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Degrees aren't what they used to be

This is an exciting time for the youngest newcomers to the teaching profession - the new student teachers starting out on their courses. But the undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications they are embarking on would be unrecognisable to many of their colleagues in the staffroom.

For the past five years, initial teacher education has been changing in preparation for Curriculum for Excellence. New and stronger links are being forged between theory and practice, and between schools and universities, while the students themselves are encouraged to be enquiring, lifelong learners.

The University of Aberdeen pioneered the Scottish Teachers for a New Era programme, designed to develop more reflective teachers who would be less passive and work collaboratively as creative members of the school team. More time was spent working in pairs, investigating and questioning what was going on in schools, self-evaluating and studying an arts or science elective alongside education theory.

The University of Stirling introduced a new BA (professional education), a different type of primary teaching course, specialising in modern languages or environmental education, which would give its graduates an extra edge in the jobs market. With workforce planning an inexact science, the combined degree could protect them against a dearth of teaching jobs by equipping them for other careers.

Last year, the University of Glasgow trialled "teaching schools", based on teaching hospitals. One of the proposals in Graham Donaldson's review of teacher education (2010), this saw university tutors based in secondaries and feeder primaries for weeks at a time to support trainees, and proved highly popular. This year all the university's student teachers will have the same experience.

Now, the University of Dundee has launched a primary MA degree (News Focus, pages 12-15). Students can combine English, maths, science, history or philosophy - a whole range of specialisms - with their pedagogical studies. Literacy and numeracy, a weakness of students in the past, will form an important part of their studies, and they will be encouraged to widen their experience through a period of study abroad.

With the National Partnership Group for Teacher Education due to report to the Scottish government on the future implementation of Donaldson's recommendations, these are all early steps in the process. But by 2014, all the universities will have their new courses in place.

In the meantime, we will be there for the student teachers - giving them forums to chat online (page 51), ideas and resources for their classrooms (pages 22-29) and - this week - words of advice from the staffroom on the do's and don'ts of teaching practice (pages 18-21). And if it all seems too much at times, Kids Talk (page 50) can give them a laugh and remind them who and what it's all about.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor of the year (business and professional).

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