Scottish universities are planning to target college students in a bid to improve recruitment to teacher-education courses.
This year, 30 per cent of places on secondary PGDE courses – the most common route into secondary teaching in Scotland – went unfilled. History, modern studies, PE and psychology were the only subjects to hit their targets.
However, the head of the University of Strathclyde’s School of Education, Professor Ian Rivers – who is also an expert on homophobic and transphobic bullying – believes his university may have a solution that could see teacher-education institutions hitting their recruitment targets, as well as improving the diversity of Scottish teachers.
As of next year, Rivers – whose school of education is responsible for training around 30 per cent of Scottish teachers – wants to start marketing teacher education degrees to Higher National Diploma (HND) students studying everything from fashion design to mechanical engineering, with the aim of recruiting them onto the third year of teacher-education degrees. And the government has said it will support the new route.
The vision is that after two years at university, the fashion designers could become home economics teachers and the mechanical engineers could teach physics, with the potential to recruit students from other relevant HND courses to teach other shortage subjects.
Rivers hopes this new route will be up and running next year and says his staff have been mapping the content of HND courses since November. He says: “This [idea] is still very much in development but it has the support of all the other universities. They really liked the idea because it means we can work in partnership with the college sector to develop a group of teachers that come from very different backgrounds than perhaps our teachers have traditionally come from.
“There are more colleges than there are universities and some of them are bigger than universities. That’s a market that has never been looked at before – it’s a group of students that has never been considered before.”
Rivers argues that, while the new route would be more expensive than the one-year PGDE, traditional methods for training teachers are not working, particularly when it comes to subjects such as home economics, technological education, physics and maths. Even English is proving tough to recruit to, he says.
The teacher shortage plaguing Scottish schools and the difficulty universities are having attracting student teachers has been acknowledged by the Scottish government. It announced this month that two additional universities would begin delivering teacher-education courses in 2019, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University, also in Edinburgh.
It has also created 11 new routes into the profession, which it says resulted in 281 more students training to be teachers.
However, Tes Scotland revealed last month that one of the new routes – the University of Dundee’s fast track for science, technology, engineering and maths teachers – only managed to fill 16 out of 35 places.
Rivers continues: “We are committed to trying to meet the numbers the Scottish government want but we can’t do it through the old methods. We have to have new and innovative approaches but also make sure we maintain the standards.
“If this works we are talking about significantly larger numbers – I would expect to hit target.”
A Scottish government spokeswoman agrees that the University of Strathclyde approach “has the potential to significantly increase the pool of prospective candidates for teaching qualifications”.
She adds: “We will support the University of Strathclyde, in partnership with the Scottish Council of Deans of Education, to develop a new route to teaching that allows a student holding HND onto the third year of teacher education degrees in priority secondary subjects.”
A spokesman for the EIS teaching union says it supports the creation of new routes into teaching as long as they meet General Teaching Council for Scotland requirements. However, teacher recruitment will remain an issue until workload and pay are tackled, he adds.
Colleges Scotland chief executive Shona Struthers says the new route is “an interesting idea”, adding that becoming a teacher may not be a career path typically considered by HND students. She adds: “Given the focus on Stem courses in colleges, coupled with the acute shortage of teachers in these subjects, this proposal could provide a useful solution.
“We would be keen to understand further the mechanics of the proposal because Colleges Scotland is supportive of any initiative that helps learners take a career path that is right for them.”