THE LOOMING threat of teacher shortages is "a timebomb ticking away," according to one of the Government's leading education advisers.
Ivor Sutherland, registrar of the General Teaching Council, told a conference this week: "I am absolutely convinced that we have not taken the issue of shortage seriously enough. It's not just the problem of supply cover - that is with us here and now - but the shortages for regular, mainstream, permanent posts."
The GTC chief, who was addressing a teacher-training conference, also called into question the data available on teacher supply. He said there was a "mismatch" between the experience of schools who were having difficulties in getting cover and the statistical evidence.
The Scottish Office has set up a manpower planning group on teacher supply, on which the GTC and the local authorities are represented. But the TESS understands that it acknowledged deficiencies in forecasting the requirements for teachers at its last meeting, and decided to set up a technical sub-group to look at the issues.
Mr Sutherland said schools also faced the problems of an ageing profession - 53,000 out of the 73,000 teachers on the GTC's register are aged over 40. "This is a colossal imbalance which, sooner or later, means we'll be struggling to replace teachers as they leave the profession."
He added: "The worst-case scenario is that a huge exodus from the profession over the next decade or so will coincide with applications from entrants reaching rock-bottom. The consequences don't bear thinking about."
Mr Sutherland also expressed despondency about the lack of interest in teaching as a career, citing the concerns about falling applications for secondary teacher- training revealed in the TESS in March by Douglas Weir, dean of the education faculty at Strathclyde University.
"It's not just an issue about the number of applicants but the quality of the applicants," Mr Sutherland said. "There is a danger of just taking people and putting bums on seats, with the consequent risk that poses for standards."
Mr Sutherland said "teacher-bashing" did not help to resolve the problems of making teaching an attractive career. "The last Government were skilled at it and the present administration seems to be catching up," he commented. "What we need is a sustained campaign of teacher-praising."
But Mr Sutherland also suggested teachers were their own worst enemies as they "moan, groan, whine and whinge." There was evidence of particular resistance to teaching as a career among young people whose parents were teachers, and he called on schools to promote teaching as a satisfying career.
Mr Sutherland strongly defended the decision to tighten the qualifications for entering teacher-training from next year. This will require applicants to have three graduating courses instead of two, and there are fears this could exacerbate shortages.
He accepted the change might mean that "some people with a lot to offer will be lost to the profession." But it would be odd, he said, if they did not try to enhance qualifications for teachers.