When students are a nuisance

13th May 2005 at 01:00
Hassled schools don't want trainees on teaching placements. Graeme Paton reports

Student teachers are being forced to observe lessons in pairs because schools are increasingly unwilling to accept trainees, universities said this week.

The record number of trainees this year (41,000 students), the number of schools already involved in on-the-job training and the pressures of workload are the main reasons schools did not want trainees, according to a survey by the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET).

Almost all higher education institutions offering teacher training said they had experienced significant problems finding placements for students.

Three-quarters said shortages had become more acute in the last 12 months.

One lecturer at a London university said: "In some primary schools the teacher already shares a classroom with a nursery nurse, a Graduate Teacher Programme student (on-the-job trainee) and a couple of teaching assistants: sometimes it is hard to see the children for the adults.

"The last thing they want to do is have someone else in there."

He said student teachers at a series of London universities were now being asked to "double up" on placements because of a lack of schools willing to accept trainees.

"We are moving towards all-pair placements because of this," he said. The shortage has been exacerbated by a Teacher Training Agency ruling in September 2002 that all PGCE students have to experience at least two key stages to qualify, he added.

One teacher training course. at Derby university, is being scrapped after it was forced to send students up to 70 miles away to do school placements.

Last summer Derby's secondary training course was criticised in a report by the Office for Standards in Education for failing to monitor its trainees' experiences in schools.

Chris Warren, the university's assistant director of education, said that 115 students this year had been sent to 80 different schools, some as far as Tamworth, in Staffordshire, and Boston, Lincolnshire. This meant a drive of up to two hours for some trainees, making it almost impossible for the university to properly monitor them.

According to the UCET survey more than nine out of 10 universities said they had serious problems placing early-years students in schools. More than two thirds reported difficulties finding schools for students studying shortage secondary subjects.

James Rogers, executive director of UCET, said: "These problems exist across the UK. Schools need to have more of an incentive to accept trainees."

Dr Olwen McNamara, director of Manchester university's primary PGCE, said Ofsted should assess schools' contribution to teacher training as part of its inspections.

The TTA said that it provided more than pound;3 million in cash incentives for schools each year to take student teachers.

A spokeswoman said that pressures would ease next year when the number of trainees drops slightly. Around 750 places have been cut from courses starting in September.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"Schools have to be aware of the potential for complaints from parents if they have too many students in their classrooms at the expense of teaching.

But, on the whole, the benefits of taking on students far out weigh the disadvantages.

"It would be disappointing if schools felt that they were being overwhelmed by other things to the extent that they could not help to train the next generation of teachers."

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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