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Caught out on student placement

It should not have come as a surprise to the Scottish Executive, universities, education authorities and schools that the demand for student placements would rise in direct parallel with the increase in teacher numbers. Yet that is what seems to have happened. They have been caught on the hop, unprepared and unco-ordinated.

If more primary, English and maths teachers, and various others, were required to meet the Executive's targets, then the means to train them had to be put in place. It appears, however, from the evidence provided today (Friday) by HMIE that there have been failings on virtually every side.

While the inspectors began their review nine months ago, and some arrangements have improved in the intervening months, the experiences of this year's students show only too clearly that the system is still creaking. Too many entrants to teaching have had an inauspicious start to their career. Those in charge of planning the future of Scottish education should bear in mind that they reap what they sow.

If providing a motivated, professional teacher workforce is indeed a priority, it is simply not good enough that some schools - albeit a minority - are, as HMIE has found, treating student teachers "inappropriately and unprofessionally" as a means of "supporting" a weak member of staff, as a cover teacher for an absent member of staff or to cover "McCrone time".

The Executive's additional funding to help authorities co-ordinate placements is welcome, but as the originator of the push for higher teacher numbers it needs to do more to aid the planning stages by giving more detailed statistics earlier in the process.

The Executive is being pressed by headteachers to offer inducements to schools to take students as readily as most take on probationers. There is a quid pro quo involved in that - schools must not be found wanting in their support for the student teachers who will eventually be the mainstay of their departments.

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