'Teaching schools' are under close observation

What makes a good teacher or a great school? It's difficult to get a true picture of either, particularly in a short time. The new television series High School is attempting to do just that in three short episodes, but all it can be is edited snapshots (page 25). Certainly it has captured some of Holyrood Secondary's characters, from the engaging young lad with Asperger's, adjusting to first year in a new school, to the warm-hearted depute head departing after 20 years, who clearly loves his pupils as much they love him. But these are little more than first impressions.

How much more difficult must it be to assess a student teacher when you have only two "crit" lessons in which to do it? And how much benefit does that student get from the tutor when much of the training is theoretical and in university, and much of the learning in the classroom is unseen? These are two issues that are addressed by the new "teaching schools" being introduced in Glasgow and North Ayrshire (News Focus, pages 12- 15).

The crucial difference from traditional teaching practice is that university tutors are based on-site throughout the six-week placements, doing learning rounds and seminars with students and teachers. At Irvine Royal Academy, the benefits appear to be appreciated on all sides. The students welcome the consistent view that the university tutor gets of their growth, and the tutor finds the gains for his own professional development have been enormous. No more can teachers criticise lecturers like him for being too long out of the classroom.

The integration of theory and practice is the principle behind the new approach, and it relies on the close partnership of school, university and local authority. Headteacher Stirling Mackie relishes the link with the university. For him, it "raises the whole profile and importance of learning and teaching". The sign outside the academy proudly declares it "A University of Glasgow Partner School".

But this elevated status for a few selected schools, as advocated in the Donaldson report, is regarded by some as elitist and in danger of creating a "two-tier education system". In Glasgow, which has pioneered the scheme, the council wishes to extend it to all its schools, which could rather defeat the purpose.

At the universities of the West of Scotland, Strathclyde and Aberdeen, there are no plans to adopt "teaching schools". One talks instead of ensuring schools have named university contacts, and developing networks of associated university lecturers.

These feel like sad, half-hearted measures, when the prospects for new student teachers could be so much more exciting and effective. Yes, perhaps hub schools are elitist, but as Professor Donaldson might say, don't we want our students trained in the very best?

gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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