The Government announced this week it is pulling out of its role in setting detailed entry figures for teacher education courses as part of a package of measures designed to answer criticisms of the training system. The proposals have been broadly welcomed.
Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, also appears to have signalled that the General Teaching Council has finally lost its battle to have the leading role in a national staff development and appraisal system for teachers.
Mr Wilson was setting out the official response to the Sutherland report, prepared by Sir Stewart Sutherland, principal of Edinburgh University, as part of the Dearing inquiry into higher education.
He said he planned to bring an end to the current arrangements which are split between the Government setting overall intake figures into teacher training and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council allocating quotas to individual courses.
In future the Government will simply set "strategic objectives" for teacher education and supply, including the minimum requirements for newly trained teachers, leaving the funding council to fix intake levels. The council will be expected to take the quality of student applicants into account but the Government believes it cannot relinquish control entirely to ensure a continuing supply of newly qualified teachers in all parts of the country and in all secondary subjects.
The new system will be introduced from the 1999-2000 session. The Government has decided in the meantime not to set intakes for the coming academic session, despite holding its annual consultation on the figures. It has asked the funding council, however, to take account of responses to that exercise.
Mr Wilson said: "This should introduce more flexibility into the teacher education system while ensuring that the needs of school education are met."
Douglas Weir, dean of education at Strathclyde University's Jordanhill campus, welcomed measures to consult the sector. "We are not being presented with an open and shut case," Professor Weir said.
Among the changes is a working group to develop quality assurance measures. This move appears to have assuaged critics concerned at excessive controls following the decision last November to reintroduce HMI inspection. This would be in addition to scrutiny by the Scottish Office, the funding council and the GTC.
Mr Wilson said he wanted arrangements for quality assurance "which do not duplicate each other, yet which will ensure that quality is maintained in all areas".
The Government is also asking the GTC to continue its investigations into the problems facing probationers. The statement acknowledges ministers' concern that many have an unsatisfactory induction to the profession.
But Pat Lowrie, dean of education at Paisley University's Craigie campus, said the main problem facing probationers was their inability to get permanent jobs. "This is really a funding issue for local authorities who are unable to recruit the good quality students who are still being attracted into teaching. If the flow of fresh talent is not stepped up, there must be concern for the continuing good health of the schools."
Ivor Sutherland, the GTC's registrar, welcomed almost every aspect of the shake-up except the failure to confirm the council as the key player in developing teaching standards after the probationary period. Existing powers over registration cease then except in cases involving misconduct.
The GTC's long campaign to acquire new powers in this area, over which it has been at loggerheads with the education authorities, has come to grief in a single pointed sentence from the Government's statement: "The GTC will be one of a number of bodies to be consulted and the role of the GTC itself in continuing professional development will be one of the issues for consideration."