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'Too busy for placements'

A large number of schools are opting out of taking student teachers on placement because of classroom and curriculum pressures, according to a past president of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

May Ferries, an acting primary headteacher in Glasgow, told the General Teaching Council for Scotland at its meeting last week that teachers felt overwhelmed by their workload and the challenges of keeping discipline.

Ms Ferries advised inspectors to consider the reality of life in the classroom as they begin what is termed an "aspect review" of placements.

Ministers have called in inspectors to conduct an immediate review after the latest crisis left some students without a place. Wray Bodys, chief inspector, told the GTC that it would be "an open engagement with stakeholders" and promised to consult with students, teachers, local authorities and lecturers.

Ms Ferries said that HMI had to understand why schools were reluctant. She said "It is difficult for teachers to voluntarily take a student, knowing that sometimes it's a wonderfully enriching experience but that occasionally, in a minority of cases, it does prove to be a huge workload and emotional burden".

That said, there was a job for the GTC in promoting the professional duty of teachers to work with students. Headteachers should include students within their development plan and working time agreements for staff.

Hirek Kwiatkowski, education dean at Glasgow University and current chair of the seven teacher training institutions, described the review as "timely". Dr Kwiatkowski has warned for the past year that a crisis was imminent.

Bruce Robertson, education director in Highland, forecast even greater pressures as more students were recruited to teacher training courses. Mr Robertson appealed for a better spread of students, something rural authorities would welcome. "There are hundreds of schools in Scotland which very rarely see a student and there are major issues for universities in this," he said.

Students would benefit from having experience of schools in different settings, although Mr Robertson accepted there were financial constraints on universities. "We need a fundamental rethink," he said.

Mr Bodys said that there was no timescale for the review but that inspectors may produce their interim findings to influence placements next year. He was responding to Douglas Weir, GTC vice-convener, who feared it might be 2006 before recommendations were implemented.

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