Teacher Vacancies

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd May 2017.

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Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

3. To ask the Scottish Government what measures it is taking to ensure that schools can fill teacher vacancies. (S5O-00921)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is taking a number of actions to help to recruit teachers. We are spending £88 million this year to make sure that every school has access to the right number of teachers; we have increased student teacher intake targets for the sixth year in a row; and we are setting targets for training teachers in the subjects in which they are needed most. We are also supporting innovative new routes into teaching, including work with the University of the Highlands and Islands. We launched a new teacher recruitment campaign on 8 February under the title “Teaching Makes People”. That builds on the success of last year’s inspiring teachers campaign, which helped to drive an increase in professional graduate diploma in education applications to Scottish universities.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

It is clear that none of that is working. The cabinet secretary will be aware that there are currently 700 teacher vacancies, which is having a direct impact on children’s education. Along with that, there is a marked increase in headteachers being asked to lead more than one school—indeed, that is becoming the norm in some areas. How on earth can someone lead a school when they are not there on a daily basis? How far will our once-excellent education service fall before the Government acts? Children do not get a second chance at their education.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I will address a number of the points that Rhoda Grant made. First, I recognise that there are shortages in available teachers in certain parts of the country and in certain subjects. I have set out to Rhoda Grant a number of the steps that the Government is taking to rectify the situation. We have increased the number of places that are available for teacher training by 370 in 2017-18 to begin to address the issue. Workforce planning is a complex and difficult process, and shortages clearly arise out of that.

I assure Rhoda Grant that I have had discussions with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, which regulates who teaches in our schools, to ensure that registered teachers who are not active in teaching are contacted and that efforts are made to motivate them to become active in teaching. I want to ensure that the GTCS takes an efficient approach to considering registration applications from teachers who are trained to teach in other jurisdictions, so that it assesses and evaluates the contribution that they could make to Scottish education if they wish to do so.

The second issue that Rhoda Grant raised was that some headteachers may operate across more than one school. I fundamentally disagree with her point. With the right support models in place, it is perfectly possible and tangible for exceptional headteachers to deploy their skills across more than one school.

For example, one headteacher of a large secondary school—Gerry Lyons of St Andrew’s secondary school in the east end of Glasgow—who is regarded as one of the most experienced and effective headteachers in the country, has been invited by the director of education of Glasgow City Council not only to continue to provide leadership at St Andrew’s but to provide it at Holyrood secondary school, which is a slightly smaller but still significant secondary school. My response to that is that it is advantageous for pupils in as many parts of our country as possible to experience distinguished and effective leadership for the enhancement of their education. I accept that the initiative must be properly supported, but I fully support and endorse the arrangements that Glasgow City Council has put in place, because they are beneficial for young people in Scotland.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

Will the cabinet secretary outline what progress is being made to develop new routes into teaching?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

At my instigation, a number of new projects were identified to encourage people to enter the teaching profession, and the General Teaching Council for Scotland has been assessing 11 of those routes. Some of that assessment is complete and we are able to recruit teachers on the basis of those new routes into teaching. That is an example of how the Government has responded positively to the demand for innovative approaches, and I welcome the input that we have had from the colleges of education in responding to the challenge that the Government has set.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

The cabinet secretary acknowledges that it takes time to fill teacher vacancies. Supply teachers are often used when a teacher is absent, but the number of supply teachers is falling. In Angus, the number has fallen from 430 to 331 since 2011. What urgent action is the Scottish Government taking to deal with the falling number of supply teachers?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The measures that I set out—particularly the work that the GTCS can undertake on our behalf in contacting registered teachers who are not active in teaching but who could contribute in some way to the supply pool—form one of the most significant areas where we can take action.

However, the question that Mr Kerr raises highlights the general challenge that exists.

Just before the Easter recess, I spent two days at the international summit on the teaching profession. My two predecessors took part in such summits in New Zealand and in Canada; I took part in Morrison Street in Edinburgh. Members will understand how attractive Morrison Street is compared with Wellington in New Zealand and Banff in Canada.

All the contributions from the countries that were represented at the international summit had a common theme. It was clear from my counterpart from England, Nick Gibb, and from my counterparts from Singapore, Finland, Canada and New Zealand—where the education systems are well regarded—that there is a systemic challenge in recruiting individuals to the teaching profession, which is not just a Scottish issue.

We have to think inventively and creatively about how we motivate more people to come into the teaching profession. It is part of my general work to raise the value, credibility and esteem of the teaching profession, because our young people need to have a good flow of individuals entering the teaching profession to deliver the education on which they depend.