The government is considering halving the time it takes to become a fully qualified teacher in a bid to solve Scotland’s school staff shortages, TESS can reveal.
Education secretary John Swinney has asked universities to come up with a training route that combines the one-year postgraduate course, the PGDE, and Scotland’s one year induction scheme “to allow teachers to quickly reach the standard for full registration”.
Unions have hit out at the proposal – which would allow trainees to become teachers in just a year – comparing it to “on-the-job training” schemes which, they claimed, had been “discredited” in England (see story, opposite).
EIS assistant secretary Drew Morrice said that if the scheme did go ahead, it was likely that new teachers would end up missing out either on pedagogical experiences at university or practical experience in school.
But both of these were vital in order to maintain the standard of professionalism in Scottish schools, he said.
David Kirk, head of Scotland’s largest school of education at the University of Strathclyde, said such a training route would lead to “untrained people effectively being teachers”.
They would then be hard to sack unless they were “woeful or had done something dreadful”, he added.
However, John Stodter, a former director of education who has advised the government on its education policy, argued against dismissing the government’s plans as “a tartanised Teach First”. For far too long, Scotland had unquestioningly taken the length of a course of study as an assurance of its substance, he said (see box, opposite).
Education secretary John Swinney wrote to schools of education earlier this month asking them to come up with a range of new routes into the profession in order to tackle shortages in certain subjects, such as Stem.
In the letter he said that it was “now essential that we consider alternative routes that help address the current supply issues facing schools in many parts of the country”.
It came as Jenny Laing, leader of Aberdeen City Council, wrote to the education secretary ahead of the summer break highlighting the 134 teaching positions that were still vacant in the authority and demanding “urgent action” from the government.
In addition to a new fast-track qualification, Mr Swinney has asked universities to consider courses that would allow for classroom-based training and distance-learning, as well as the development of specialisms at primary level.
The new routes could also allow teachers to graduate from a teacher training course with a Master’s degree.
It is hoped that any new options for trainees could also encourage more men and ethnic minorities into primary schools.
Mr Morrice said: “At the moment in Scotland, we have always formed the view that anyone entering teaching must have the theoretical background on pedagogical skills, supplemented by practical experience.
“The GTCS has been quite resolute in trying to protect the number of hours that teachers on the induction scheme require before they make the standard for full registration.
“If we are to maintain that it must be at the expense of pedagogy, that suggests a Scottish variation of some of the fast-track schemes that have been discredited south of the border. We would be very worried about this kind of scheme being delivered in Scotland.”
Professor Kirk said that an accelerated route into teaching might be appropriate in “special cases” but it could not be a general route “for everybody in all circumstances”.
He said: “You would have untrained people effectively becoming teachers and at the end of the process, it would be very difficult to sack them. They would have to be woeful or have done something dreadful. It would be much harder to keep incompetent teachers out.”
A GTCS spokesman said that the organisation had been proactive in supporting new routes into teaching over the past year to help address the teacher shortage .
The spokesman added: “It is in the public interest, and, most importantly, in the interests of our children and young people, that we continue to uphold teaching standards and ensure that only properly qualified high-quality teachers are allowed to work in Scottish classrooms.”
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “We have no plans to introduce the model of school based education used in England. What’s more, we remain absolutely committed to the central role of GTCS in accrediting the professional standards of those who teach in our schools.”
‘There’s no need to make training “easier”’
There is a significant gap between the supply of teachers and the demand, with vacancies in schools throughout Scotland.
The education secretary has taken decisive action on the supply side to provide more pathways for aspiring teachers; more flexible arrangements for attaining the necessary qualification; and faster routes into work for prospective teachers.
Some interpret aspects of these changes, such as the possible conflation of the one year post graduate course with the induction period, as a tartanised Teach First.
However, for far too long we have unquestioningly taken the length of a course of study as an assurance of its substance, whereas the arbiter of the standard to teach lies in the assessment of competence.
Why does it take everyone, regardless of prior experience, four full years to achieve the standard and complete the training? Why not longer? Why not shorter?
There is clearly scope for more effective and efficient models that meet the needs of individual learners and of the education system more generally.
There is no need to make entry into teaching ‘easier’ in terms of standards and, indeed, the GTCS will not approve a course that does not allow the standard to be achieved.
People who want to be teachers may come with a wealth of relevant experience and a huge commitment to their chosen profession: a quicker route for them without diminishing the standard represents a major step forward in prioritising learning, learners and the needs of the schools over systems and structures.
John Stodter is a former director of education who has advised the government on education policy