FEARS were raised this week that attempts by Whitehall to alleviate teacher shortages south of the border could lure away potential classroom recruits from Scotland. This could seriously affect efforts to attract more teachers into the profession in a climate of greater competition from other jobs, higher entry standards and soaring retirement levels.
David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, announced a pound;70 million recruitment package in March under which secondary postgraduates south of the border will be given a salary of pound;6,000 while training from September, boosted by another pound;4,000 as a "golden hello" for those opting for the shortage subjects of maths, modern languages, science and technology.
The pound;6,000 salary will be trialled for primary postgraduate trainees this year.
Pat Lowrie, dean of Craigie education faculty at Paisley University, commented:
"If I was to be given pound;10,000 to become a maths teacher in England, I know I would be very tempted particularly if I graduated from university carrying a load of debt."
The cash incentives also worry John McCarney, associate dean of St Andrew's education faculty at Glasgow University. Mr McCarney said they were an additional factor reinforcing the problems caused by a buoyant economy, changes in entry requirements and the general perceptions of teaching as a career.
All teacher education institutions report a goodly supply of primary students for next session but express continuing concern about the secondary picture. "The general trend of reducing unemployment in the economy as a whole has always affected recruitment into teacher training," Douglas Weir, dean of Strathclyde's education faculty at Jordanhill, said.
"The result is that a number of potential teachers delay their applications, in the expectation they might get another job and confident they would be successful in applying for teacher training if they do not. These are not necessarily the weakest candidates and in some ways it is better to have a good student who has made an application later than a crious student who makes a speculative appearance earlier."
The training institutions, though hopeful they can fill their allocated secondary quotas in the new session, say this will mask shortages in particular subjects. Mr McCarney said there was already "a worrying trend" in recruitment for the priority subjects such as computing, physics, maths and modern languages.
Professor Weir said Jordanhill faced a 10-15 per cent reduction in the number of secondary applications over places. The need to recruit on a subject-by-subject basis meant continuing difficulties with shortage subjects, he added, but an over-supply in applications for other subjects. "There are distortions in the system," Professor Weir said. "I fear the pool we are drawing on is quite shallow although there are ways of deepening it."
The institutions are particularly critical of the decision, supported by the General Teaching Council for Scotland, to require postgraduate student teachers to have studied their main subject at university for three years rather than two. This has reduced the number of eligible applicants, particularly "high-value" students able to offer two subjects.
But Ivor Sutherland, registrar of the GTC, strongly endorsed a move which he said signalled that teaching was a profession which insisted on high academic standards. "This is an issue of quality and we should stick with it unless it is absolutely beyond doubt there is an insurmountable problem," he added.
Professor Weir called, however, for freedom to interpret academic qualifications more liberally so those who do not have the full credentials can be admitted on condition they make good any deficiencies by the time they graduate or finish their probation. "The new standard for probation being developed by the GTC is the safeguard for the profession," he said.
He was supported by Mr McCarney who said there was a danger of losing people who may turn out to be excellent teachers although they lack the specified academic qualifications.
Douglas Weir writes, page 19