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Hit-and-miss approach to training

06 June 2014

In the run-up to the General Election and beyond, church universities face an uncertain future over teacher-training, says John Howson


Formal: graduation day at the University of Chester

Formal: graduation day at the University of Chester

THE church universities will no doubt be concerned about the recently announced government review of teacher-preparation standards, to be chaired by Andrew Carter, a Surrey primary-school head teacher with 26 years' experience in one school, because of their significant involvement in the training and development of teachers.

The aims of the review, announced at the end of April, are to define effective practice in initial teacher-training; to assess the effectiveness of the current system; to recommend how and where im-provements can be made; and to recommend ways of improving choice in the system through greater transparency of course content and methods.

These aims seem remarkably similar to the task of OFSTED inspectors when they look at teacher-training provision. So there seems a real possibility, given the end-of-the-year target date, that the review team will simply read OFSTED reports, collate the findings, and publish a report.

It will be interesting to see what more can be achieved. It will alsobe interesting to see whether the Churches are represented on the review group. At least the Schools Direct programme, run from the school led by the chairman of the review, has links with the University of Roehampton, which is steeped in the preparation of teachers for church schools.

EVEN before the results of the review of teacher education, the church universities face an uncertain 12 months over the future direction of teacher education in England, before the General Election in May 2015, when teacher training and supply may well feature in at least some of the manifestos.

The church universities can all trace their history back to the pre-Robbins-report era, in the 1960s, when the Church of England and Roman Catholic Churches, as the main employers of teachers, managed their own training colleges across the country, loosely supervised from Whitehall by the Ministry of Education. The pre-paration of new teachers is stillan important part of their mis-sion, and, importantly, their funding.

Part of the anxiety in the universities - and not just the church universities - results from the fact that the present Government has made clear its intention to transfer responsibility for teacher-training away from higher education, and into the school sector.

As a result, it has not only built on the Labour government's scheme Teach First, but consolidated other employment-based training opportunities into the School Direct programme, with which many school governors (especially of church schools) are already familiar.

In the future, government policy options range from transferring all teacher preparation to schools to continuing some form of the present mixed economy. If the Liberal Democrats remain in coalition, however, or if the Labour Party forms part of the next government, the spectre of larger numbers of untrained teachers in state-funded schools, as hinted at in the past by the present Secretary of State, will remain nothing more than an aspiration on the part of some Conservatives.

WHETHER there are enough church schools across the country involved in offering training places as part of the new School Direct scheme, I have not been able to determine.

The historical concordat between the Churches and the government over the preparation of teachers for faith schools, however, would risk being undermined if no attention was paid to this issue. (It may not matter where those that teach in faith schools are trained - or it may be a matter for the Churches, and other faiths, to take seriously, in the emerging landscape of teacher-preparation.)

Across the country, there are subjects such as history, chemistry, and English where schools as a whole have already offered more training places than the sector needs, along with another group of subjects, such as art, geography, and computer science, where they probably have the capacity to do so, even if church schools were not fully to participate in the new training regime.

What is increasingly apparent, however, is that there are a number of secondary subjects where the new Schools Direct scheme currently offers too few places to meet the national need. Many lack the capacity to train specialists in religious education, design and technology, and certain languages.

For instance, the Government's Teacher Supply model suggests a need for 545 potential trainees in religious education in the coming academic year, but so far schools have offered only 308 places. The same shortfall in school-based training places is also the case for music, and design and technology.

This means that unless some other form of private-sector initiative, such as using academy chains or charities to replace universities as the centres for preparing teachers, is developed by the Government, there will still be a need for universities to participate in the training of secondary-school teachers. Moreover, the demand for teachers will hugely increase towards the end of the decade, as the baby boom reaches secondary-school age.

IN THE primary sector, where the church universities have always had a strong presence, the current position is very different. Schools currently offer only about 8500 of the 20,000 training places that the Government says are needed.

With more than 6000 of the remaining 14,000 places on undergraduate courses, it seems likely that the church universities will continue to be heavily involved in preparing primary teachers, unless the review proposes - and the Government accepts - radical changes to primary teacher-training.

With so much happening in teacher education, and the preparation of teachers still so important to the church universities, their leaders, and those who plan the future of church schools, will need to pay close attention to the politicians' views on this issue.

The forthcoming General Election manifestos, now in their early stages, may provide clues.

Professor John Howson is the director of an education research company, and a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University.

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