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Lorraine's computer study wins top trainee award

This year's winner of the major prize for talented and promising trainee primary teachers is Lorraine Smith, who is now teaching at Inverbrothock Primary in Arbroath.

The entry from Ms Smith, who graduated with a BEd (Hons) from Edinburgh University this year, was judged the best undergraduate submission for the George D Gray CBE MA award, open to students in the final year of the four-year primary course.

Her thesis on "Effective grouping strategies within ICT" won her the prize established by Ethel Gray, whose late husband was the first registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland. The award was formally recognised at the GTC's meeting on Wednesday.

Dr Gray is the former principal of Craigie College of Education in Ayr and is a firm believer in the importance of recognising and encouraging excellence in new teachers. The award in memory of her late husband is intended to spotlight the best potential practitioners and researchers in the teaching workforce of the future.

The judging panel considered more than 20 theses submitted as the best in each of the seven university education faculties producing primary teachers.

Ms Smith's thesis investigated the most effective learning environment and groupings when using computers in a classroom. She concluded that most learning progress is made when pupils work in pairs.

Ron Elder, dean of the education faculty at Dundee University, who chaired the judging panel, said: "The robustness of the research design, the quality of the arguments led and the far-reaching implications of the results impressed us.

"As many authorities are embarking on plans to give every pupil a laptop, it is worth asking how children learn best with a computer. The best research often questions our unchallenged assumptions. This thesis draws widely on related literature to do just that."

Professor Elder said the submissions for the Gray award, while coming from the most successful students, underlined the importance of the thesis in educating future teachers. "The skills required to complete a thesis are so fundamental to developing reflective practitioners that it is difficult to conceive of a better way of ensuring that a student is able to take ownership of a topic, read widely and analytically, then pursue a line of questioning to a conclusion informed by grounded evidence."

He added: "Judging this award for two years has convinced me of the value of the thesis and underlined the quality and potential of the best output from teacher education. I look forward to these high flyers influencing education over the next decades."

This is the second year of the Gray award and last year's winners are already making their mark. Emma Holding, now teaching in Eaglesham primary, and Alasdair McDonald, who works in Kilbowie primary, Clydebank, have both been given significant roles to play in continuing professional development for their authorities.

The other members of the judging panel were Matthew MacIver, registrar of the GTC; Ivor Sutherland, its former registrar; Dr Gray; and Neil Munro, editor of The TES Scotland.

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