Students training to be primary teachers at one Scottish university will break new ground next year by spending the whole of their third year on placement in a school - a first for teacher training.
Until now, third-year primary BEd students at the University of Edinburgh embarked on two blocks of five-week placements. But from next year, they will spend the whole of their third year in schools, as long as the university's plans are approved - a process it expects to be completed by June.
Such a lengthy placement would be a first for Scottish teacher training but not for the university as a whole, pointed out Ann MacDonald, director of the current primary BEd programme, and designer of the new suite of programmes.
"We are building on a tried and tested model that can be found in other professional degree programmes," Dr MacDonald said.
Under the new programme - the MA in Primary Education - students will also be able to study another subject alongside primary education to honours level; options include maths, German and Scottish studies.
The year-long school placements are being developed in partnership with local authorities, Dr MacDonald said. There are no plans, however, to go down the "hub school route" where students are concentrated in just a few schools, specialising in teacher training, she added.
One possible model, she suggested, would be to place students in a cluster of schools, with roughly two students per school. The students would be visited regularly by a tutor and the schools would be offered continuing professional development by the university, not just on mentoring, but on aspects of learning and teaching.
"The university will very much be there physically to support staff," she said.
Under the new placement model, students would become a real asset to schools, she predicted.
"At the moment they go out for five weeks and spend the first few weeks settling in," Dr MacDonald said. "Under this model, they will get to know the school and the children and how the community works."
The university envisages that during the course of the year the students will have in-depth engagement with two classes: one in the early years and another in the upper school.
A year-long placement would also allow students to get a flavour of what goes on at every age and stage, Dr MacDonald argued. They would visit other schools, work with specialists, including PE teachers, and professionals from other agencies, such as occupational health.
Students would be recalled to university only rarely for lectures and theory learning would be done online and with tutors, she continued.
"We are trying to bridge what we think feels like a dichotomy between theory and practice and see theory utilised in practice," Dr MacDonald explained.
In principle, the EIS union had no objection to student teachers spending more time in school, said general secretary Larry Flanagan. But such a move would have to be well resourced in terms of mentoring and teaching content support from university staff, he warned.
"If schools of education were effectively passing on that responsibility to hard-pressed members of staff in schools, we would have a strong objection," he said.
Mr Flanagan also stressed that any plans must guard against students taking up posts that should be filled by a qualified teacher.
CHANGE IS COMING
Graham Donaldson, in his review of teacher education, Teaching Scotland's Future, called for the traditional BEd degree to be "phased out" and replaced with degrees that combined academic and professional studies.
Last year, the University of Dundee was first to introduce the new generation of initial teacher education courses with the introduction of its MA in education.
For most universities the biggest change to courses is the introduction of modules from other disciplines in the university.