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Staff boost for PE, music and drama

The Education Minister has signalled plans to increase the number of teachers in the aesthetic subjects and learning support.

But the new specialists will stay within the total of 53,000 teachers set under the election commitment which pledges to employ an extra 3,000 teachers by 2007. This was initially aimed at reducing P1 class sizes to 25 and S1-S2 English and maths classes to 20.

Peter Peacock made his announcement in an unreported passage of a speech to the Scottish Labour Party conference in Inverness last week.

The new staff will be in physical education, music, drama and "those working with young people who have particular barriers to their learning".

It is understood this is a reference mainly to children in care - local authorities' patchy record in meeting Scottish Executive targets has led to a strong rebuke by Mr Peacock.

Mr Peacock said he was sending "a clear signal to the education authorities and the teacher education institutions that the extra teachers should be used to bolster the creative side of what schools do and to contribute to improving youngsters' motivation".

He is known to be impressed by North Lanarkshire's decision to place PE, music and drama centre stage, not just for their own value but to equip pupils with the self-esteem said to be necessary to improve attainment.

The additional teachers for PE anticipate the outcome of the Executive's review, which is expected to report shortly. While it is likely to recommend an increase in the hours devoted to PE in schools, ministers are understood to require some convincing of that given their commitment to flexibility in the curriculum.

Meanwhile calls for a major shake-up in teacher training have been fuelled by the revelation that 97 per cent of current students have rejected pound;4,000 inducements to teach anywhere in Scotland.

Only 66 students - six primary and 60 secondary - out of 2,300 on the five different types of university teacher training courses say they are willing to go where they are most needed when they begin their probationary year in August.

Ministers have responded to recruitment problems in rural areas by inviting students to consider a posting to any authority struggling to fill vacancies. As in the first two years of the scheme, students were asked to list their first five preferences but also to tick a sixth box if they were prepared to waive their choices.

The authority that eventually takes them on will pay them the extra cash, the first time the Executive has attempted to follow the pattern of financial incentives south of the border.

Matthew MacIver, registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, last weekend told school board members in Stirling (page six) that the figures reinforce the view that the domination of central belt universities in training teachers must change quickly.

"I just do not believe that we cannot train teachers whether they live in Kirkwall, Benbecula, Eriskay or Dumfries. We have to change the delivery of training," Mr MacIver said.

"There will be hundreds of people out there - and they are not all women - who cannot give up a year of their lives to come down to Jordanhill, Dundee or Moray House. They cannot give up their families and there are men and women as well who cannot give up their jobs to train. We just have to change that."

Mr MacIver is a member of the Executive's review team on initial teacher education (ITE), whose report is due within weeks. "The mobility of the profession is an issue and ties in with the GTC's long-held view that we need to re-examine how ITE courses are delivered in Scotland," he said.

Part-time course at Strathclyde University and the newly accredited part-time distance learning course at Aberdeen University - which serves Highland - signalled the way ahead.

Shetland is the latest to join the Aberdeen scheme, which will train around 20 primary and secondary teachers in the isles through a base at Shetland College. Orkney may add to the list.

Helen Budge, senior education officer in Shetland, said there were enough teachers to cover classes but not enough supply teachers. "There are a large number of teachers who are heading towards their retirement and we will have to find cover for them. We are trying to take action now before things get desperate."

Mr MacIver also told school boards about fundamental challenges to the traditional entry routes through the four-year bachelor of education and one-year postgraduate courses, based on 18 weeks of professional knowledge and 18 weeks of teaching practice. "What a load of nonsense," Mr MacIver said.

He urged universities to be more creative in how they trained teachers. It was ridiculous, he said, that the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council did not support pilot projects in teacher education.

"If the GTC is a bastion of conservatism, the universities would rival us for the gold medal," Mr MacIver said.

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