Leader comment: Scotland's teacher crisis hits stunning new low

It is a disgrace that schools should be considering partial closures because of a lack of teaching staff.

Teacher recruitment in Scotland clearly has a problem. (Picture: Ian Rutherford)

Scotland’s teaching crisis has hit a disgraceful new low with the news that one council is considering the “partial closure” of some schools.

In a letter to parents, Moray Council admitted they were struggling to recruit new staff and even appealed for suggestions of primary school teachers who might be willing to take a job in the area.

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The news comes after Trinity Academy in Edinburgh was forced to draft in university students to teach maths after adverts for two teaching vacancies failed to find anyone suitable, while Blairgowrie High School sent a letter to parents in march appealing for “any parent with a maths or related degree” to help fill teacher vacancies ahead of exams. The EIS teaching union has also warned that teachers are working “far in excess of their contractual hours” with some working up to 60-hour weeks. The workload was contributing to depression and fatigue and the mental health of Scotland’s teachers was “coming to a crisis”, the union said.

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All this paints a bleak picture of what must be a priority for any government – the education of the next generation.

In England and Wales, the Teach First scheme has seen graduates fast-tracked into the profession and there have been discussions about introducing a similar scheme in Scotland, causing controversy over the idea of using people who have not been trained to teach as teachers. But if the alternatives are telling pupils to stay at home or drafting young people who are still studying for their degree, then Teach First doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

The situation could also add weight to calls for Scotland to control its own immigration system. One of the vacancies in Moray was created when Heather Cattanach, a Canadian teacher working in a primary school in Forres, was removed from class during the school day in January because of a fairly trivial issue with her visa. She has had to return to Canada and her class still has no permanent replacement. Scottish immigration officials might have used greater discretion and allowed her to stay, given the problems of recruiting teachers in the area.

Providing enough teachers is ultimately a problem for councils and the Scottish Government, which stressed it had put more money into teacher training and increased the numbers. But, in the words of many a report card, they “could do better” – and they must.