he quality of school placements for student teachers has been of concern for more than 20 years. Report after report has highlighted the weakest links - those between schools, local authorities and the teacher education institutions (now universities). Stripped of its verbiage, the latest HMIE report (page 4) confirms, yet again, that the times they are a-slow rather than a-changing.
The extra ingredient now, with the pressure to meet Scottish Executive targets on increased teacher numbers and reduced class sizes, is that the quantity of placements is as much of an issue as the quality. The inspectorate's previous report, in October last year, estimated that roughly three placements are required from each primary and around 12 from every secondary. These are pressure-point figures, reinforced by particular demands on places for English, maths and PE trainees.
Perhaps the more proactive role of the education authorities will add the missing link to strengthen the chain, as the new student placement co-ordinators get down to work and spread the burden on schools more equitably. Key issues will remain, such as assessing students on practice and striking a balance between the needs of students and probationers. But there are some signs at least that the whole system is no longer dependent on a phone call from an enterprising lecturer to a friendly headteacher.