A burden on goodwill

15th October 2004 at 01:00
I was pleased to see that discussion has been opened up regarding the placement of student teachers in schools. It is true there is reluctance to accept students because of the enormous pressures on schools to attain test results and to provide evidence about areas of achievement.

However, the problems for schools which accept placements are really much more significant than those mentioned in your article (TESS, October 1).

McCrone has introduced the idea of mentoring into the training of probationers, with one and a half days a week allocated to each new teacher for support and preparation. Admittedly the probationer will most probably be addressing the whole curriculum, but we should not underestimate the challenges which are to be faced by students who face full-time placements in a class as well.

A student placement in school does not have any time allocated for support and preparation. The class teachers who work with them are not recognised as mentors and find themselves supporting students during lunchtimes, breaks and after school.

Often the inexperience of the student means that more time is needed to mentor than with a probationer. Many extremely tolerant and supportive staff are beginning to creak under the burden, and the burden has doubled this year.

It must also be pointed out that, while the one-year PGCE course may be feasible for secondary students with a single subject focus, it is of monumental concern in the primary sector.

The complexities of primary education cannot be addressed in a year. In practice, this means that the new PGCE student often needs more support during his or her training, and many need and appreciate more than the single year of support offered for the probationary period.

Add to all of this the detailed benchmarks and reports which must be used by class teachers when supporting students and you may understand why some headteachers are reluctantly saying that too much is being expected of our teachers and our schools.

The results of these unrecognised pressures are only just beginning to be seen. The Association of Head Teachers in Scotland believes that more and more schools will withdraw as they do not have the time and resources to be able to continue.

Already we hear that local authorities are considering assigning students to schools so that the whole process becomes obligatory.

I would advocate caution as mentoring students is not part of a teacher's contract and riding roughshod over current goodwill may prove to be an insensitive and regressive step.

Kay Hall President Association of Head Teachers in Scotland Dundee

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