspection of 20 education departments is "unreasonable". It says that, since the initial inspection sweep has not yet been completed, there has been "no justification" for the proposed second sweep. Around half of institutions affected are reported to be withholding documentation needed by Ofsted to go ahead with the inspections.

The letter says re-inspection would lead to disruption, and suggests there are "serious doubts about the public probity of the expenditure that will be needed to comply with the demands of this sample survey inspection at such an unreasonable time".

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