THE number of teacher training places in Scotland is to be cut by 40 per cent in an effort to stem the growing number of graduates unable to find work in schools.
• Since the SNP took power, official statistics show the number of teachers has actually dropped by 2,000. Picture: TSPL
More than 1,500 fewer trainee places will be available at universities this autumn, with primary teaching bearing the brunt.
Teaching unions, parents' groups and politicians have criticised the move as misplaced and warned it could lead to a shortage of teachers in future years.
The announcement, made yesterday by the Scottish Funding Council but authorised by the Scottish Government, has also prompted concerns about the effect on universities, which may have to close departments and lose key staff. Universities previously warned such swingeing cuts could result in up to 100 lecturers losing their jobs.
The decision has been prompted by a glut of new teachers who are unable to find jobs. Last year, only one in seven trainee teachers in Scotland found a permanent post, leaving the number of unemployed teachers at a three-year high.
The SNP's 2007 election manifesto pledged to maintain teacher numbers at 53,000 to fulfil a promise to reduce class sizes in the first three years of primary to a maximum of 18. But many cash-strapped councils have opted to reduce their teacher headcount to save money.
Since the SNP took power, official statistics show the number of teachers has actually dropped by 2,000 and the party's class-size pledge has been effectively ditched for this parliament.
In total, 1,550 training places will be cut this year – from 3,857 in 2009-10 to 2,307 in 2010-11.
Primary teaching will be hit hardest, with 1,450 university places cut – 500 at undergraduate level and 950 at postgraduate level. Only 100 secondary postgraduate places will be cut, with undergraduate secondary places remaining at 202.
Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Strathclyde universities all offer teacher training.
While a drop in training places had been expected, the cuts are much deeper than many anticipated.
Last April, former education secretary Fiona Hyslop said one in eight training places would be cut in order to cope with the rising numbers of unemployed teachers. But the true figure has turned out to be more than one in three.
Education secretary Mike Russell said yesterday that the training cuts had been agreed by ministers last September.
"The Scottish Government took the decision to reduce student teacher intakes to deal with teacher unemployment. By reducing student numbers, we can create more jobs for those teachers already qualified," he said.
"We are working with Initial Teacher Education providers to ensure we maintain capacity in the system to meet Scotland's future teacher training needs."
But teachers said the "radical" cuts were bad news for Scottish education, both at school and university level.
Ronnie Smith, general secretary of Scotland's biggest teaching union, the EIS, said: "Cutting back on the number of trainee teachers and the number of university education lecturers is remarkably short-sighted and runs the risk of creating a massive problem in a few years' time."
He accused the Scottish Government of choosing the easy answer of cuts rather than take on the harder task of stimulating demand for new teachers.
He added: "Local authorities have been allowed to shrink the teaching force by almost 2,500 over the past two years, and the prospects for the coming year are even worse."
NUS Scotland president Liam Burns said: "Nobody wants to see students study for four years on a false hope only to find that at the end of all that hard work there simply aren't any jobs for them.
"However, Scotland can't carry on with this boom-and-bust method of teacher training. With cuts to education departments at universities across Scotland, we could lose very talented lecturers, irreparably damaging departments that have built expertise in training teachers over many years."
Lesley McIntosh, president of lecturers' body University College Union Scotland, said: "We have seen massive increases in the teacher education budgets, then cutbacks, on a cyclical basis, which just leads to a ridiculous hire-and-fire regime.
"I am astonished we have not learned from previous failings."
Bill McGregor, a former general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said in 2007 that, over the next ten years, Scotland would need to replace a headteacher every working school day due to the numbers retiring. And parents warned yesterday that teacher retirements in the coming decade would mean trained replacements were needed.
Eileen Prior, policy development officer of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: "It is questionable whether those who are currently in the waiting room for full-time, permanent teaching positions will still be there when they are needed in a few years."
Margaret Smith, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, described the drop in teacher numbers as "criminal".
She said: "The impact of these cuts won't just be felt in the classrooms. These SNP cuts will also be felt in educational training institutions across Scotland.
"In some cases, courses could be lost and some institutions might well decide not to continue training teachers, which will limit our capacity to train teachers in the future."
Labour education spokesman Des McNulty accused the Scottish Government of "complete mismanagement" of the education system. He said: "Instead of effective workforce planning that would have properly taken account of the fact that nearly a quarter of Scottish teachers are aged 56 or over and will need to be replaced, the SNP has cut off the pipeline on new teachers."
Liz Smith, Conservative schools spokeswoman, said it was a depressing time for the teaching profession.
She added: "Many people give up other careers to go into teacher training, and it is a huge worry, particularly at a time of severe economic recession, that so many are facing such a bleak future."
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