I was about to rescue a mouse from my scheming cat when a teaching colleague from the central belt phoned to talk about his concerns regarding student teacher placements. My evidence on problems with teacher training leapt into double figures and I wrote my column of October 28. Cats and pigeons later, the cauldron is still bubbling away and I'm glad that these matters are being aired publicly, because this is a free society.
A primary source was the recent 33-page HMIE report, Student Teacher Placements within Initial Teacher Education. The writers, on the strength of what student teachers told them regarding the range of their experiences, from deficient upwards, were led to observe that "the quality of support and standards of assessment provided by university tutors varied considerably".
The Education Minister has challenged universities "to develop alternative modes of delivery of ITE courses to attract appropriately qualified candidates who are not otherwise able to come into teaching". Hopefully, there is the will in the institutions to tackle these clamant challenges.
However, the first stage of the HMIE review on ITE - published in June 2001 - highlighted the lack of recent (or any at all) classroom experience of the individuals delivering the courses in the institutions. What makes revealing reading in the 2001 report is the extent to which the universities resisted the view that experience in the classroom is the vital ingredient that will turn the base metal of theory into the gold of practice.
A plank in their defence was that lecturers are already teaching in an HE institution and therefore know about teaching. There is an ocean of difference between lecturing to adults and managing the multifaceted, all-inclusive world of the school classroom. In the 2001 report, new teachers said they felt most challenged "in matters related to pupil behaviour". The recommendation to the universities was that the "preparation of student teachers should articulate with changing realities in the classroom". If this is happening more so in 2005, then I'm delighted. But I'd like to know how many ITE lecturers have recent hands-on experiences.
Students and newly qualified teachers who have shared their experiences with me provided more material for my October 28 column. But maybe the most telling source of all was the staffroom forum on The TES Scotland website.
Since then, one thread has been removed because of the very full criticisms directed at individual lecturers at one particular teacher training institution.
However, criticisms continue and I note two recent comments from students:
"So far all our lectures have been on curriculum guidelines this and curriculum guidelines that, and read this big thick book on educational theory. Honestly, when faced with 30 hyper youngsters, all that theory is the last thing I'm thinking about. My tutor lives in an RE fantasy land where the pupils are all angels and the lessons are all-singing and dancing."
"No wonder they are short of teachers because the PGDE is a nightmare. If next week is no better, I'm off to MFI to see if they do a flat pack gallows . . ."
To the institutions that have invited me to their lectures, I would love to accept if I was officially invited. Sitting in recently with my daughter at a psychology lecture was a most enjoyable hour. Likewise, whenever I have taken a cover class in any department in my own school, I have felt enriched by the experience.
One or two further points. I welcome student teachers into my department and I also actively encourage feedback, positive and negative, from my pupils. These evaluations I then utilise in my teaching so that my pupils receive exam results in line with the best in Scotland.
Defensiveness from educators (wherever they teach) is always disturbing. We should all constantly strive to improve.
Marj Adams teaches religious studies, psychology and philosophy at Forres Academy.