Scot maths crisis as too few students choose teaching

Scotland's classroom recruitment crisis has been laid bare by new figures showing more than half of the target number of training places for maths teachers are empty.

Education Secretary John Swinney
Education Secretary John Swinney

Data produced by the country’s education funding body – the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) – has identified a shortage of teachers in key subjects.

The SFC had set the goal of recruiting 237 student maths teachers, this year’s figures show that there are only 112 such students, 47 per cent of the target number.

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The number studying to be technology teachers is also less than 30 per cent of the goal set by Scotland’s education funding body.

There are 1,126 people in Scotland currently studying to become secondary schools teachers – 70 per cent of the overall intake target set by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) for 2017-18.

But only 36 of this group are training to be technological education teachers – 29 per cent of the target of 124.

The SFC had also wanted to attract five people to study to become Gaelic teachers, but has failed to recruit any students to this.

Meanwhile some subjects areas are oversubscribed, with universities having 122 per cent of the target number of history teachers and 115 per cent of the target number of modern studies teachers.

New routes into teaching boosted the number of student teachers by 204, provisional data showed.

Despite that the number of student teachers was still below the number the SFC had set - with 3,861 people training to teach in either primary or secondary schools, compared to a target of 4,058.

The figures were released by the Scottish Government at the same time as statistics showing that there are a total of 536 vacancies in Scotland’s schools, including head teacher and depute head teacher posts.

Of these 268 jobs had been unfilled for at least three months, according to the data

Schools are currently looking for 77 principal teachers, 29 head or depute head teachers and 71 maths teachers, as well as 65 English teachers and 19 computing teachers.

The maths teacher shortage has been highlighted in high-profile cases. Earlier this year Trinity Academy in Edinburgh asked parents for help after being unable to fill two maths teaching vacancies.

In March this year parents at Blairgowrie High School in Education Secretary John Swinney’s constituency received a letter from its head teacher urging parents with a maths degree to help out as the school was struggling to fill two vacancies.

Meanwhile pupils and staff at Preston Lodge High School in East Lothian last month appeared in a video in an attempt to fill 2.5 vacant maths teacher posts.

Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “Some aspects of these statistics are deeply worrying, most importantly the struggle that many secondary schools are facing when it comes to attracting a sufficient number of qualified teachers in key subject areas such as Maths, English and Computing.

“In recent months, we have seen private appeals being made by some headteachers, parents and even pupils to find teachers who can urgently fill vacancies and ensure that pupils are properly taught.”

The Tory MSP added: “This concern about shortages ties in exactly with the evidence heard by the Education and Skills Committee just two months ago and it is more proof that teacher work force planning is not working well enough.”

Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray also voice his concerns, saying: “Parents, pupils and teachers know all too well there’s a recruitment crisis, and while John Swinney repeatedly says education is his number one priority these new figures show that he has again failed to meet his target when recruiting to teacher training.

“There are hundreds of vacancies in Scotland’s schools, some of which will take up to three years to fill. Under the SNP there are 4,000 fewer teachers, class sizes are rising and parents are being asked to stand in as temporary teachers.

“The SNP has failed to take the real action required to solve the teacher crisis, addressing teachers’ pay and workload to make the profession an attractive one again.

“Instead John Seinney introduces unwanted reforms to centralise schools and cut budgets. What schools need is more funding, more, better paid teachers and more resources.”

The Scottish Government stressed the permanent teacher vacancy rate is 1.6 per cent of the overall teaching workforce.

Ministers also expect that by the end of January 2018 281 students will have taken up one of the 11 new routes into teaching, with the figures showing an over increase of 7.5 per cent in the number of student teachers.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “These new routes are designed to encourage people from a whole range of backgrounds to consider teaching as a profession and I am pleased to see the impact they are having on the number of student teachers.

“It is disappointing the targets set for some secondary subjects have not been met. However, alongside the £20,000 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) bursaries I recently announced for career changers and the increased interest we have seen among undergraduates as a result of our recruitment campaign, we expect to see the number of people training as teachers continuing to rise.

“While teacher recruitment is a matter for local authorities, we recognise that challenges remain and have made £88 million available this year so schools can access the right number of teachers, with the right mix of skills.

“We are also putting in place a national approach to the recruitment of teachers from outside Scotland.”