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Full probationer training 'a must'

Training for probationer teachers should be mandatory, paid for by the Government and concentrated in certain schools, Douglas Weir, vice-dean of Strathclyde University's education faculty, told local authority advisers at their conference in Dundee last weekend.

"We should not be offering training to probationers on a wing and a prayer. Probationer training in a structured and more formal manner must become an entitlement, just as it is mandatory to do initial training," Professor Weir said.

Ironically, the tendency to place new teachers on supply duties or short-term contracts was giving them the breathing space they needed to prepare for classes and settle into schools.

Professor Weir added: "Why has it taken so long to recognise this? Why do we ask probationers to take a full teaching load from day one? It is a criminal waste of talent."

He rejected the idea of training schools for pre-service students but backed specialist schools for probationers, which would be easier to organise. Such schools were already emerging because of high turnovers of staff. It was a matter of recognising this and highlighting the positive consequences.

Schools should be free to opt to become approved training centres for beginner teachers, who would be credited with at least a diploma after completing their probationary course.

Extending his theme, Professor Weir said teacher development should be regarded as essential. "We have to recognise that training is long and should be long."

Teachers were revealing their commitment by signing up in large numbers for advanced diplomas and degrees. Jordanhill campus of Strathclyde University had registered 2,000 teachers with up to half of course fees paid for by individuals. "There has been a phenomenal swing in the last six to seven years since the Government started tapering off in-service funds," Professor Weir said.

In-service training was "tremendous value for money, high quality and relatively low cost" and should be funded accordingly.

Teachers' needs were constantly changing and especially those of secondary staff. Heads in the west of Scotland were reluctant to employ people with only one subject, while staff in post were expected to take on a range of responsibilities.

He contended that teachers had their priorities the wrong the way round: "You get promotion, then find out how to do the job." There should be specialist training for promoted posts before staff went for interviews, a system applied in other professions.

Floating other ideas, Professor Weir suggested schools might place promoted staff on fixed-term contracts or rotate positions of responsibility, a practice already under way at Scottish universities and in schools in other countries.

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