Leader comment: Putting teachers on probation backfires

Scotland's shortage of teachers was illustrated starkly this week with a plea by the head of an Edinburgh school for help from parents to fill two maths teacher vacancies, and yesterday that cry for help led to a heated debate at the Scottish Parliament over why recruitment is failing.

Putting teachers on probation backfires. Picture: PA
Putting teachers on probation backfires. Picture: PA

While there was claim and counter claim at First Minister’s Questions, and doubt was cast over the accuracy of some of the statistics quoted, one issue came into focus as answers are sought over where the heart of the problem lies: the probationary period that applicants from outside Scotland have to serve if they want to teach in Scottish schools.

Up until January 2016, additional training was required to prepare the candidate for the specifics of the Scottish education system before he or she could be let loose on children. This stipulation was eased by allowing the candidate to achieve that qualification “on the job”, while working in the classroom.

Figures have been produced which suggest this measure has increased the number of applicants, but according to a document highlighted at Holyrood’s education committee earlier this month, there is evidence that the probationary period is putting off applicants.

It’s understandable why an experienced teacher would be disappointed to be told that, after many years teaching elsewhere, they are still not deemed ready to teach in Scotland. Is our educational system really so vastly different that a further qualification is required for those from other countries?


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Teachers anywhere are used to change, which can at times be fundamental. They adapt. Is transferring from one part of the UK to another really more difficult than being asked to take S1 next year instead of S6?

In law, a conversion qualification is required if a solicitor qualified in English law wishes to practice in Scotland, and vice versa. Teaching does not merit the same kind of requirement. Easing restrictions will not solve the recruitment problem – it goes way beyond migration in the workforce – but it can be part of the answer.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland believes more should be done to fast-track teachers into our classrooms. That’s hard to argue with. Although the mechanism for entry has been changed, there is still no sign of the crisis ending.