MSPs have expressed concern after Scotland’s chief inspector of education praised secondary schools plugging gaps in teaching provision by inviting in businesses, and for suggesting that these were “innovative ways” of overcoming the teacher shortage to be shared and spread.
Gayle Gorman, who is also the chief executive of Education Scotland, told MSPs on the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee in April that it was “encouraging” to see “real innovation” coming out of the “hardship” of the teacher shortage. She praised schools for “partnering with businesses and employers to offer, for example, computing science when lots of areas are struggling for computing science teachers”.
However, the committee said in a report following its inquiry into fears over the narrowing of subject choices in schools – published yesterday – that it was “concerned by the evidence given by Education Scotland that some schools were resorting to support from businesses and employers to cover gaps in teaching provision”. The committee added: “While it is useful to build links, this should never be used as a stopgap measure to mask teacher shortages.”
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The committee also said in the report, entitled Subject Choices in Schools, that it was “concerned by Education Scotland's limited awareness of data on teacher numbers, given its inspection role”.
It said: “The committee recommends that Education Scotland works with the Scottish government and [local authorities body] Cosla to devise an appropriate method of using the data gathered by the Scottish government and local authorities. This will better inform Education Scotland's understanding of where issues lie with recruitment and retention of teachers in particular parts of the country or within certain subjects.”
Scotland has been suffering from a teacher shortage for a number of years, which is particularly acute in certain parts of the country, and particular subject areas. Computing teachers are considered particularly tough to recruit, as are maths teachers and home economics teachers.
In a survey carried out by the committee of 86 state secondaries, 72 per cent said difficulty recruiting teachers was constraining the subjects that their pupils could study.
Speaking to the committee in April, Ms Gorman said: "It is encouraging that we see real innovation coming out of some of that hardship. An example is schools partnering with businesses and employers to offer, for example, computing science when lots of areas are struggling for computing science teachers. Schools are setting up partnerships with employers to bring real-life employment opportunities and modern techniques into the classroom to support that learning and offer different qualifications.
"There is an issue with teacher shortages; we have found that ourselves. We, as a system, need to provide support and share examples of innovative ways of overcoming that, as some schools are doing. They are still in the minority, but we want to share that message so that they become the majority."
Responding to the comments in the report, Ms Gorman told Tes Scotland today: “As part of Curriculum for Excellence, schools are encouraged to help young people develop skills for work and to provide different opportunities for learners that will support them in the world of work.
“To see innovative partnership working between schools and employers is a positive development and is in line with the ethos of Curriculum for Excellence. However, it is not a solution to addressing teacher shortages.”
Education Scotland added that it was not its role to record or monitor teacher numbers at a national level. It said that if it found evidence of staff shortages having a negative impact on young people’s learning experiences, that would be highlighted in a school’s inspection report.
The committee report called for a review of the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence to ensure that pupils' aspirations are being met and that they have a wide enough range of opportunities in schools.
In response, the Scottish government said an independent review would be taken forward.
However, the EIS teaching union has today warned the review must not result in further national changes, which would be "hugely disruptive". Rather, it said schools and teachers now needed a period of “stability and consolidation”.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The damaging policy of enforced austerity has placed considerable strain on schools, with significant cuts to staffing and resources. Coupled with increased workload pressure on teachers and learners and exacerbated by frequent change to course content and structure, this has created real challenges for schools.
"The senior phase review should reflect on this reality before suggesting any further changes to the system.”