Computing ‘in crisis’ as teacher numbers plunge

19th August 2016 at 01:00
Study reveals drop in specialists amid concerns some are heading to England

The number of computing teachers in Scotland is plummeting at a time when they are needed more than ever, TESS can reveal.

Research published today reveals a recruitment crisis, with many schools not having even one computing teacher. Fears are emerging that such specialists are being lost to better-paid teaching posts in England.

One expert described the decline in numbers as “tragic” when Scottish ICT and technology companies were crying out for thousands of recruits.

The Computing at School Scotland (CASS) study, based on several Freedom of Information requests, finds that the number of active computing science teachers fell to 598 in 2015 from 632 the year before – and by a quarter from 802 in 2005.

Only three local authorities had more computing teachers in 2015 than in 2005, while some 17 had at least one school with no computing teacher. Rural authorities are struggling the most: two-thirds of Highland secondaries had no computing teachers.

'Not enough applicants'

Report author Kate Farrell, a CASS executive committee member, described a “recruitment crisis” that has left nearly half of councils struggling to find teachers.

Universities are “not getting enough qualified and quality applicants” for computing, while the 26 new registrations of computing teachers recorded by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) in 2015 was down from 85 in 2005.

Many who train in Scotland never make it into Scottish schools – only two out of eight on a University of Glasgow postgraduate course in 2015-16 went into the Teacher Induction Scheme – and there are fears that some are heading south of the border.

“English schools are trying to introduce computing into the curriculum but don’t have a large pool of qualified subject specialists,” Ms Farrell said. “They also have more flexibility in terms of salary, which may be attractive to new teachers.”

But there are several other reasons suggested for the decline, such as the increasingly commonplace practice of lone computing staff teaching up to four different levels of qualification in the same class.

“This is not a sustainable situation and will result in teachers leaving as well as lower uptake by students,” Ms Farrell said.

The report raises concerns that school management teams “don’t value computing science as a subject and perhaps do not understand the difference between ICT and computing science”.

Yet school-leavers with computing skills are in huge demand. TESS reported earlier this year that Scotland was a long way from meeting the needs of its burgeoning ICT and digital technology sector to fill 11,000 new and vacated posts each year (“Schools key to cracking nation’s coding shortage”, Insight, 11 March).

'Declining numbers'

Greg Michaelson, professor of computer science at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, said: “Given the ubiquity of computer-based devices and systems, and the growing shortage of specialists with the skills to deploy them, it is tragic that declining numbers of Scotland’s schools can offer children the opportunity to study core computing.”

Ms Farrell said the Scottish government had acknowledged the problem but she remained “concerned” that universities were “failing to find enough high-quality applicants with recent experience of volunteering in schools or shadowing teachers”.

CASS has called for a national publicity campaign and more research into the destinations of teachers who leave the Scottish system. There are 2,698 GTCS-registered teachers with computing as their main or additional subject but it is unclear how many of the 2,100 not actively teaching computing are doing something else in schools and how many have left the profession.

Renfrewshire is the Scottish council with by far the biggest upward swing in computing teachers in the past decade (44 per cent). Its education and children’s services convener Jacqueline Henry said: “We are living in an age where virtually anything can be done on a mobile phone through an app…and it is vital for children and young people to know how to exploit the opportunities this presents and protect themselves from online threats.”



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