A flagship Scottish Government scheme announced last year in an effort to attract graduates into teaching has has not yet been set up despite an acute shortage of teachers in some key subjects, MSPs have been told.
Some areas of Scotland are struggling to recruit teachers, with one council area this week warning parents that primary school children may have to attend class “part time” due to a “grave” lack of staff - while education secretary John Swinney on Wednesaday admitted that the government’s targets for new teachers entering teacher training was short by around 200 people.
In First Ministers’s Questions at Holyrood, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon how many graduates had been recruited through the scheme, which was due to begin this summer.
Ms Davidson said: “The answer...is none - zero. Because it hasn’t even been set up yet.”
She said that of 75 action points designed to help schools laid out by the government 18 months ago, 23 had seen missed deadlines.
She pointed to a statement in the National Improvement Framework for Scottish education, published last week, which said the scheme would go out for tender in January.
She said: “It clearly states on page 52 that the government has missed the deadline for its specialist graduate recruitment programme and it is still at tender stage. This is a programme announced in 2016, due to be delivered by 2017 and still not here as we head to 2018.”
In addition, Ms Davidson raised the fact that a scheme to improve school inspections has also been delayed, while a dedicated programme to help teachers rise through the ranks to become heads has also been shelved.
In a statement issued after FMQs, she said: “Parents and teachers will look at these failings and conclude the First Minister is simply not living up to the commitment she’s made on education.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “This government is taking a range of actions to encourage more teachers generally into the profession and the most recent statistics show that over the last year there have been 500 teachers coming into teaching. but also incentive schemes to attract teachers generally into particular subjects, that is why just a matter of months ago the Deputy First Minister announced incentive schemes to attract teachers into STEM subjects for example.
“So we will continue to take a range of actions coupled with the governance reforms, coupled with the actions we are taking to increase transparency around the performance of our schools to make sure we are driving up standards and closing the attainment gap.”
The question comes a day after education secretary John Swinney admitted to Holyrood’s education committee that more teachers have left the profession this year than the Scottish Government predicted and that the government had failed to recruit its target of 4,058 new teachers entering education training this year, with just 3,861 currently enrolled on courses.
Earlier this week, The Scotsman revealed that Moray Council had written to parents to tell them that a teacher shortage may force schools into asking children to stay at home on certain days and called on families to help find new teachers to plug the gaps in the local authorities’s schools.
It also emerged recently that Strathconon Primary School in the Highlands is to close after Christmas and its 17 school and two nursery pupils to be transferred to another school 12 miles away, after the local authority failed to recruit two new teachers.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Education remains this Government’s number one priority. We have already delivered 56 of the 84 commitments included in our delivery plan (June 2016) and are on track to deliver the vast majority of the remaining commitments within set timescale.
“Although teacher recruitment is a matter for local authorities, we have taken decisive action to help recruit and retain teachers. We have now 51,513 teachers in Scottish classrooms - 543 more than last year and more than at any time since 2010. Of those, a total of 666 are directly funded through the Scottish Attainment Fund.
“We provide councils with £88 million every year to maintain the national ratio of pupils to teachers in classrooms and we have created a new route into teaching specifically designed to attract high quality graduates in priority areas and subjects. We have also increased the number of student teacher places in Scottish universities, taking the total this to 4,058.”