The Scottish Executive this week confirmed plans to relax entry restrictions into teaching, as part of a package designed to ensure ambitious targets for an extra 3,000 teachers are met by 2007 (TESS, February 13).
And, in a response that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, the General Teaching Council for Scotland welcomed the change.
Ministers have become increasingly anxious at the prospects of recruiting the teachers they need, particularly in maths and English where S1 and S2 class sizes are to be reduced to 20. A campaign to persuade teachers overseas to take up posts in Scotland will get under way later in the year.
Changes announced on Wednesday mean that applicants for the one-year postgraduate secondary course will only require to have gained 80 credits in their teaching subject at university, rather than 120, which represents a full year's academic study (a four-year honours degree has 480 credits).
For the first time, there is an acknowledgement that subject specialism is not the only thing that matters. Peter Peacock, Education Minister, underlined the importance of recruiting good teachers but added: "There are two key elements to this - sound knowledge in their subject and, just as importantly, a wider aptitude for teaching."
There was considerable disquiet at the move led largely by the GTC of the time for entry requirements to PGCE secondary courses to be increased from the 2000-01 session. Would-be teachers had to have more courses in their degree related to the subject they wished to teach, in some cases requiring three years' study in their main teaching subject.
In an echo of criticisms made at the time, Mr Peacock acknowledged that this "left many potentially excellent teachers excluded from a classroom career". He pointed out that many existing staff might have been disqualified under the current regulations.
"Gifted and enthusiastic teachers make a subject come alive for pupils, potentially igniting a lifelong interest," Mr Peacock said. "I don't believe we should turn away well-qualified applicants, who are clearly competent in subject expertise and show a real aptitude for teaching, simply because they have not studied the subject they wish to teach in every year of their degree."
Matthew MacIver, registrar of the GTC, welcomed a reform that "will enhance and complement the quality and breadth of the teaching profession".
Mr MacIver said: "When assessing a candidate's potential for teaching, we can now look at the whole of the candidate's degree while insisting on 80 credits in the chosen subject."
He insisted that entry requirements for the profession would remain rigorous but added: "We accept the fact that some flexibility is needed in the system."
Mr MacIver's stance is notably different from that of his predecessor, Ivor Sutherland, who staunchly defended the decision to raise the barrier (TESS, June 18, 1999). Mr Sutherland accepted that "some people with a lot to offer will be lost to the profession".
But it would be odd, he insisted, if the GTC did not try to enhance qualifications for teachers.
The Executive, the GTC and the teacher education institutions now accept that changes since then, mainly the introduction of the standard for full registration and the new induction scheme for probationers, mean that standards can be monitored and enhanced during the initial years of teaching.