Hobson's choice for induction

20th June 2003 at 01:00
PGCE students in Aberdeen complain that the odds are stacked against them because they have to go as far as Edinburgh to find a placement

AT the beginning of the month we, along with the majority of PGCE students in Scotland, received word of our teacher induction placements for the coming year. Of the 13 in our class, only seven have been placed in an authority of their first or second choice.

The remaining six, all mature individuals with personal and mortgage commitments in Aberdeen, have been placed in their third, fourth or, in one case, fifth choice, encompassing a huge geographical area ranging from Shetland to Dumfries and Galloway. Two have been placed in Edinburgh (this was a fifth choice for one). How are they meant to live in the most expensive city in Scotland, while maintaining their commitments in Aberdeen?

This situation has arisen for several reasons. Two are particularly relevant, and highlight significant problems. First, applicants are required to make an initial choice of five authorities. In the north of Scotland, the size of the authorities is very much larger than in the south - if a line is drawn from Dundee to Oban, there are only seven mainland authorities to choose from, compared with 23 to the south (18 of which are within commuting distance of Edinburgh or Glasgow).

According to the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the Scottish Executive, the reason for the five choices is statistical, in order to maximise the chances of any applicant being offered one of their first three choices. However, the assumption that the fourth and fifth choices are realistic options is invalid for the entire north of Scotland which reflects the "central valleycentric" operation of the scheme.

If one lives in Aberdeen, only three authorities lie within commuting distance. So the requirement to make fourth and fifth choices is academic for those who are not mobile.

The second and most crucial point for the Aberdeen students is the lack of local probationer provision. Aberdeenshire has four places available, and these have been allocated, on a random basis, to Aberdeen students.

Aberdeen City has one position fully funded by the Scottish Executive.

Information from the Executive suggests that Angus has made absolutely no provision for geography probationers. Had this information been in the public domain earlier, it would have dramatically altered the initial choices, as two were effectively null and void from the outset.

Those affected can, of course, appeal. But, unless the local provision miraculously increases, no one will stand any chance of being reallocated within commuting distance anyway, so there is little point. On the other hand, if appeals are not made, the deep dissatisfaction felt will not be registered.

The old supply route to full registration is still available to those who feel unable to take up their induction places. However, everyone who is represented by this letter is convinced of the merits of the teacher induction scheme and would far rather achieve full registration status via the scheme than through supply teaching. It is not the scheme that is being criticised, but its administration.

The GTC and the Executive appear fond of quoting the figure that some 90 per cent of students are allocated probationary places in their first three choices. But this masks significant disparities within subjects and localities.

One of the most positive characteristics of those who undertake PGCE training is that the majority are mature individuals who have accumulated a wealth of previous experience. However, this also means that we have accumulated the personal and financial commitments which tend to accompany this state of maturity.

At a time when the Scottish Executive is pouring money into policy areas such as inclusion, it seems deeply ironic that a sizeable number of the next crop of teachers are already feeling devalued and excluded at the very beginning of their careers.

The author, who does not wish to be named, writes on behalf of postgraduate students at Aberdeen University.

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