AS the Scottish Executive prepares to consider how and where the next generation of teachers should be trained, Highland Council has linked up with Aberdeen University to provide training on the doorstep. Courses will get under way in August.
but recruits to the new distance learning course could take up to two years to train and may not be available to Highland schools until 2005 - assuming they choose to remain in the Highlands.
Highland's initiative is unlikely to be the last move to transform the face of teacher education, as the concentration of places in the central belt is seen as untenable.
Strathclyde University's Jordanhill centre has linked with Lews Castle College in Stornoway to offer training in the Western Isles. Dumfries and Galloway is considering how best to provide training locally; a plan to create 20 new places at the Crichton higher education campus fell through after the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council failed to support it.
The Highland distance learning programme will be for students embarking on the one-year primary postgraduate course. It is an attempt not only to persuade more people to enter teaching but to boost the number of Gaelic and English-medium primary teachers. The council expects to lose half the current teaching workforce over the next 10 years through retirement.
Christina Walker, a lecturer in Gaelic-medium education in Aberdeen University's education department, said: "It can be a strong disincentive for people with degrees who would like to undertake teacher training, if they have to disrupt family life by studying in Aberdeen or Glasgow.
"The students will be able to undertake teaching practice at schools in their own areas, under the supervision of tutor teachers chosen from the experienced teaching staff. Staff from the university will visit the students to help and to assess progress. There will also be a student buddy system so that they can discuss the course."
Highland has calculated that 30 teachers need to graduate every year to meet the demand for Gaelic-medium education alone. There is also concern at the impending shortage of English-medium teachers. The new course will have places for five Gaelic-medium students and 15 English-medium students.