Just start at the beginning, Sam;Opinion

6th August 1999 at 01:00
EXTRAORDINARY, when you think that he was never part of the Scottish education system, how very accurate Oscar Wilde was about the essence of it: "The truth is rarely pure and never simple."

I am trying to stay calm in the face of the Education Minister's recent pronouncements about sacking himself if he fails to win the standards race. Honestly, I can't understand why he is making such a dog's dinner of himself in public. In term time I would just chalk off a sigh or two but, since I am on holiday, I have time to reflect on the interminably trashy educational debate.

I don't actually have much of a problem with any of Sam Galbraith's rhetoric. It's just that his perception of reality is different from mine.

Accelerated learning courses, homework clubs et al are a fine idea but you have to admit that solving the problems has been reduced to a competition of political javelin throwing with the winner being the party that hurls the biggest slosh of money.

As far as I'm concerned, they might as well be chucking chaff because, frankly, there is little evidence of pots of gold in the classroom.

The obvious problems are overcrowded timetables, lack of curricular development time and the large classes (still not enough teachers) - but to command progress we need a radical look at the way teacher training is executed in Scotland.

Aspiring teachers enter the profession full of "vaulting ambition" to be good teachers. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that the colleges teach the skills of good teaching. Imagine my chagrin when a religious studies lecturer at my college narrated the Christmas story to us. He was speaking to a class of theology graduates.

Feeling moderately brave, after my liquid lunch, I pointed out that what we needed was not the what of the Christmas story but direction in how to teach it. My comment was dead in the water because he simply did not understand what I meant.

Considering how desperately all the political parties want to win Oscars for educational reform, it is a mystery to me why they so seldom cast their eyes to teacher training. Think of the developments of recent years: ongoing and sometimes controversial debate on how people learn; the concept of multiple intelligences; Daniel Goleman's study of the emotional brain - to cite but a smattering of current thinking.

Student teachers I have encountered recently seem to be pretty well locked in with Pavlov's dogs and that worries me. How can schools advance if teacher training remains stuck in a rudderless and archaic wreck of the past?

I know that this is generalising horribly - but I am increasingly aware that such blanket polemics can arouse productive discussion.

A crucial factor is the extent to which the trainers of teachers are active practitioners in the art of teaching themselves. A trainee surgeon, for instance, will study the theory but will also learn from observing a truly skilled professional at work.

The experts who lecture to them about the intricacies of human anatomy are no strangers to the operating theatre.

Not so in teacher education institutes, which is an issue of increasing concern to teachers and it should be a mind-churning thought to anyone who wishes to raise standards in Scottish schools.

In many other countries it is mandatory for the trainers of teachers to return to the classroom for regular periods of time with the obvious resultant benefits of keeping in touch with practical learning processes.

So Sam Galbraith should get himself into the colleges and start scraping beneath the surface. Then he can wax lyrical about the momentous task of overhauling teacher training and - maybe, just maybe - his desire to sack himself will wane.

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