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The bigger picture

Teacher training enters the 21st century. Emma Seith reports on a revolutionary method

A CUTTING EDGE teacher training course is proving more pop- ular than the traditional model it replaced.

Aberdeen University began running its Scottish Teachers for a New Era course in 2005, replacing the BEd primary degree course. In the first year, only one student dropped out compared to 14 the previous year. Two years on, and just five people have left.

"It is quite unprecedented," said Lynne Shiach, programme director. "You would normally expect 25 per cent to leave over the four years and somewhere in the order of 14 per cent in the first year."

STNE has received pound;1.8 million of funding from the Hunter Foundation and the Scottish Executive to pilot new approaches to initial teacher education. It is based on a similar initiative in the United States (Teachers for a New Era) and aims to turn students into lifelong learners capable of adapting to change, who value and listen to their colleagues.

At Aberdeen University, trainee teachers no longer operate in a vacuum, Ms Shiach told delegates at the recent International Summer School for Leadership in Edin-burgh. They are taught on the main campus by lecturers in arts and social science subjects as well as in the school of education. "In teaching, you work with a diverse group of people," said Ms Shiach. "Child-ren come from different walks of life and so do their parents. For teachers to be mixing with different professionals at the beginning of their learning experience is great."

Psychology is compulsory in first year and students elect to take a second arts or social sciences subject. Those who choose traditional subjects history, geography and English will be qualified to teach secondary. "There are primary teachers working in secondary," said Ms Shiach. "If that is needed in the future, we hope to make it easier."

Trainee teachers at the university are not "parachuted" into schools for placements of up to six weeks. In first and second year, they go on "field experience" in pairs, one day a week. While there, they are not expected to take on the role of class teacher but to investigate different themes: communication, environment, relationships, social conventions and feelings.

"Students used to be responsible at a very early stage not only for planning the lesson but organising and managing the children," said Ms Shiach. "We have removed the anxiety about having to be the expert teacher from the start."

The students also investigate what lies beyond the school gates on "community walks". Anywhere the children go, they explore libraries, sports centres or playgrounds. "They investigate what influences children's learning outwith and across school," she said.

The first cohort on STNE enters third year after the summer break.

Is the new course producing better teachers? According to Ms Shiach, the proof will be in the pudding: "We are seeing increased confidence in the students they are taking ownership. They understand the big picture better and that being a teacher in the 21st century isn't about being isolated in a classroom."

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