New teacher training needs to be developed to ensure that students are taught by properly qualified staff with expertise in their subjects, according to the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).
The GTCS has proposed new teaching qualifications after a boom in the popularity of psychology and dance courses. Secondary school association School Leaders Scotland also said that some students are receiving lessons from unqualified staff.
Psychology is often taught in Scottish schools by staff with no background or qualifications in the subject, the Scottish Branch of the British Psychological Society (BPS Scotland) and the Association for the Teaching of Psychology Scotland (ATPS) warned. It is not possible to complete initial teacher training in psychology as there are no courses available.
The job is frequently given to a religious education teacher or someone with experience of philosophy, or a biology teacher with knowledge of aspects of the brain and nervous system.
"We are supportive of all teachers of psychology regardless of their background but at the same time we want standards to be raised," said Morag Williamson, a psychology lecturer at West Lothian College and spokesperson for BPS Scotland.
Some teachers feel "obliged" to teach psychology even though they are uncomfortable at the prospect, she said.
"Many like teaching psychology but others don't like being told they have got to teach a subject that is not their own," Ms Williamson explained. "If you want to provide high-quality teaching and learning in any subject, it is sensible to ensure that the person teaching it has expertise.
"Would we want our children to be taught maths or French or history by someone who has little grasp of these subjects? Of course not, and psychology is no different."
Psychology is sometimes regarded as "easy" or "just about dealing with personal problems", Ms Williamson said. But it is "a subject characterised by a fascinating variety of topics, scientific rigour and relevance to everyday life", she added.
Dawn Hartley, education manager at Scottish Dance Theatre, said that specific qualifications for dance teachers in secondaries would give "more credence to the subject". "At the moment, dance tends to be delivered by (physical education) teachers, some of whom are highly skilled, but it is very patchy," she said.
The GTCS said this week that it is seeking discussions with the government and universities about the possible introduction of new qualifications in psychology and dance from 2015.
"All teachers are required to have both suitable academic qualifications and an appropriate teaching qualification before they are given the right to work in Scottish schools," a spokesman said. "Consequently, (the GTCS) cannot support the teaching of any subject by an unqualified teacher."
However, the body questioned whether there is sufficient demand for psychology and dance, despite the growth in their popularity. Universities had "not yet been funded" to offer initial teacher education courses in these subjects, it said.
Currently, the only way to become a registered psychology teacher in a Scottish school is to study the subject at university but train in another subject and then register with the GTCS - 45 teachers have used this route.
The ATPS and BPS Scotland are also calling for a simplified route into secondary teaching for college psychology lecturers. A conversion route exists, but lecturers have to be registered with the GTCS, which many are not, and the body does not take into account their teaching experience before they register.
The GTCS has committed itself to "working closely with the FE (further education) sector to find suitable ways forward" but said the skills required in secondary and FE are "often different".
Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, agreed that some students were receiving lessons from unqualified teachers, although he said this was rare. He also raised the concern that minority subjects, including psychology, as well as more traditional choices such as modern languages, the social sciences and home economics, were under threat as a result of tightening budgets and the new senior phase.
As the first students begin the new senior phase this month, early figures suggest that the number of subjects being taken in S4 has dropped from seven to six.
"For some youngsters in some schools, certain subjects will vanish over the horizon, probably depending upon the historical performance of individual departments," Mr Cunningham said.
2000 - The year that Higher psychology was introduced in Scotland
3,370 - Entries at Higher level in 2013, up from 3,099 the previous year
- In England, the psychology A level was introduced more than 30 years ago. It is now the 4th most popular subject.
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