Scottish councils crippled by staff shortages demand control over teacher training

Local authorities seek more power to tackle recruitment problems – as one council has to resort to asking parents to help find qualified staff

Emma Seith & Henry Hepburn

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A group of local authorities in Scotland is demanding to take over control of teacher training to tackle “cruel” staff shortages believed to be damaging pupils’ education in rural areas.

The demand from the seven councils that make up the Northern Alliance comes as authorities are turning to increasingly desperate measures to plug teaching gaps, including asking parents to help them to find qualified staff.

The councils – Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles – want to introduce more varied routes into the profession, and for trainees to carry out more practical experience in schools so they become more rooted in the area.

They also want workforce planning to look further ahead and take greater account of local circumstances.

The changes would give them control over areas currently overseen by the government. However, they say that they are not calling for initial teacher education to be taken out of the hands of the universities.

Education secretary John Swinney visited the region this month, announcing that more than £3 million was being made available to train an extra 371 teachers next year across Scotland.

'Regional responsibility'

The Northern Alliance welcomed the investment, announced at the Aberdeen Learning Festival, but maintained that teacher education should become “a regional responsibility”. In a submission to the government's governance review, the alliance said "it is clear that [a] teacher shortage is holding back educational development".

In a bid to ease shortages, the Scottish government has also invested £1 million in creating new routes into teaching, including fast-tracking new teachers into the profession and recruiting teachers from Ireland, and has launched a £350,000 teacher recruitment campaign targeting science undergraduates.

However, the best way to recruit teachers to more remote and rural parts of Scotland is to “grow your own” and train up local people who want to join the profession, said Maria Walker, director of education and children's services in Aberdeenshire.

“The current situation is really cruel. For us, teacher recruitment is our constant worry," she added.

“If you believe that good teachers make the difference, how do you make that difference if you don’t have the teachers?”

Meanwhile, the director of education and social care in Moray, Laurence Findlay, told TESS that he had issued a written plea to parents last month asking them to encourage anyone they knew with a teaching qualification or the desire to become a teacher to make contact with the council.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said the government was carefully considering all responses to the governance review.

This is an edited version of an article in the 17 February edition of TESS. 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 hereTESS magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Emma Seith & Henry Hepburn

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