Can local heroes conquer Scotland's teaching shortage?

24th April 2015 at 01:00
Desperate councils woo career-changers to fill primary gaps

Scottish local authorities plagued by teacher shortages are training non-teaching employees to work in the classroom, it has emerged.

Librarians, pupil support assistants, active schools coordinators and HR personnel have all been targeted to retrain as primary teachers by councils across the country.

Highland Council has cast the net even wider, offering local people with the right qualifications the chance to study part-time to become teachers while keeping their current jobs.

The scheme - which allows participants with an undergraduate degree to gain a primary postgraduate diploma in education in 18 months, largely through distance learning - is being run in conjunction with the University of Aberdeen. It comes as the number of teachers in Scotland has slumped to a 10-year low. The councils involved hope that by training up people who already have property, family ties or social networks in the area, they will be able to "home-grow" at least some of the staff their schools desperately require.

Right place, right time

The scheme, which has received pound;342,000 of funding from the Scottish government, started in Aberdeenshire and Highland in January last year with 37 students; another 40 enrolled this year. Moray Council will begin putting staff through the 18-month course next year, and Perth and Kinross Council is keen to get a similar scheme up and running in 2016.

Earlier this year, Moray councillors were warned that pupils might have to be sent home because of the lack of teachers. At one point the council had more than 70 teaching vacancies across its 53 primary and secondary schools.

Perth and Kinross Council, meanwhile, was able to fulfil only half the supply cover requests made by its schools over the past 12 months, according to education and children's services director John Fyffe.

He said he had considered setting up a permanent supply pool - teachers employed full-time to provide cover - and had also looked into providing cars to help supply staff reach rural schools, but both schemes had failed because there were simply not enough teachers seeking work.

Training up people who were already established in Perth and Kinross would be money well spent, Mr Fyffe added.

"Senior staff are having to work damn hard to manage this situation in some key schools in Perth and Kinross," he said. "They might not be getting any time off from teaching for preparation and management duties - something that ultimately could impact on their health. I can't thank staff enough for what they are doing."

He also called for more teacher training to be delivered outside the central belt: "The research shows that you are more likely to carry out your probation and pick up a job in the area you went to university."

Aberdeenshire currently has 150 teaching vacancies in primary and secondary schools. The impact has been "terrible", said Maria Walker, director of education and children's services for the local authority.

"Growing our own teachers will give us some stability but it's not enough, so we'll have to keep looking at new, innovative ways of attracting teachers," Ms Walker said.

This week, Moray council announced it was offering six months' free accommodation to teachers coming from outside the area, thanks to a partnership with a local builder. Combined with the council's relocation package, this could allow new teachers from outside Moray to live rent-free for a year.

The part-time training course aimed at people in work - entitled the Distance Learning Initial Teacher Education (DLITE) scheme - takes 18 months to complete. Participants study online in their own time, as well as taking part in six networking days with other DLITE students and four school placements, each lasting four weeks.

The University of Aberdeen hopes to establish a similar scheme next year to tackle shortages in secondary schools, training teachers of sciences, maths and home economics.

Yvonne Bain, deputy head of the university's school of education, said: "If you keep the focus on local graduates, you've got the right people in the right place for the jobs. But it's also about widening access to teacher education and encouraging people to train who maybe did not think they had the opportunity because of their geographical location or working life."

A lifelong dream

Elaine Duffy, pictured, a 42-year-old policy officer and project coordinator in Aberdeenshire Council's education and children's services department, will finish her teacher training course in June, before beginning her probationary period in August.

Ms Duffy says: "I always wanted to be a teacher. I did apply when I left school but I wasn't successful - I got to the interview stage but not on the course.

"Even though I've worked in the service support side for 20 years, I never lost my longing for teaching and then this chance came up. There are times in life when you just can't say no."

The fact that she has been able to stay in her current job while training is key, Ms Duffy adds.

"My husband works in the oil industry, which is quite volatile, and I have always seen my salary as the stable one, so I would never have thought to take a year out to do teacher training.

"Sometimes juggling the course, family life and my job has felt impossibly busy, but at least you don't have to worry about paying the bills."

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