A challenge has been thrown down to the new Scottish Funding Council to bring down the barriers against part-time study for entry into teaching.
Matthew MacIver, registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, said last week that widening access to the profession was a critical issue for initial teacher education (ITE), the subject of a national conference in Edinburgh.
Mr MacIver criticised the arrangements under which part-time courses are not funded but full-time courses are. "The funding council has to understand that it has a responsibility to all of teacher education and that means funding all courses," he said.
Part-time and distance learning courses for student teachers were beginning to spring up, but more must be done. "Access is linked to mode of delivery," Mr MacIver said. "We do not reach a lot of people who cannot give up their time or family commitments for full-time study, who would love to be teachers but who cannot afford it - and that is as true of urban as well as remote areas."
The funding council is committed to looking at how it can support part-time provision from 2006-07, having been charged by the Scottish Executive with promoting flexible routes into ITE.
It already supports some part-time places at Aberdeen University, which is being funded by the Executive and the Hunter Foundation to develop new ways of training teachers in a partnership with six northern authorities.
Cathy Macaslan, Aberdeen University's vice-principal with responsibility for learning and teaching, told the conference she hoped the "Scottish Teachers for a New Era" project could lead to the development of "not a primary or a secondary teacher, but someone who can span the boundaries".
The initiative draws students much more closely into academic study in the rest of the university. First-year students take courses in the arts and science faculties, for example, only moving on to more pedagogical study in their second year (but still retaining work outwith the education faculty).
The university is also embarking on changes to the placement system, abandoning the approach in which students are plunged immediately into planning lessons, being assessed, keeping files and talking to teachers. "People coming out of school into training don't know enough to be a primary teacher or any other kind of teacher," Ms Macaslan said.
The Aberdeen alternative is to establish learning communities, in which students have a dialogue with teachers and learn about communities, families, services and other factors impacting on education - "before they ever step inside a classroom", Ms Macaslan said. This is being piloted in Aberdeen's St Machar area.
She believed this would produce "a different kind of teacher in a different learning environment, with enhanced support, to create a changed professional culture".
The broadening of student experiences beyond what Ms Macaslan called the "academic tribes" and the "professional tribes" won strong backing from the GTC registrar, who said that universities need to become more involved in teacher education, not less.
Mr MacIver said this was essential if Scotland was not to follow the route in England where, under the graduate teacher scheme, bright graduates are encouraged to go straight into schools to train on the job.
The aim in Scotland should be to produce "a well-educated and well-resourced teaching profession in a partnership of good practice and intellectual rigour".
Bruce Robertson, director of education in Highland, which is closely involved with Aberdeen University in developing new ways of training teachers, told the conference of the necessity of finding ways to make training more attractive, through part-time and distance learning routes.
Mr Robertson added his voice to calls for the funding issues to be sorted out.
George Gardner, Glasgow's depute director of education, said the city was looking for teachers with particular qualities such as a sense of humour, an ability to motivate pupils, "stickability", flexibility, collegiality, and who were well informed in "the craft of teaching and the science of learning".
As the issue of student placements in schools hit the headlines once again (TESS, last week), one constant theme of the conference, the first national event to discuss the Executive's reform plans for initial teacher education, was that local authorities must become more involved than ever before.
* Trainee teachers in Wales are to enjoy the same benefits as trainees in England. From next September, eligible secondary maths and science postgraduate trainees will receive pound;7,200 during their studies and a pound;5,000 "golden hello".