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Primary student teacher numbers in Scotland set to plummet

More than 700 places on the main route into primary teaching to be cut in 2018-19, new figures show

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More than 700 places on the main route into primary teaching to be cut in 2018-19, new figures show

The numbers of students trained through the main route into primary teaching is set to more than halve in 2018-19, early government projections reveal.

Universities have warned that the sharp drop in postgraduate training represents “a massive loss of income” – potentially amounting to more than £1 million at one institution – and could adversely affect teaching courses.

The move also comes as Scottish councils continue to report they are having difficulty securing primary teachers. But the Scottish government says reducing the number of primary teachers trained through the one-year postgraduate route – the Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) – may be necessary due to the pupil roll “stabilising”.

The number of primary PGDE students is therefore set to drop from 1,186 in 2017-18 to 450 the following year.

A Scottish government spokesman stressed that the figures were “a starting point for discussions” rather than final targets.

Donald Gillies, head of the school of education at the University of the West of Scotland, said such “wild fluctuations” in student numbers encouraged universities to look to part-time, short-term lecturer contracts which was “not what teacher education needs, not what professionals should face and certainly not what students should experience”.

UWS is training 142 teachers on the primary PGDE from September, but its staff fear the number may have to drop to around 70 in 2018-19 if the cut goes ahead which would represent a loss of income of around half a million pounds.

Professor Gillies called for urgent clarity, pointing out that universities would begin recruiting students in December.

He said: “It causes uncertainty around how on Earth you are going to balance the books when the numbers collapse like that.”

Teacher education institutions have criticised the spikes and downturns in student teacher numbers in the past. In response to the new figures, the University of Edinburgh told Tes Scotland that it would like to move away from the current system, which sees targets change every year, towards setting three-year periods. Meanwhile the head of Scotland’s largest school of education at the University of Strathclyde, David Kirk, said the move would result in the loss of over £1 million for his institution.

“There will be hardship – there’s no question about that,” said Professor Kirk. But he added that some of the lost income from the primary PGDE would be offset by the increase in the number of secondary teachers the government planned to train– providing universities could fill the additional places.

Tes Scotland recently revealed that uptake this academic year on the most popular route into secondary teaching – the one-year postgraduate PGDE – was 16 per cent below target, with 214 out of 1,350 places going unfilled after adjusting for over-recruitment to subjects such as history and geography.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “These figures are not target intake figures for initial teacher education and do not represent the number of teachers to be trained in Scotland in the coming years.

“These are statistics from the teacher workforce planning tool which are used as a starting point for discussions with the Teacher Workforce Planning Advisory Group when agreeing required teacher training numbers. 

“This group will also consider other factors such as the teacher census, local demand, the number of teachers leaving or returning to the profession and the number of students not completing their course before final decisions are taken on intake numbers.  These decisions are taken year-by-year to allow for those factors to be considered.

“Confirmed intake figures for 2017-18 have now been agreed with the group, which show an overall increase in the number of teachers to be trained next year.

“Future years intake will be agreed in due course, however, the statistical modelling outlined here shows a potential requirement to reduce primary training numbers because of an anticipated stabilising pupil roll in primary schools, but this will be considered alongside other factors before final intake is agreed.”  



This is an edited version of an article in the 21 April edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTes Scotland magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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