Haley Palmer has just finished training to become a primary teacher at the University of Strathclyde, and she wants to stay in Scotland. She considers Scotland to be her home and she would be willing to work anywhere. But Palmer, who came to the country from the US six years ago at the age of 18, will be sent back in October because she hasn’t been able to secure a work visa.
Meanwhile, Mary Arthur, the head of human resources for Glasgow City Council – Scotland’s largest local authority – talks about struggling to recruit primary teachers. If they are finding it tough to recruit in Glasgow, which has all the attractions of a big city, it’s hardly surprising there’s a Scotland-wide shortage.
More teachers are being trained but the extra funding from the Scottish government to help close the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils has increased demand for staff – a rise that was not factored into workforce planning. The teacher census last year revealed that 666 full-time equivalent teachers were funded through the Attainment Challenge, but that means 666 fewer teachers to fill traditional teaching posts.
So what to do? Universities can fill places on primary teacher education courses – these are oversubscribed. Clearly, we need to make sure we get the sums right and keep on pumping new teachers into the system.
But for remote and rural areas of Scotland, the recruitment challenge is more nuanced, and universities cannot fill their secondary teacher education programmes. Figures from last year show a third of places went unfilled and Scotland only hit targets in four subjects.
Tes has come up with a solution to ease the recruitment pressure, launching the #LetThemTeach campaign to place all teaching jobs on the “shortage occupation list”, which would make it easier for teachers from outside the EU to get visas. Currently, teaching jobs in just four subjects are on the list: maths, physics, computing science and Mandarin. The Scottish government has now thrown its weight behind the campaign – as have the leaders of the key professional associations.
To be clear, putting the entire profession on the shortage occupation list would not lead to a sudden influx of staff.
Domestic recruitment drives would have to fail before a teacher could be brought in. But when that point was reached, it would make the process of recruiting from overseas less arduous and more likely to succeed – or, as Arthur puts it, there would be fewer hoops for councils to jump through.
International recruitment will not wholly solve the teacher recruitment crisis. Teaching needs to become a more attractive career choice. That’s where the 10 per cent pay claim being pursued by the unions comes in, as well as the research into improved career progression for teachers being carried out by the University of Glasgow’s Moyra Boland for the Scottish government.
When teachers are thin on the ground, children’s education suffers, and it is likely to be the disadvantaged pupils who suffer the most. So it makes sense to support the Tes campaign and sign the petition to allow teachers such as Palmer to plug the gaps in our schools.
But there is another campaign teachers must throw their weight behind if they want to see their schools fully staffed again: the teachers’ pay campaign.
When the unions ballot for strike action – which they almost undoubtedly will have to if they are to get anywhere close to a 10 per cent rise – teachers should be clear that the campaign is also inextricably linked to tackling the teacher shortage.
Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland