Placement under threat

Neil Munro reports on a scheme no longer considered a 'must-do' by the agency funding it. The teacher placement scheme, which allows school staff to keep abreast of industrial and business practice, is under threat in central Scotland because of a review being undertaken by Scottish Enterprise.

Evelyn McCann, the director of skills at the agency, which is responsible for disbursing the Pounds 300,000 this year to support the scheme, confirmed that a review was under way. But, she said, a great deal depended on the impact of next year's public expenditure settlement. Scottish Enterprise suffered a controversial Pounds 34 million reduction in its government grant this year.

Mrs McCann added: "Teacher placement, although valuable in giving teachers an appreciation of the world at work and therefore on the career choices of their pupils, is not one of our 'must-dos'. We are committed to our youth and adult programmes and these must take precedence." The budget for teacher placement, she said, was not "ring-fenced".

Co-ordinators of the scheme, staff who have benefited from it and careers officers are now becoming alarmed that Scottish Enterprise will attempt to transfer responsibility for teacher placement to the local enterprise companies, whose own budgetary restrictions will prevent the scheme from going ahead. This contrasts with the position in the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) area as well as in England and Wales where there is no question mark hanging over teacher placement.

Dermot Dick, chairman of the Association of Careers Services in Scotland, points to the conflict with Government policy, which has been urging closer links between education and industry, promoting an enterprise culture in schools and upgrading the skills of the workforce.

He said that, if any change was to be made, he would prefer to see Scottish Enterprise cash handed to the education-business partnerships established throughout Scotland rather than to the local enterprise companies (Lecs). The funds are currently channelled through Understanding British Industry, which is sponsored by the CBI employers' organisation.

Mrs McCann confirmed that either of the two alternatives was possible. But Mr Dick fears that handing the money to the Lecs as a discretionary part of their adult training budget, which The TES Scotland understands those in charge of the scheme were told would happen from next April, "could reduce a national scheme to a patchwork quilt".

Mr Dick added: "We seem to have a game of pass the parcel. Scottish Enterprise are saying the scheme has run for 10 years and should now be a discretionary matter for the Lecs. The Lecs don't want the opprobrium of cutting what they see is a national programme, and that, if the education authorities value it, they should pay for it. The authorities argue that staff development budgets are now the responsibility of schools. And the schools insist they've less and less money to spend on staff development."

Schools whose teachers have taken up placements in industry place a high value on what they see as two-way benefits, not only bringing contacts and resources to the curriculum and being a vehicle of modern teaching. "I've found it so motivating and stimulating and have always come back refreshed," Maureen Russell, the head of Wamphray Primary in Dumfries, says. She was one of the first participating primary teachers in Scotland and has now been on six placements.

Michael Murray, the head of St Conval's Secondary in Cumnock, who had a three-month stint with the Jetstream aerospace factory in Prestwick, agrees that all the teachers he knows who have shared the experience "have got a lot out of it and brought a lot back to the curriculum".

The uncertainty hanging over the scheme follows a record year which appears to confirm its popularity - a 50 per cent increase in placements from 2,662 to 3,991 in the Scottish Enterprise area. The number of placements in the Highland area since April stands at 95. Its budget is Pounds 30,000, which can be exceeded if necessary, an HIE spokesman said, and there were no plans for a review.

The most recent study of teacher placement, carried out by the Scottish Council for Research in Education for Scottish Enterprise, came to positive conclusions. Ironically, one of its central recommendations was that there should be a continuing central role for both Scottish Enterprise and UBI Scotland at a time of "multiple innovation".

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