Anyone out there? On Scotland’s teacher shortage

Pen and paper at the ready, class, today’s lesson is all about teacher shortages. Across Scotland, the prospect of educating young minds has lost its appeal and there are fewer and fewer student teachers. The question on everyone’s lips is why has a career in teaching lost its spark?

Teaching is rewarding as it is challenging and at one point it was a solid and stable career path. As numbers of student teachers leaving university dwindle, Scotland has seen the demand for teachers outweigh the supply.

Career Path

“It is complex and it is complicated. Previously, you became a teacher and you saw you had a career in teaching – there was a career pathway,” says Larry Flanagan, general secretary for the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS). Generations ago, teaching was a profession that you would have for life, possibly staying in one school for your career.

There used to be a six-tier system where people could progress from a main grade teacher all the way to a head teacher or advisor – this has since changed. Now teachers work on a four-tier basis, going from main grade teacher, principal teacher, to depute and head. The advancements are not as visible as they were 35 years ago.

Similarly, views on career longevity have evolved in recent years. Interests change and different opportunities arise which can see people travelling abroad for positions that provide a better income – teaching is no exception.

“A growing number of  people are attracted to becoming a teacher, getting through their probationary year and then going abroad to somewhere such as Dubai or Abu Dhabi and getting paid extremely well,” adds Larry. “Then they can come back to pay off their student debt and put a deposit on a house – the view on careers is different from a couple of generations ago.”

Extra Factors

Differing attitudes to career timespan is not the only reason that shortages are happening in Scottish classrooms – location is a factor. A reduced number of teachers in class can be more prevalent in rural locations compared to the central belt, Larry explains: “You don’t have universality of suffering in terms of the teacher shortages. It tends to be concentrated in the rural areas or areas such as the North East where living costs can be a factor.”

From location to the all-important pay cheque, it appears salary is playing a significant role on the number of graduates moving into teaching. Everyone who has left school or college and university has taken time to review their prospective careers, opportunities that can come from their choices – including their yearly income.

“The starting salary of teachers has a huge influence on a graduate’s decision to become a teacher,” says Larry. “Put bluntly, in certain sectors more money can be made in non-teaching jobs.”

In a bid to encourage people to become teachers the Scottish government has introduced a limited number of bursaries of £20,000 to those changing career to teach in STEM subjects. Another incentive put in place to tackle the shortage, in particular the shortage in science based classes.

Maths Problems 

Numbers, equations, and calculators, maths has always been a subject that, unfortunately, many people shy away from. The teacher shortage is no exception. Last year it was revealed it wasn’t just students in the classroom struggling with numbers – teachers are having a hard time too. STEM subjects seem to be suffering the most and this is something location and income cannot change.

Trinity Academy in Edinburgh experienced the full extent of the teacher shortage in summer of 2017. The school failed to receive any applications from those with the necessary skills or experiences to fill their two maths teaching vacancies – instead student teachers were brought in to teach students. Although rural areas have suffered the most in the shortage, it is worrying to see a well-respected school in the capital also feel the full brunt of shortages in STEM based subjects.

Recent government statistics revealed that only 112 of 237 places meant for student maths teachers were filled in 2017/18 – this is down from a 72% success rate for the prior year. Issues relating to maths teachers will, in time, ripple down to students and can affect Scotland’s future prospects.

Young Minds

Scotland as a country is rich in engineering, electricity and oil industry, but teacher shortages could be problematic for these fields. Students go to school to learn skills and gain qualifications that will be beneficial in their future lives, for this reason it is important that they are taught at a high standard.

Larry says: “It is a worry that there may not be enough teachers available to teach future generations of Scotland’s pupils. Education is a right and not a privilege; it should be there for all, providing equal life chances for everyone. We are a nation of six million people so there should be no excuse for not equipping each school with highly qualified professional teachers.”

There is no denying that teaching has changed over the years. Through this shortage, however, teacher graduates can leave knowing there is pool of jobs available where they can work to shape a future for everyone.

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