Scottish education’s problem with the recruitment and retention of teachers is not in dispute. It could hardly be denied, with almost 700 full-time and part-time vacancies across primary and secondary schools last year. An even bigger concern is the 214 places not taken up for the Postgraduate Diploma in Education during 2016-17. It is not so long ago that so many qualified teachers were being produced in Scotland that there were not enough jobs to go round at the end of the academic year.
This issue isn’t simply about new recruits, who appear to find teaching a far less attractive proposition than previous generations. It’s also about experienced teachers who are choosing to leave the profession for reasons such as workload, salary levels, and the Curriculum for Excellence. But unless the recruitment problem is addressed, this numbers crisis will deepen.
The Scottish Government’s decision to introduce a new route into teaching is controversial, fast-tracking “high quality” graduates into on-the-job training in the classroom after only a short period of university input. Considering the existing post-graduate arrangement involves trainee teachers attending university for at least a year, reducing that timescale to what could be just a few weeks raises justified concerns about whether the recruit is able to take charge of a classroom.
The Educational Institute of Scotland has already described the new route as a “betrayal of the high professional standards we operate in Scotland”.
It’s easy to agree with the legitimate reservations of the EIS. And in an ideal world, this would not happen. But the crisis in teacher numbers is not going to be reversed by sticking with the status quo. And however unsatisfactory the new route may seem to some, there is evidence that such schemes have worked well elsewhere. In London, the hands-on training approach contributed to a turnaround of the fortunes of many state schools.
In the circumstances, we have to keep an open mind on a new route into teaching. But we should not go down this road as a knee-jerk reaction to poor statistics. Full research must be conducted, and the scheme must be properly resourced and structured, because there can be no margin for error. A new route comes with significant potential risk, and if it is rushed in too fast, just to provide a quick fix to recruitment figures, it will fail.