Brakes are off for teacher training

20th February 2004 at 00:00
Teacher training places are set for a major expansion over the next three years as ministers redouble their efforts to establish a teaching force of 53,000 by 2007.

A high-profile marketing campaign will also try to pull in many who have dropped out of the profession and others outwith Scotland attracted by different careers in post-McCrone classrooms.

Ministers are next week set to launch a package of recruitment measures and remain confident that they will meet their commitments on class size cuts in P1, S1 and S2 within three years.

They have robustly dismissed suggestions that they could be 1,000 teachers short because of their failure to open up enough training places at universities.

Teacher trainers believe they can cope with the sharply rising intake over the next three years but are concerned that places for maths may remain unfilled.

Iain Smith, education dean at Strathclyde University, the largest trainer, said: "The Scottish Executive's figures to make P1, S1 and S2 pledges are realistic if recruitment of intake targets can be achieved. It is a big if for mathematics but we have some special ideas how to do that."

Universities now have no cap on the numbers they can recruit to English and maths places, which account for around half the total number of places on the one-year postgraduate secondary course.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council said that since the partnership agreement in May 2003 between Labour and the Liberal Democrats the council and the Executive have increased intake targets for the one-year postgraduate primary and secondary courses by 416 in 2003-04 and 685 in 2004-05.

"There will be further increases in PGCE intakes up to, and including, the 2006-07 academic year," she said.

The total on one-year courses in 2004 will rise to 2,300, up from 1,600 this year. Overall, around 3,200 student teachers will start next August, including those on the longer bachelor of education courses. Ministers fully expect universities will train well beyond the numbers they actually need to meet their election pledges, although it has never been a precise science. They are aware they face "big challenges".

The latest funding council circular on intakes to universities underlines the complex nature of workforce planning over the next four years, a timespan that encompasses the reshaping of the primary curriculum to cut class contact to 22.5 hours and plans to reduce P1 classes to a maximum of 25 and English and maths classes in S1 and S2 to no more than 20.

While the focus nationally has been on the drive to recruit an extra 3,000 teachers by 2007, it is clear that workforce planning is far more complicated than allocating additional training places.

Close reading of the partnership agreement reveals no mention of the 3,000 figure, merely a commitment to bring the teaching workforce up to 53,000.

That should now be within the grasp of the Executive since there are already around 70,000 registered teachers of whom something like 60,000 are active.

Many prefer to work part-time or do supply work. Meanwhile, local authorities have been recruiting heavily over the past two years, creating supply pools and phasing in a new breed of teacher as more senior staff are eased out as part of the post-McCrone deal.

One of the reasons for the shortage of supply teachers at this time of the year has been the steady recruitment of staff.

In his written advice to the funding council, Donald Henderson, head of the teachers' division in the Executive, stresses: "There is no evidence to suggest that currently there are teacher shortages, at least in terms of full-time posts."

Mr Henderson accepts that finding supply staff can be difficult but says that larger university intakes will ease the problem.

More flexible routes into the profession, such as part-time and distance learning courses, are set to tackle any specific staffing problems in areas well away from the training universities.

The pressures on recruitment will be eased because of the dramatic fall in school rolls up to 2007. Around 38,000 fewer children will be in the pre-school, primary and special sectors with 15,000 fewer in secondary, based on current numbers in schools. Planning already takes into account the numbers of teachers expected to retire.

Applications for university courses in primary teaching remain strong and - as the partnership agreement highlights - experienced staff in upper primary may well move into the early years of secondary as specialists in language and maths. The Executive estimates that 100 primary-trained staff may teach the 5-14 curriculum in secondary.

That challenge to traditional training backgrounds may prove more problematic for some on the General Teaching Council for Scotland which favours encouraging existing staff in secondary to retrain for priority subjects.

Primary teachers could, of course, take additional training to work in secondary under the more flexible continuing professional development routes.


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