John Swinney: A career in teaching will become a more attractive option

It is an exciting time for Scotland's schools with much to be proud of, writes education secretary John Swinney

Hundreds of additional teachers are now in Scottish classrooms, benefiting pupils across the land says John Swinney.

I want to set the record straight on teacher numbers. The fact is that there are 51,513 teachers in Scottish classrooms this year – more than at any time since 2011. It is almost 800 more than when I took up the role of Education Secretary nearly two years ago.

And it is the result of Scottish Government action and investment in our number one priority: creating a world-class education system for Scotland.

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We have directly funded 666 additional teachers so far through our Attainment Scotland Fund.

Although teacher recruitment is a matter for local authorities, I recognise that some areas face challenges filling vacancies. This has historically been the case, especially in more remote and rural areas where other factors, such as access to affordable housing, come into play.

But the reality is that school teacher numbers have increased in all but six local authorities this year.

And this government is going further than ever before to support teacher recruitment.

We give councils £88 million every year to maintain the national ratio of pupils to teachers in classrooms and ensure that places are provided for all probationers who require one under the teacher induction scheme.

We have increased the number of student teacher places in Scottish universities, taking the total this year to 4,058. We are supporting the development of innovative new teacher education courses with £1 million from the Attainment Scotland Fund, and we are creating a new route specifically designed to attract high quality graduates in priority areas and subjects.

We have expanded our “Teaching Makes People” recruitment campaign, which has already prompted thousands more undergraduate students to seriously consider teaching as a career. And as well as promoting teaching as a career here in Scotland, the Scottish Government is also working with General Teaching Council of Scotland (GTCS) to help recruit even more teachers from other countries.

So far, this has resulted in 643 teachers from outside of Scotland being registered this year with the GTCS, enabling them to work in Scottish schools (up from 614 in 2016 and 503 in 2015).

I have become aware in recent months of at least two separate occasions where highly qualified teachers from Canada have not been able to take up posts in Scottish schools because their visa applications have been rejected by the Home Office.

This is deeply concerning, and demonstrates why it is so important for Scotland to have responsibility for our own immigration policy. It has been clear for some time that the one-size-fits-all approach to immigration policy in the United Kingdom is no longer sustainable in the face of Scotland’s different economic, demographic and social needs. We will set out the case for the Scottish Parliament to have more power over immigration in a discussion paper next year.

As a result of this government’s decisive action on teacher recruitment, we have a very low permanent teacher vacancy rate of 1.6 per cent of the total teaching workforce.

We have a record proportion of probationer teachers going straight into jobs in Scottish schools.

And we have seen a 7.5 per cent increase in the overall number of student teachers this year – with an expected 281 taking up the new courses.

Although it is disappointing that the targets set for some secondary subjects have not been met, I expect this to change in future years as a career in teaching becomes even more attractive.

From August 2018, £20,000 bursaries are being made available for career changers retraining as a teacher in the priority subjects of science, technology, engineering or maths.

And, importantly, teacher pay and conditions are improving. I have taken steps to reduce workload, after listening to feedback from the profession.

A pay deal for this year has been struck which will see teachers get a backdated 1 per cent rise and a 2 per cent uplift from January until the end of March, and experienced supply teachers paid more. In addition, employers, unions and the Scottish Government will take part in a strategic review of pay and reward.

And the education reforms being implemented by this government will create new opportunities for teachers to develop their careers.

We are giving schools more money and more power to decide for themselves how to close the attainment gap. And this could mean more promoted or specialist posts – something we are already seeing in schools up and down the country.

It is an exciting time for Scottish education. A time when teachers are being empowered to raise standards in their classroom and close the poverty-related attainment gap. A time when teachers have access to an increasing wealth of evidence about what works and what doesn’t, to underpin their professional practice. And, above all, a time to make a real and lasting difference to the lives of children and young people, with the full support of this government.

Statistics published earlier this month show this support and investment is improving education.

We have more teachers in Scottish classrooms, better quality school buildings and the vast majority of children in S3 achieving the minimum attainment level expected of them or better. Our decision to give headteachers more money and power to decide for themselves how to close the attainment gap is paying off. Hundreds of additional teachers are now in Scottish classrooms, benefiting pupils the length and breadth of Scotland, as a result of that decision.

That’s good news for teachers, parents and pupils.