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Dark hole for technology

Pupils in the north-east are sometimes left without any technological education in their first two years of secondary or at Higher, the principal of Banff and Buchan College said last week.

Bob Sinclair blamed a shortage of technology teachers and warned that the consequent skills gap among pupils was threatening the economy of the north-east.

Addressing the launch of the pioneering BSc Technology with Education course, a partnership between the college and Aberdeen University's education department, Mr Sinclair said the local economy relied on technological skills in the farming, fishing and oil and gas sectors.

A demand for new schools and roads would only increase the demand for skilled engineers.

Mr Sinclair said the Fraserburgh-based college had used the shortage of qualified teachers to build up school links. "It struck us as an FE college that if pupils were not receiving full technological education in schools, potential college students for our engineering and construction courses would have poorly developed psycho-motor skills which would in turn make our job more difficult and restrict their ability to participate in the north-east labour market," he said.

More teachers could be recruited by combining the two-year higher national diploma in mechatronics at the college with a further two years at the university to hone skills for the classroom. The new degree course had taken only 18 months to establish.

Around six of 20 current HND students might consider the option. In the longer term, it might prove attractive to "people with good practical skills but no formal qualifications" who were in the middle of their working lives.

Other shortage subjects such as home economics could be handled the same way, Mr Sinclair said.

Cathy Macaslan, head of education at Aberdeen University, said that colleges across the north and in the islands had expressed interest and that other shortage areas such as the sciences or mathematics could be introduced into the framework.

It was important, Ms Macaslan said, to see teacher training as a continuum - everything a teacher needs to know could not be fitted into current courses. The probationary year already acknowledged that. It was a training year and would be followed by continuing professional development once teachers were in post.

Ms Macaslan said that no single sector had all the answers and that higher and further education and local authorities had to work more closely on teacher training.

"I highlight this fact because the development was not without its issues which, by and large, were the challenges of regulatory frameworks and preconceptions. Lessons for us all are that we need to keep challenging restrictive frameworks where and when we find them stifling innovation," she said.

It was important for the north-east to reduce barriers for young people's progression and access to learning and careers.

The university is already developing a part-time distance learning course for primary teaching with Highland Council and secured pound;1.8 million from the Hunter Foundation and the Scottish Executive to pioneer new approaches to training teachers.

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