Change of tack for teacher training
Modelled on a programme running in the United States funded by the Carnegie Corporation, the pound;1.8 million initiative will aim to show that it is the quality of individual classroom teachers that has the greatest effect on the performance of individual pupils.
Hard research in the United States and Britain is showing that school factors are less important and that theory is now to be tested for the first time in Scotland.
Bids from the teacher education institutions were due to be submitted today (Friday) for a primary teacher-focused programme that is likely to include the initial phase of university training, the induction year in school and subsequent years in full-time teaching. Researchers will be able to monitor how teachers interact with pupils over several years.
In a new spirit of partnership, Strathclyde University and Edinburgh University are teaming up, as are Glasgow and Paisley. Local authorities are also involved in the search to break new ground.
A four-year pilot to run alongside existing initial teacher education (ITE) programmes will shortly be selected by the Scottish Executive and the Hunter Foundation, funded by Tom Hunter, the retail tycoon from Ayrshire.
Mr Hunter believes that enterprising and effective teachers can transform the life chances of young people.
Ewan Hunter, chief executive of the foundation, said: "Excellent teachers deliver outstanding education results in their pupils, regardless of background. They can bring about remarkable increases in pupil learning despite often challenging economic or social disadvantage."
Mr Hunter cites evidence from the 1996 study in Tennessee by Sanders and Rivers which found that students who had good teachers three years in a row showed a significant increase in maths exam performance, regardless of socio-economic factors. A similar group of pupils who began at the same standard but had ineffective teachers showed a significant decrease in performance.
In Britain, studies by Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon at Durham University have shown similar findings. Professor Fitz-Gibbon has repeatedly told Scottish audiences in the past two years that it is good teachers who make the difference.
Iain Smith, education dean at Strathclyde University, said: "It's a welcome and worthwhile initiative and one worth building on. It will tie in with the stage two review of initial teacher education."
The national review group, which includes substantial representation from the universities, is expected to highlight new routes into teacher training and different ways to deliver it. Mr Smith said that the Hunter initiative and the review "are broadly heading in the same direction".
Meanwhile, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, which along with the Executive would be responsible for accrediting any new approach, is being kept closely informed.
Matthew MacIver, GTC registrar, hailed a "significant initiative" for teacher education. "It is important because the premise on which it is based is that the teacher is at the centre of the whole educational process. The teacher does make a difference."