Neil Munro reports from the conference on the McCrone report organised by the Scottish Forum for Modern Government.
THE McCrone report's section on teacher training came in for strong criticism.
Matthew Maciver, depute registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, said it was "easy and populist" simply to suggest that lecturers in teacher education institutions (TEIs) should spend more time in schools. There was no evidence to back up some of the "sweeping generalisations".
The inquiry acknowledged that these issues were outside its remit and said its members had not visited any of the institutions or attempted to appraise courses. The report none the less passed on criticisms from new entrants to teaching that institutions were "out of touch" with classroom realities. It recommended that they should make periodic visits to schools to keep up to date.
Mr Maciver pointed out that all teacher training courses are scrutinised by practising teachers through the accreditation and review committee of the GTC.
He also criticised the "divisive" recommendation that specialist training schools should have additional funding for students on placement. "All schools should be involved, not just accredited schools who are regarded as so good that they should be paid to take students while others are not," Mr Maciver said.
Keir Bloomer, president of the Association of Directors of Education, said there might be a case for a thorough review of teacher education but not as an afterthought on the back of a report which was about conditions of service.
Mr Maciver did, however, welcome McCrone's comment that the treatment of probationers was "little shortof scandalous". He revealed that half of probationers in their first year are on supply work. Nineteen out of 50 chosen at random from the GTC register had worked in more than 10 schools.
The "gold medallist" is the probationer who has finally won full registration after two and a half years during which time he had 122 separate periods of employment in 52 different schools.
Mr Bloomer suggested that one answer, though expensive, would be "to exchange the existing low quality employment experience of the probationer years for one year which would be added to the training period". Probationers had a fragmented experience largely because of teacher unemployment and because the absence cover regulations require supply to be provided in specified ways.
Mr Maciver also outlined GTC figures which showed the urgent need to bring in new blood. Half of teachers are aged over 40 and a quarter are over 50. Of 2,200 chemistry teachers, only 150 are under 30.
Judith Gillespie of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council said the problem would worsen as teaching was forced to compete with other occupations from a dwindling population base. The number of primary pupils is set to fall by 8 per cent by 2005 and by 11 per cent by 2009, galloping downhill as each succeeding generation of parents becomes smaller.
The lack of appeal of teaching as a career for men would also reach crisis proportions, Mrs Gillespie predicted. Already only 40 per cent of secondary males are under 45. Looming shortages could be one reason for the pressure on schools to move away from subjects to a skills agenda. "Anyone can teach skills but you need a chemist to teach chemistry," she said.