The head of Scotland’s teaching watchdog has said that increasingly teacher education courses are recruiting career changers or those keen to spend the last few years of their working lives in the classroom – as opposed to school leavers.
General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) chief executive Ken Muir told the Scottish Parliament’s education committee that when he trained to be a teacher the vast majority of students came into teaching straight from school.
However, he said, the alternative routes into the profession – of which there are now over a dozen including a two-year master's that prepares teachers to teach across primary and secondary – did not follow this traditional model.
Later, the committee heard from Stuart Robb, head of the education workforce unit, that a total of 770 teachers had been recruited via the alternative routes.
Mr Muir said that Scottish teacher education institutions rarely hit their targets for Stem teachers, or for home economics, Gaelic and sometimes English teachers. He said that as a result of that there had been more focus on trying to recruit mature entrants.
Mr Muir – in response to a question from the Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith, who is a former teacher – said: “What we have found within GTC Scotland is we are having to look at new routes that don’t attract teachers in the traditional sense of coming from school and going to university and doing teacher education and going back into schools.
"A lot of the new routes have been designed to try and attract folk who perhaps wish to change their career – or indeed to attract folk who are getting towards the end of their career who might want to finish off by offering three or five years into the teaching profession.
“Quite a lot of our focus most recently has been in addressing that change in the model of the type of individual who wants to come into the teaching profession. It’s no longer the case as was traditionally the case in my days - and I dare say your own - where the vast majority of teachers came in from school, went to university and went to a college of education. That’s no longer the model and we have had to adapt our programmes to take account of that.”
Mr Muir made his comments whilst giving evidence to the education committee which is investigating how science, engineering, technology and maths is taught in the early years of a child’s education.
The committee heard that the GTCS had recently looked at the minimum qualifications for entry on to teacher education courses but ultimately had decided against demanding applicants had a Higher in maths. It had also shied away from making a science qualification compulsory, said Mr Muir. However, he said it had recommended entrants to the profession had at least the equivalent of a National 5 in science or modern languages. He stressed, though, that the guidelines were the minimum entry requirements and universities were at liberty to set tougher entry criteria.
Charlaine Simpson, a senior education officer at the GTCS with responsibility for initial teacher education and accreditation, said the evidence GTCS had gathered during its consultation process had suggested a Higher in maths would be a “real barrier” for teachers coming into the profession.
However, the Scottish Labour MSP Daniel Johnson was unconvinced and suggested later – when the committee was hearing evidence from the Scottish government – that requiring a National 5 in a science in order to enter teaching did not seem “particularly onerous”.