The man who made millions from selling trainers is putting his own millions into revolutionising teacher training.
Tom Hunter, the retail tycoon from Ayrshire, who headed Sports Division, this week announced that Aberdeen University has beaten off competition from other Scottish universities to devise radically different ways of training primary teachers. Six local authorities in the north and east of Scotland will become close partners.
The pound;2.7 million initiative over four years, backed by the Hunter foundation and the Scottish Executive, has been hailed as a "sea change" in teacher training (TESS, May 21).
Ewan Hunter, chief executive of the foundation, described Aberdeen's bid as "unique, radical and fundamental in its approach to a new model of ITE (initial teacher education)". Aberdeen won a competitive tendering process that included joint bids from Strathclyde and Edinburgh universities and from Glasgow and Paisley. In effect, Aberdeen will become a trailblazer for alternative approaches to teacher training, shortly to be highlighted in the Executive's second stage review of training.
Ministers have given their strong support to new models, piloted in the United States, that may eventually be measured against pupils' success over the long term. Research in the States has shown that it is the quality of the individual teacher that has the greatest effect on the performance of individual pupils, regardless of socio-economic factors.
Aberdeen will now work with the authorities on producing even higher quality teachers who, as the tender document indicated, should "as a matter of course, assess, diagnose, prescribe and adjust practice to reflect new research, training and experience and individual learning".
The university picks up pound;1.8m from the Executive and the foundation under the enterprise in education umbrella, and will itself raise a further pound;900,000 to continue research into how the teachers do once they are in the classroom.
A key feature of the initiative is that students in their first two years of teacher training will work across university departments to deepen their knowledge base.
Training will also effectively be extended to six years - four years on initial training followed by a two-year "clinical internship", which will develop induction from a one-year scheme into close mentoring from experienced teachers over two years. Continuing professional development will feature strongly.
Matthew MacIver, registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, said: "It is clear that the University of Aberdeen has thought very carefully about the kind of teacher we need in Scotland in the 21st century and this could herald the beginning of a new era in teacher education."
He was particularly pleased the local authorities would be closely involved in developing a new generation of teachers.
Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, said the initiative would accelerate the process of developing new ways to train teachers. "To deliver the world-class education we aspire to, we need to recruit top-class teachers," he said.
Part of the Aberdeen initiative will see students and staff taking part in links with the Carnegie Foundation in the USA, where similar models are under way.
Cathy Macaslan, education dean at Aberdeen, believed the initiative "puts the university and its partner authorities on the international education map".
A website will show progress.