The government launched a new fast-track route into teaching for “high-quality graduates” in science, engineering, and maths (Stem), as well as home economics, last week.
However, an investigation has revealed that one university delivering the new route has filled less than half the places on another fast-track course for Stem graduates it started last month, calling into question whether the new route will deliver.
Last week, education secretary John Swinney announced that the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and the University of Dundee had won the tender to deliver the new route, which starts in December for graduates in chemistry, physics, home economics, maths and engineering.
It was a victory for the universities, which had effectively seen off – for the time being at least – teacher-training charity Teach First, whose controversial approach results in recruits taking classes after a six-week intensive summer school.
However, figures uncovered by Tes Scotland suggest that the universities might struggle to make the new scheme work, given the University of Dundee only managed to fill 16 of the 35 places on an existing fast-track route to becoming a Stem teacher, which started on 19 January. The university said it had received over 90 applications, interviewed 31 candidates and offered 19 places – of those, 16 had started the course.
A university spokesman said: “This rigorous selection process was intended to ensure we were getting the right people, with the necessary attributes, who want to pursue a career in teaching, and who are committed to making a difference to children and young people.”
The EIS teaching union has said in the past it is “strongly opposed” to any teacher-education approach that places “breakneck pace” above quality. General secretary Larry Flanagan argues that it ignores the main reasons the government is failing to attract enough teachers: “excessive workload” and a lack of “professional salaries and career progression”. Last week, the EIS launched a campaign for a 10 per cent pay rise for all teachers.
However, Flanagan is pleased that the University of Dundee has “erred on the side of caution” when offering students places on its new course, saying it shows “a concern for maintaining the high standards associated with teacher training here in Scotland”.
Secondary headteachers’ association School Leaders Scotland welcomes the news of 16 new Stem students in Dundee, but says that pay must rise to make teaching more attractive if the government wants to resolve the recruitment crisis.
Labour, meanwhile, says that fast-track schemes are “clearly not the answer” and that Scottish teachers are now among the lowest-paid and most overworked in the world. Education spokesman Iain Gray says that his party would introduce bursaries for teacher training in shortage subjects, beginning with math and physics.
The government has already said it is going to introduce 100 bursaries of £20,000 this year for career changers who wish to train in certain Stem subjects. Also, the winning bid for the new fast-track proposes that students embarking on the course should be awarded a bursary of more than £22,000. Education secretary John Swinney says that he was attracted to the winning bid for the fast-track route because it combined the geographical reach and digital learning experience of UHI with “the depth of initial teacher education experience” of the University of Dundee.
He adds that the scheme “tries to address directly some of the logistical challenges faced by people in locations that are not adjacent to teacher education centres”.
Responding to the Dundee figures, Swinney says that more primary teachers have been recruited this year than the government had budgeted for, but other “disciplines” have not been as successful.
Swinney argues that the government and initial teacher education (ITE) providers must “try to ensure an adequate flow of individuals coming into the teaching profession”. He does not rule out Teach First being part of the mix one day. When asked if the door is now shut on Teach First for good, he fails to give a straight answer, instead pointing out that if the government had not innovated there would be 200 fewer teachers coming into teacher training this year.
However, Swinney stresses that “we have to make sure the appropriate standards are being reached”. For any teacher-education course, sign-off from the General Teaching Council for Scotland – which has vowed to prevent teacher education being “dumbed down” – is a must, he says.