Panic over on placements

David Henderson

Universities this week were more confident of finding placements for all their secondary student teachers, despite the usual last-minute panic.

Ministerial intervention over the summer in the form of extra funds for authorities to co-ordinate placements came too late to avoid the temporary crisis. More than pound;900,000 of "modest pump-priming" is being injected this session and next to avert any future debacle and ease the administration of probationer placements.

On Tuesday, Peter Peacock, Education Minister, visited Eastbank Academy in Glasgow to highlight how a secondary can take up to eight student teachers at a time, in addition to probationers on their one-year induction programme. Ministers believe there is a "moral obligation on headteachers to do their bit".

Strathclyde University was around 90 places short but Ian Smith, education dean, forecast that virtually all students will have found a school by today (Friday), although maths was a struggle. At Edinburgh, Pamela Munn, education dean, said all primary students had secured placements and the university was "well on the way" to finding places for all the additional English and maths trainee teachers.

Universities have been allowed to recruit above normal levels in key subjects such as English and maths to meet the Scottish Executive's commitment to cut class sizes in the two subjects in S1 and S2. But finding the extra placements has proved more difficult.

A major plus is that universities have been able to fill their extra spaces for English and maths places despite initial recruitment concerns. "Much to our surprise we appear to have met our target figures," Mr Smith said.

Over the past year, universities have repeatedly warned about the risks to student placements because of work overload and departmental restructuring in secondaries. Some schools have been reluctant to take part.

Ministers acted but the response from authorities is said to be "patchy".

Some of the larger councils have been given direct funds while others have been invited to join neighbouring authorities in planning placements. Many have yet to employ the administrative staff to transform the traditional pattern of universities pleading with individual schools to take their students.

Professor Munn said: "This is not a way to operate and ensure a high-quality system and we are looking forward to working with the local authorities and the Scottish Executive to get a more sustainable system in place."

Edinburgh currently organises placements across all its courses for around 3,500 students every year and believes that only local authority co-ordination at local level can resolve the headache. Professor Munn points out that increased numbers next year and the year after to meet Executive staffing targets will place even more pressure on schools.

The problem at Strathclyde was particularly acute this session, Mr Smith said, because numbers were up by 150 in English and maths. Some authorities, such as Glasgow, were finding it difficult to recruit full-time teachers.

Other dimensions are said to be confusion in schools over supervision of students in the aftermath of departmental restructuring, the removal of assistant principal teacher posts and the focus on dealing with probationers.

Bruce Robertson, Highland's education director, who has appointed a depute headteacher to co-ordinate placements among northern and island authorities, appealed for universities to broaden their placements. "For a well-rounded student placement, it would be no bad thing to consider rural and island authorities but it is a challenge for them to do that," Mr Robertson said.

Only 15 per cent of all schools are presently involved in placements, with proportionately more in the secondary sector. Matthew MacIver, registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, said: "We need to use all the schools in Scotland and not just a small percentage."

Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said it was too important a matter to rest on moral obligation.

"There has to be a structure and a tripartite agreement between the universities, local authorities and schools to ensure parity and quality."

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David Henderson

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