Everyone should want you when you're a teacher

24th April 2015 at 01:00

Dubai is a fascinating place, full of paradoxes. Male friends show their affection for each other by holding hands, but signs in shops ban couples from loving displays; miniskirted Westerners rub shoulders with Arabic men in full-length white robes; extraordinary extravagance resides cheek-by-jowl with labour camps.

In a strange turn of events, Dubai can also be seen as representative of another paradox, this time in Scottish education.

I visited in December, several years after writing an article about newly qualified Scottish teachers having to find work in the emirate because there weren't enough jobs on home soil. Three years on, the stories that fill this magazine are about how there simply aren't enough teachers to go round. So desperate are some councils that they are training up their degree-qualified employees - human resources personnel, pupil support assistants, active schools coordinators - to become primary teachers (page 8).

All of which raises the question, which group of teachers is worse off? This generation, who are in such demand that they can land work almost without trying, or those forced by circumstance to head off to marvel at the way things are done in other parts of the world?

The situation is rather more clear-cut for schools and students. At times of oversupply, schools can cherry-pick the best candidates; undersupply is nearly always bad news. It's hard to overestimate how desperate times are in Scotland, especially in rural areas where vast numbers of teaching posts are unfilled and supply cover is just a pipe dream.

So what to do? After all, this is not a new problem. When the teacher workforce planning model was reviewed a number of years ago, the conclusion was that it was as good as it could be at predicting something that was nearly impossible to predict. In other words, we don't do it well but we can't hope to do it much better.

Perhaps the law can offer us a way out of this paradox. Only half the people who graduate with a law degree go on to become lawyers, but the well-respected qualification opens many other doors. Sadly, the recently demised BEd wasn't regarded highly enough to do likewise.

The BEd has now been replaced with MAs and BAs, owing to the changes introduced after the Donaldson review of teacher education. It is to be hoped that the flexibility and quality of these new degrees will mean that if the job prospects in teaching are looking bad, students will be able to use their qualifications in another field.

Education directors would like 10 per cent more teachers to be trained than are needed to keep schools fully staffed. Perhaps, if the new Donaldson-style qualifications follow law's lead, this could be realistic - and we might just be able to sell the idea that education is a high-value degree that leads to many opportunities, not just in Dundee or Dubai but in other sectors too.


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