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Reluctant partners set for showcase marriage to dons

THE two schools, both less than a mile away from the proposed faculty of education at Aberdeen University, could break new ground under the faculty's plans to establish direct links with neighbourhood academies.

Options might include basing part of the faculty at Linksfield as the idea of a refashioned "demonstration" school re-emerges. The highly sought after Jordanhill School in Glasgow was originally run for that purpose.

Lecturers could work part-time in the classroom to keep skills and knowledge up to date while teachers might move in the other direction, sharing best practice in areas like pupil management.

Such a move would take on board the McCrone report's contentious criticism of initial teacher education and its call for teacher educators to be closer to the classroom.

As the Scottish Executive launches a review that is likely to shake up approaches to teacher education, the university and the city council have already signed a memorandum of understanding and a key element will be the links between the education faculty and city schools.

Talks have been going on for the past year but depend on ministerial approval for the absorption of the Aberdeen end of Northern College into the university on August 1. A general election may delay that deadline.

John Stodter, the city's director of education, said an education faculty needed firm roots in schools. "We could give some staff some experience in teacher training and we could efresh, update and hone skills of teacher trainers by getting them to spend time in a school."

But Mr Stodter added: "What we would not do is concentrate all teaching practice on one school only."

Linksfield is an education action plan school and its ability to innovate in a disadvantaged community is currently being assessed. Mr Stodter believes more areas of classroom practice should be open to further research.

Parents at Linksfield and St Machar are opposed to a merger that would involve a split site or dual campus. However, the university and the two schools are to co-operate on moves to encourage young people into higher education, running summer schools and tailored lectures.

Ian Macdonald, the university's vice-principal, believes that the use of university facilities would benefit pupils taking Advanced Highers. Those with good grades might then gain exemption from first-year degree courses.

Mr Stodter argues that the more pupils from areas of disadvantage see of university, the more likely they are to believe further or higher education is an option for them.

"Both the city and university are committed to developing people, social inclusion and the promotion of learning in Aberdeen, which is probably the biggest industry in the city. It is a major business," he said.

As one Linksfield door closes, others open with ramifications beyond the school gate. But a reluctant local community will have to be persuaded.

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