A scheme that trains people to become teachers is being forced to turn away applicants at a time when one of the councils it serves is considering cutting the school day due to teacher shortages.
The Distance Learning Initial Teacher Education (DLITE) scheme, which began in north-east Scotland in 2014, allows people living and working in the area to retrain as a teacher while they hold down their current job.
Each year, about 40 primary teachers train via DLITE across Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Highland and Moray; in September last year, a version of the scheme for secondary also got off the ground, with about a dozen trainees signing up.
But the SNP MSP for Aberdeenshire East, Gillian Martin, says that local people keen to take part in the scheme are now being turned away due to a lack of places. At a recent meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, she questioned whether funding for more traditional courses, which were failing to fill places, could be “channelled into expanding things like DLITE, where there is a big demand”.
Laurence Findlay, director of education and social care in Moray – which is considering cutting school time for some pupils as a result of teacher shortages – told Tes Scotland that his authority “could have taken more spaces if they were available” on DLITE.
Moray received about 40 applications for the primary DLITE programme, but was offered just 12 places, he said.
Clawing back funding
Now, education secretary John Swinney has said that he is “giving active consideration” to clawing back funding from universities that fail to fill places on their education courses, so that it can be “redeployed”.
This year, the Scottish government aimed to recruit 4,058 student teachers across undergraduate and PGDE primary and secondary routes, but 10 per cent of places went unfilled.
Mr Swinney told the last meeting of the Education and Skills Committee: “To date, we have not reclaimed resources from universities where they have been unable to fill traditional PGDE-type courses, but there is scope within the financial arrangements for us to claw that resource back and redeploy it in other areas, and Gillian Martin raises an issue to which I am giving active consideration.
“Given that we find ourselves in a situation where we have not been able to fulfil expectations, we have to look at different options and approaches to ensure we have an adequate supply of teachers into the teaching profession.”
Earlier this year, Tes Scotland revealed that the Scottish Government had written off nearly £1 million owed to it by schools of education for failing to fill places on secondary teacher education courses in 2015-16. The charge per place for underrecruitment in 2015-16 was £4,738. However, at the time, universities – which have been forced to pay these charges in previous years – were becoming increasingly reluctant to accept higher targets for secondary subjects for which recruitment is tough, including technological education and maths, because they could mean setting themselves up for future fines.
This year, only 47 per cent of maths student-teacher places were filled on the one-year secondary PGDE, and 29 per cent of technological education places.
Mr Findlay said “the current big issue” for his authority – which is predominantly rural – is teacher absence, as well as a lack of available supply teachers to cover classes.
He said teacher numbers had risen by eight, according to the latest teacher census, but maternity leave had increased by 67 per cent and absence through ill health rose by 15 per cent.
Mr Findlay said: “It is the availability of short-to-medium-term cover that is the problem at present.”