"Teachers are heroes," the chief executive of Scotland's teaching watchdog has said of their response to the coronavirus pandemic.
They have made “damn well sure” that the vast majority of pupils have continued to learn, said Ken Muir, of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).
During lockdown, many teachers have juggled working from home and caring for families at the same time as undertaking “a major transformation” in their teaching with the move to online learning, he said in an interview with Tes Scotland.
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Parents' experience of home learning, meanwhile, has led to a recognition that teaching is “a bloody hard job”, “difficult” and “complex”, and has finally put paid to the adage that “those who can do, and those that can’t teach”, Mr Muir said. Education had been “hamstrung” by the notion that anyone could teach for years, he added.
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The change in the public’s perception was summed up for him in the early days of lockdown, when a home-schooling father tweeted that he now understood why teachers were worth millions of pounds a year.
Mr Muir said: “Teachers had to make a major transformation in the way they operate because teachers are trained to deliver face-to-face learning and teaching, and that has been the pattern up to this point, largely. There has been online learning like e-Sgoil and Scholar – all of these have developed online provision – but the vast majority of teachers have had to undergo a major mindset shift as to how they provide learning. That’s hugely pressurising – it’s a major transformation.”
He added: “The profile of teaching as a career has been enhanced.”
The English teacher-training charity Now Teach this week said there had been a “leap of interest” in teaching thanks to increased respect for teachers under lockdown. It said it had received a 70 per cent increase in applications.
Mr Muir acknowledged that the security of teaching could also increase its appeal at a time of rising unemployment.
In the short term, however, the GTCS has been given the task of ensuring that there are enough teachers in Scotland, given that it is expected that a larger pool of teachers will be needed when schools reopen in August, or if there is a second wave of coronavirus.
Earlier this week, newspapers reported that the GTCS was poised to contact an “army” of over 15,000 teachers who were registered as teachers but not employed in schools. But that figure was not an accurate reflection of the number of staff who might be available to support schools, said Mr Muir.
It included people like him, who were registered teachers but who were not working in schools, as well as school inspectors and local authority staff. It also included those who worked abroad and who were retired, he said.
The GTCS has contacted all registrants about the project, said Mr Muir, but the number of teachers who fell into the “could come back” category was closer to 600. These were the teachers on the register with no employer listed and who were believed to be living in Scotland.
However, Mr Muir said he was “confident” there would be enough staff to reopen schools safely.
The GTCS would also be contacting retired teachers and those who had recently lapsed from the register to see if they would be happy to return – but only those who had been out of teaching for three years at most would be considered, he said, given that initial conversations had revealed that those out of teaching for longer were concerned they had been away too long.
He said teachers' professionalism had enhanced the profile of teaching as a career, and added that this could impact on the number of people looking to enter the classroom.