A SCOTTISH council facing an acute teacher shortage is winning the battle to fill its vacancies with an innovative distance learning scheme.
Highland Council, which has almost 50 vacant teaching posts, the majority in the most remote parts of the region, has just welcomed 16 new recruits as a result of the course, believed to be the first of its kind in Scotland.
These students will now enter their probation year at schools across the Highland region when the new term starts next month.
The authority is leading the way in increasing their numbers with the new initiative, called Distance Learning Initial Teacher Education (DLITE). Operating in partnership with the University of Aberdeen, the course has been welcomed by Scotland’s top teaching union.
In addition to the 16 new graduates, 12 more are set to qualify next summer.
Bill Alexander, the authority’s director of care and learning, said: “We know that we need to look for new ways to add to the cohort of teachers, and this is a tremendous and highly successful example, which will enhance the profession, by opening doors to people with talent who have a passion for teaching and working with young people.
“The new plan came about initially as a result of the concern over the number of teachers in Highland and, in particular, the issue of maintaining teachers within the Highlands at the end of their induction year.”
He added: “We also wanted to be able to encourage people into teaching via alternative routes, offering the opportunities for people to retrain in teaching while also sustaining their own jobs and families.
“Not everyone is able to take a year out of work to complete a full-time qualification at university. DLITE allowed this to be a possibility for those who wished to undertake the qualification part-time over 18 months in order to become a teacher, whilst continuing with their own jobs.
“This also means we are drawing from a larger pool of potential teachers, some of whom may not have thought this direction in life was even possible, and in turn it opens up teaching as a profession to people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, enhancing the diversity within the teaching population.”
The probationers have all been placed near their home areas, including Inverness, Kingussie, Glencoe, Muir of Ord, Fortrose, Avoch and Tain.
Elaine Kirkham, Highland Council’s quality improvement officer with the care and learning service, said: “The interest the new course continues to generate is remarkable and we hope to continue this method of teacher training as it allows people to study from home, while employed, which is proving a popular avenue of learning for anyone thinking of a career change.”
A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland said teacher recruitment was a huge issue, but was a particular challenge in remoter parts of the country.
He added: “It is increasingly difficult to attract graduates into the teaching profession. Initiatives such as DLITE seek to support graduates in training to become teachers by enabling them to continue earning while studying.
“This is to be welcomed as long as the quality of the experience remains equivalent to that of those who complete initial teacher education by traditional means, and so long as there is no additional workload for teachers in schools arising from this new approach.”