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12th October 2007 at 01:00
A Canadian scholarship programme has not only enthused staff but raised pupil attainment. It is coming to Scotland

The canadian experience of funding teachers to conduct their own research is to be adopted in Scotland albeit on a smaller scale thanks to the launch of a new scholarship programme.

A Canadian academic told teachers in Aberdeen this week that the action research programme for teachers in Alberta had not only enthused staff but also raised pupil attainment.

Millions of dollars are given to teachers in Alberta so that they can implement the changes they think necessary to make their lessons and schools more effective, Jim Parsons, professor of education at the University of Alberta, said.

The Alberta Improving Schools Initiative which funds research by teachers was paying real dividends. "It is one of the most productive school improvement initiatives I have seen in my long career in education 32 years as a university academic," he said.

Now, thanks to the Scottish Teachers for a New Era programme based at Aberdeen University, teachers in six Scottish local authorities are being offered the chance to carry out research although on a considerably smaller scale than their colleagues in Alberta.

On Saturday, the pound;1.8 million initiative, funded by the Scottish Government and the Hunter Foundation, launched 40 scholar-ships. Worth Pounds 700 each, the grants will go to teachers keen to conduct research in their own classrooms into anything from a new method of teaching maths to ways of improving pupils' confidence.

Most of the money will pay for the transformation of teachers into researchers introducing them to different research methods and training them to analyse data with around pound;200 for materials.

Catriona MacDonald, a learning support teacher at Mill O'Forest Primary in Stonehaven, plans to film pupils tackling maths problems to see where they struggle and how they work. Once armed with this information, she hopes to design a resource that can be used to help them.

"Thinking about what you are doing is how you learn and provide better teaching," said Ms Mac- Donald. "This is a fantastic opportunity to try something out."

Donald Gray, director of research for the Scottish Teachers for a New Era initiative, hopes to create a network of teachers willing to engage in research.

Since AISI was launched in 1999, Alberta has seen "a renewed energy and excitement for school improvement" and "a culture of shared responsibility for continuous im- provement", said Professor Parsons.

In its first three years, Alberta Improving Schools Initiative received around $200 million (pound;100 million) in funding and more than 800 projects were carried out. Most focused on literacy and mathematics. Others looked at how to involve parents, while some schools even used AISI money to build new facilities.

Nine out of 10 AISI projects had a positive and sustained impact on student learning. "This demonstrates the power of teachers to make changes in their own work," Professor Parsons concluded.

STNE's budget is considerably smaller than AISI's but Dr Gray is optimistic the scholarships can still have a positive impact. "We are only dealing with six local authorities and don't have a population the size of Alberta," he said.

Information on STNE scholarships: www.abdn.ac.ukstne

AISI CASE STUDY

A high school in West Edmonton, Canada, increased its graduation rate from 70 to over 90 per cent, thanks to the AISI. The school used the funding to hire a counsellor who held face-to-face hour-long discussions with students, focusing on their futures. The first conversations were held when the students were 15 years-old and continued for three years. Researchers believe the project worked because the counsellor took a personal interest in each student.

SCOTTISH TEACHERS WITH SCHOLARSHIPS

Twenty teachers have already been awarded STNE scholarships. They include:

Michael Coston, Alford Academy, Aberdeenshire, to study the impact of using drama in media studies in A Curriculum for Excellence.

Jean Forsyth, Arduthie Primary, Aberdeenshire, to investigate new ways of introducing P1 children to computers.

Catriona MacDonald, Mill O'Forest Primary, Aberdeenshire, to video-record pupils' problems in mathematics.

Jane Craik, Tullynessle Primary, Aberdeenshire, on the topic of teacher reflection, philosophical enquiry and learning in mathematics

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