An “unacceptably large number” of schools are failing to offer placements to student teachers, the head of Scotland’s regulatory body for teachers has warned.
Ken Muir, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), is so concerned that he has raised the issue with education secretary Angela Constance.
“How do we continue to ensure that those who wish to enter the profession are given the highest-quality placements when an unacceptably large number of schools shy away from offering such placements?” Mr Muir said. “Let’s start by making it the default for every school to take students on placement.”
According to figures from schools registered on the GTCS Student Placement System (SPS), 16 per cent of secondaries, 19 per cent of primaries, and 39 per cent of nurseries have not offered any places to student teachers in 2015-16.
Pinpointing the problem
Mr Muir stressed that the issue was not a Scotland-wide problem, but said that availability of student places fluctuated depending on the local authority and the sector.
Mr Muir, who made his comments in a recent article for secondary school leaders organisation School Leaders Scotland, has also raised the issue at a recent gathering of primary school heads.
“This year in particular we have struggled to get preschool placements,” he told TESS. “We have also known for some time that getting placements in denominational schools is a problem.”
University providers of teacher training have also revealed their concerns about the situation. The biggest provider of initial teacher education in Scotland – the University of Strathclyde – has had “all sorts of trouble” placing students, according to Professor David Kirk, head of the university’s School of Education.
Securing student placements was a drain on staff time and students could end up in schools that were “quite far flung”, he said. The worst-case scenario was some students ending up with no placement at all.
Professor Kirk added: “These students have to make up that time at some other point to meet GTCS registration requirements.
“It is a minority, but even though the number is small, it is not acceptable to have any young person who is preparing to be a teacher unable to get their placement done. The government needs to act.”
Making a match
Although the GTCS hosts SPS – which replaced Practicum, the previous system for matching students with schools, last year – it is not responsible for securing placements.
So far this academic year universities have worked with councils and the GTCS to secure school placements for more than 17,000 students (see panel, above).
More than 80 per cent have secured placements, but the picture is constantly evolving. It varies from the University of Glasgow, which has found school placements for virtually all its students, to the University of the West of Scotland, which has so far secured placements for just 70 per cent.
Despite Glasgow’s success, Moyra Boland, deputy head of the university’s School of Education, told TESS that some councils were failing to offer their share of student placements. Placing students was currently a complex and time-consuming process, which could be made far simpler if more schools participated in the system, she said.
“There are local authorities that don’t offer enough student placements when you look at their capacity,” Ms Boland said. “For a student not to be placed in a school, or to have to wait for a placement, it can be a hugely stressful experience for them.
“But this is not just about students. It’s about creating an environment of professional learning and in that environment you have students and staff and university tutors learning, teaching and reflecting together. All that then benefits the pupils.”
Every school is responsible
A spokesman for the GTCS said: “Some schools have been unable to offer placements to students. We are actively working with the [education directors’ body] ADES and individual local authorities to address this.
“Placing students in schools is a complex task, given competing factors of location, travel to the placement, staffing within schools, etc.”
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Student placements are an essential element of initial teacher education. Every school should offer student placements unless there is an overwhelming reason why they can’t.
“Only by having sufficient placements will Scotland’s next generation of teachers gain the experience they need to meet our ambition to raise attainment and close the equity gap.”
Student teacher placements in Scotland
Proportion of schools registered with the School Placement System, which have not offered student placements:
16 per cent of secondary schools
19 per cent of primary schools
39 per cent of schools with nurseries and nursery schools
The following statistics offer an insight into the matching results for the 2015-16 academic year. However, the GTCS issued a health warning with the statistics, which TESS received in December, saying they were “a snapshot in time and may not reflect exact numbers” as placements could still be changed by universities or local authorities.
Number of student teacher placements secured in 2015-16 – figures provided by GTCS
UNIVERSITY NO OF STUDENTS NO OF PLACEMENTS % MATCHED
Aberdeen 2572 2449 95.22%
Dundee 1774 1681 94.76%
Edinburgh 2353 1897 80.62%
Glasgow 2610 2589 99.20%
Glasgow (D)* 191 185 96.86%
Stirling 438 388 88.58%
Strathclyde 4853 3976 81.93%
UHI 254 219 86.22%
UWS 1989 1401 70.44%
TOTAL 16854 14785 87.72%
*Glasgow (Dumfries campus)