Hundreds of teacher training places at Scottish universities went unfilled this year, with key subjects including maths falling dramatically short of their targets, TESS can reveal. Experts have warned that the shortfall could worsen the national teacher shortage.
Figures obtained by TESS show that the Scottish government aimed to train 146 maths teachers on the most common route into secondary teaching – the one-year, postgraduate PGDE course – but only just over half the places (76) were filled.
Other subjects failing to attract anywhere near the target number of students include RE, computing, technological education and physics (see panel, opposite).
Gaelic was also badly hit. The goal was to recruit four secondary Gaelic teachers this year but universities failed to attract any.
Overall, one in five places on secondary postgraduate teacher education courses was not taken up when over-recruitment to subjects such as geography, history and modern studies was adjusted for.
There has been a “consistent challenge over a number of years” to attract sufficient candidates in several key areas – particularly Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects – revealed Professor Teresa Moran, convener of the Scottish Teacher Education Committee (STEC), which represents university schools of education. “This is a complex issue and one all parties are working together to address,” she said.
In September the Scottish government launched a campaign aimed at encouraging more teachers to enter the profession, with a particular focus on Stem subjects.
But more creative solutions are needed, according to Bruce Robertson, an education policy adviser to the Scottish government and education directors’ body ADES.
Ministers should consider offering incentives to encourage students to train in Stem subjects, he said. And there also needed to be more initial teacher education (ITE) places at universities outside the Central Belt.
Mr Robertson told TESS: “If there is evidence that we are not filling the maths, physics and computer science places in ITE, especially the postgrad courses, we need to rethink our approaches. Are there creative incentives that we should deploy, such as scholarships and salary gradings?
“There needs to be a significant shift in allocations of ITE places to Dundee, Aberdeen and UHI [University of the Highlands and Islands], which serve the areas where there’s greatest need. Studies tell us that most teachers tend to stay and work in areas where they’ve been trained.”
Figures obtained by TESS show that there were 813 student teachers on postgraduate secondary ITE courses at the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Strathclyde and the West of Scotland, compared with 178 at Aberdeen, Dundee and UHI.
Highland Council was finding it “increasingly difficult to recruit to both primary and secondary teaching posts”, said Bill Alexander, director of care and learning.
Mr Alexander revealed that there were 34 vacant teaching posts in Highland, 15 of which were in secondary schools.
“The secondary subject areas where we are finding increasing difficulty recruiting to are physics, maths, chemistry, technology, home economics and, more recently, English and modern languages,” he added.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “We have increased student teacher numbers in each of the last four years, targeted more of those places where they are needed most and are working with teacher education partnerships to ensure they are promoting teaching as a career choice.
“This government has also launched a national marketing campaign to attract more people into teaching.”
This year there were 1,165 places available on postgraduate courses, the most common route by which students enter secondary teaching in Scotland. Of the target places, 933 were filled. However, because of overrecruitment to some subjects, 991 secondary teachers are currently training via this route.
Of the 362 places on undergraduate secondary courses, 338 places were filled, rising to 361 when over-recruitment to some subjects was taken into account.
All 1,184 places on primary postgraduate courses were filled, as were the 730 places on primary undergraduate courses.
Maths training that adds up
Just over half of the places available on postgraduate courses to train maths teachers have been filled this year – 76 out of a possible 146. The University of Dundee was allocated 13 places and filled four; the University of Strathclyde had 55 places and filled 24; the University of Glasgow had 28 and filled 22.
There is one course, however, that appears to be bucking the trend. The University of Stirling doesn’t offer a one-year postgrad but its four-year degree for aspiring maths teachers hit its target this year, recruiting 10 students. In total there were 54 applications for the course.
John I’Anson, director of initial teacher education at the University of Stirling, says: “Most of our subject areas are oversubscribed – including some subjects that are recognised as difficult to recruit for, such as maths.”
Honing teaching skills over four years, instead of just one, appeals to some students, Dr l’Anson adds. It means that the introduction to teaching is gradual, building students’ confidence. They began with a year of “microteaching” groups of eight children at university before their first classroom placement.
‘Huge untapped potential’
Twenty-year-old Rebecca Elliot is in the third year of a BEd in technological education at the University of Glasgow. Her choice of career was inspired by two technical teachers who taught her at East Dunbartonshire’s Boclair Academy – Rhona Kane and Graham Arroll.
Ms Elliot believes that having a female role model made a huge difference to her. If the government wants to recruit more teachers to Stem subjects, it needs to get more girls studying these subjects at school, she argues.
Because fewer girls than boys are taking these subjects in school, fewer are going into teaching, Ms Elliot says, adding: “There’s huge untapped potential there.”
Even in the 21st century, pupils are still shocked to see a young, female technology teacher walking through the door, she says.