STUDENTS training to be secondary teachers should be dispatched to nurseries and primaries to pick up tips on classroom practice, Shelagh Rae, president of the Association of Directors of Education, has urged.
Mrs Rae's radical blueprint contrasts sharply with the latest guidelines on initial teacher education issued by the Scottish Office last week. Its document rehearses the existing "competences" (48 in all) required by trainee teachers, with the addition of opportunities for primary students to develop skills in modern languages and information technology.
But Mrs Rae said current training of one-year postgraduate studies and two years' probation failed to equip secondary teachers adequately. She backed a sweeping overhaul and recommended a three-year traineeship before secondary teachers were fully qualified. They were good at teaching their subject but less effective at teaching children.
"It seems to me the people who best understand most about how children learn are nursery teachers and infant teachers in primary schools and I say that as a former secondary teacher myself," Mrs Rae, the director in Renfrewshire, told a headteachers' conference at Edinburgh University.
She demanded a more radical restructuring than the revised guidelines, which rely on the General Teaching Council improving induction for probationers and developing standards for full registration at the end of probation.
The ADES president suggested paid traineeships, similar to the pattern of training for doctors, engineers and architects. "This model is not terribly revolutionary. For example, GPs do a degree then a three-year period of training with time in hospital and in GP practices, learning different things," she said.
Secondary trainees could be given a reduced teaching commitment and sent to nurseries and primaries to see other less subject-based approaches. "They could look at good teachers in other sectors and come back to university to look at theoretical aspects and skills, and do some research," Mrs Rae said.
She accepted extra Government funding would be needed but believed alternative models would help with the call for more specialism in upper primary and less in the early years of secondary. The faculty approach in secondaries would be one way to reduce subject specialism and its dominating influence over the curriculum.
Mrs Rae said: "It seems if it moves we have an examination in it and if we can have an examination in it you have a teacher of it."
She also called for more money to be put into staffing. "As a country, we have still got the highest level of pupil-teacher contact and we really need to look at reducing that to allow teachers more time to become reflective professionals. That again would require additional funding for education."