Offering student teachers placements should be mandatory for all schools unless there are “exceptional circumstances”, according to Scotland’s teacher watchdog.
The comments from Ken Muir, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, come as the education secretary, John Swinney, confirmed yesterday that more than 100 student teachers were still looking for placements in Scottish schools.
Answering questions following his keynote address at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow Mr Swinney said that 6,500 placements had been arranged but 128 students had yet to secure practical experience in a school.
However, the problem would be solved “overnight”, argued the GTCS’s Mr Muir, if Scotland moved from a system where schools have to “opt-in” to taking students to one where they have to “opt-out”.
Mr Muir told TESS: “We have an opt-in system and what we need is an opt-out system. If we had a system whereby every school and every department – unless there were exceptional circumstances – offered places this problem would be solved overnight.”
The GTCS manages the system for placing student teachers in schools but Mr Muir insisted it was fit for purpose and that schools needed to offering more places.
He also hit out at universities for rejecting placements they had been offered for their students.
The system could place students in schools up to 90 minutes by car from their homes; this was the travel time agreed by the Student Placement Management Group, he explained. However, one of the schools of education had cut travel time to 60 minutes by car.
Mr Muir said: “When you reduce the circle within which students can be placed by a third is it any wonder you struggle?”
TESS understands the university that made the cut to travel time was Strathclyde – Scotland’s largest school of education and the university worst affected by the student placement crisis.
Mr Muir continued: “The system has no difficulty placing students what we need is local authorities, schools and universities to ensure there are enough placements going into the GTCS system. It is not for the GTCS to find placements. We have had three staff working fulltime trying to find placements in schools that’s not acceptable or sustainable.”
The organisation had also had to call on the support of secondary headteachers’ body SLS, primary heads’ association AHDS and directors’ body ADES to solve the problem, he added.
Mr Swinney said yesterday that pressure had been put on education directors to find places for students. He said he was frustrated that students were struggling to find placements when areas of the country were suffering from a shortage of teachers.
Around 12,000 school placements are needed for primary trainees every year and 6500 secondary placements.
In January, TESS reported on the problem schools of education were having securing school placements for their students.
Figures uncovered by TESS showed that 16 per cent of secondaries, 19 per cent of primaries, and 39 per cent of nurseries had not offered any places to student teachers in 2015-16.
The GTCS sets guidelines for initial teacher training programmes in Scotland which stipulate the minimum time students teachers must spend on placement in schools.
At least 50 per cent of primary and secondary post-graduate programmes must be devoted to school or educational placement experience.