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Under fire yet again over placements

Ministers have responded rapidly to student anger over school placements by injecting another pound;1.1 million into local authority budgets. It will take council spending on placements to pound;2 million a year.

In opening their purse, ministers are also increasing the pressure on schools to honour their professional status and take in more students, as well as probationers on the one-year induction programme. Some fear Scottish Executive staffing targets could be at risk without a change in culture.

Figures suggest only 15 per cent of Scottish primaries and secondaries take students, with those farthest from the cities the least likely to see them.

Secondaries take proportionately more.

For the second year running, aspiring teachers have been faced with a last-minute scramble at the start of term as teacher training intakes rise sharply to meet ministers' commitments on class size cuts and increased numbers. Almost 800 more one-year postgraduate students than last year have been looking for placements. They will go out a further two or three times this session, placements permitting.

Students at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities on the one-year postgraduate teacher training courses in primary and secondary have been particularly affected, although virtually all have been found schools. Some have been forced to share placements, cutting their two weeks to one.

At Moray House Institute in Edinburgh earlier this week, six English students had yet to be found places and one in physics. Moray House is still 50 places short for primary students who go out later this month.

Problems remain across the country finding enough primary places for students on the four-year bachelor of education courses and for PGCE placements in nursery and infant departments. A General Teaching Council for Scotland stipulation that students only be sent to nurseries with a registered teacher has restricted the number of options. Far fewer teachers are now in the pre-school sector after the Executive scrapped its insistence on teacher-led nursery provision.

At Strathclyde University's Jordanhill campus, Iain Smith, education dean, said there had been "no problem" with secondary postgraduates. Two groups of BEd students on their four-year course had all been placed. But Mr Smith said that there was "a substantial problem in terms of nursery provision".

This term Strathclyde has worked with council co-ordinators, who now run the system, to find places for 1,870 students. "We were worried four to five weeks ago but we are very pleased," Mr Smith said. Strathclyde has also persuaded "a substantial number" of students to move outwith the central belt to areas such as Dumfries and Galloway and Highland for their placements.

One university spokesman described the overall position as "far worse" this year because of the demands on schools caused by the one-year induction programme for probationers. "Perhaps the system has to implode before someone takes an overview at high level," the spokesman said.

Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, called for a new funding system for students to parallel the inducements to schools in the one-year probationer programme. "There is a competition going on between students and probationers, and departments which have probationers are sometimes not keen to take students," Mr McGregor said.

Teachers needed time for mentoring and supporting students, just as they do with probationers.

Mr McGregor believes ministers must scrap the traditional system that allows teachers and departments to opt into placements. "The final say should lie between the school and the local authority and it should not be up to individual departments and teachers to say no. But departments have to see there is a benefit in it for them," he said.

Donald Henderson, head of the Executive's schools division, told the GTC last week that ministers were looking for a "new culture and expectation" in schools which would ensure almost every school and department took students. The demographics of the profession by the end of the decade underlined the need for change.

Mr Henderson said the unacceptable alternative would be to introduce a two-yearly intake into universities, replacing the annual August intake.

Students would spend the first year training and the second on probation to cut pressures on schools. But ministers had no plans for such a scenario.

The total number of placements for one-year postgraduate students will rise to more than 10,000 over the year, while those on four-year and other courses, such as physical education, take the annual figure to more than 15,000.

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