Computer glitch causes school placement chaos

21st September 2012 at 01:00
System error ends in massive loss of data, affecting hundreds of student teachers and schools

School placements for hundreds of student teachers were plunged into chaos this month after computer problems arose in the transfer of the electronic system which handles their allocation.

The data of 492 BEd students at the University of Stirling was deleted in the migration process from the University of Glasgow to the General Teaching Council for Scotland. About 150 Stirling students were due to go out on placement last week and the loss of online data meant university staff had to do the matching of student to school "manually".

The University of Edinburgh told TESS that just over 200 of its students - 100 PGDE nursery, 100-plus PGDE secondary, and a small number of design and technology BEd students - had also been affected.

And Teresa Moran of Dundee University, who represents the teacher education institutions (TEIs) on the Practicum management group, said that "most universities have had some difficulty as a result of the transfer of the system".

A spokesperson for Perth and Kinross Council said the placement system was transferred to the GTCS in July, but local authorities were only informed two weeks ago that a fault had occurred.

"It became apparent that universities could not see what local authorities had offered and schools could not receive confirmation that they were going to receive a student on placement and therefore the matching could not take place," she said.

As a consequence, some students appeared in schools unannounced and schools were unprepared to receive them. On Tuesday this week, Perth and Kinross was still trying to place one student, she added.

Richard Edwards, head of Stirling's School of Education, said he understood that student records had been deleted as part of the institutions and that it had taken a few weeks for Practicum's back-up files to be restored.

Claire Whewell, a senior teaching fellow at Stirling who oversees its student placements, confirmed placements had been deleted, schools did not receive emails from Practicum about placements, and some placements had been reallocated.

"Much has had to be done manually. The university has encouraged students to contact schools in advance to double-check they knew where they were going and that schools were expecting them," she added.

Stirling is likely to have been hit disproportionately because its semester system starts earlier than other TEIs.

It was decided to move Practicum to the GTCS's control after it became an independent body in April.

A GTCS spokesman said: "It is a complex system and we are working with the University of Glasgow to try to resolve handover problems.

"We apologise for the work and frustration these problems have caused, but we can reassure students, and the universities and local authorities, that students will get their placements for 2012-13, regardless of the difficulties."

University forced to cancel placements

The University of Glasgow had to cancel the two-week induction placements for 270 PGDE students this month as a result of administrative problems.

While the Practicum problems were not directly connected, "the issues we encountered placed some strain on our own management systems and, as a consequence, staff were unable to confirm all of the arrangements to allow for the placements to proceed", said a university spokesman.

An added complication has been the expansion of the university's pilot "clinical model" for student placements - in which hub schools are used along similar lines to the "teaching hospitals" concept.

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