TEACHER training is for the first time poised to take root across the Highlands after an agreement between Aberdeen University and the local authority to tackle growing staff shortages.
A two-year, part-time postgraduate course for primary English-medium and Gaelic-medium teachers is due to begin next September if the plan gets the go-ahead from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council and the General Teaching Council for Scotland.
Both are expected to accept what is billed as a "radically different" arrangement under which aspiring primary teachers will not have to uproot their family and home.
The move emulates plans in Dumfries and Galloway to create 100 primary BEd places over four years at the local Crichton higher education campus in Dumfries in what it has billed as an "exciting and innovative" link with Glasgow and Paisley universities. The authority hopes that providing the primary course locally will attract mature entrants in particular.
Bruce Robertson, director of education, said: "The major obstacle in terms of attracting teachers to the Highlands and Islands has now been put to one side. We will now be able to teach primary teachers on the postgraduate course here in the Highlands, with theory being delivered in training schools and through distance learning.
"Teaching practice will be carried out in the students' local schools and families won't be disrupted by parents having to go away to college for training. We will have a much better opportunity of recruiting and retaining staff of the highest quality."
Mr Robertson said the Scottish Executive in its review of initial teacher training was looking for bold suggestions. "This is a radical approach because it takes training away from three or four large institutions and takes it across 10,000 square miles," he said. The council is already facing a shortage of Gaelic teachers while many newly qualified teachers are reluctant to take up posts in more remote communities. Pressures are exacerbated by the impending retirement of half the existing staff over the next 10 years.
A university spokesman emphasised that the two-year pilot course has still to pass tests on funding and recruitment.
But there is little doubt the plans are in line with official thinking. Matthew MacIver, registrar of the GTC, has described initial teacher education as "a central belt activity" which has to be opened up if more teachers are to be recruited.