We are all aware of the shortage of teachers across the north of Scotland and the range of ways local authorities have tried to support teachers to come and teach in our rural schools.
The University of the Highlands and Islands as a local university in the north has been working closely with local authority partners to bring people into teaching as a career.
Through our network of local colleges and online learning, we offer a one year Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PDGE) programme for primary or secondary teaching, from Lerwick to Oban.
Our use of technology and partnership with local schools enables us to have groups of teacher education students across our region. In that way we can work with small groups in Kirkwall, Lerwick and Stornoway, but host bigger group of students in Elgin, Inverness, Oban and Perth. Our aim is to recruit locally and support people to qualify as teachers in their home area.
Each university which provides initial teacher education is dependent on encouraging people to consider a career in teaching, just as the local authorities need to encourage newly qualified teachers to live in rural areas.
We are the beginning and end of a planning system that starts nationally with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and the Scottish government. COSLA carry out a snapshot survey of vacancies with local authorities every September. That information goes into a national statistical model, with other information such as the age of the teaching workforce, the numbers who job share and even the number of teachers expected to go on maternity leave.
From that the government can project how many new teachers are needed to maintain the teaching workforce. The analysis and the government recommendations are then considered by the National Teacher Workforce Planning Group who make the final decision about how many new teachers to recruit into university programmes the following year.
The government works from this decision and agrees with each of the universities offering initial teacher education the number of places they will have for each of their programmes.
The majority of places for teacher education are where the majority of the Scottish population is, in the central belt. A number of universities have argued for the last few years that more student places should be given to the universities who work with schools and local authorities in rural Scotland.
It can be difficult to encourage people to consider secondary teaching as a career, particularly in the science subjects, where they have a wide range of other career opportunities.
The General Teaching Council for Scotland sets the level of qualifications you need in each subject in order to teach it. This usually means you are expected to have a degree in the subject you want to teach, but a lot of degrees that people have done don’t match up to school subjects.
In business studies, home economics and technical education you are expected to have covered a lot of different areas in your degree and not everyone has done that. This is an area where workplace experience can be helpful but you still need passes in university modules in the subject to teach it in schools, and it is important that new teachers start with all the knowledge they need to teach their subject.
In the past two years, universities across Scotland were given government support to introduce new routes into teaching.
There are now a range of part-time programmes on offer and the University of the Highlands and Islands has introduced a new four year degree in food, nutrition and textiles education, where graduates leave with a secondary teaching qualification in home economics.
Schools sit at the heart of our communities and teachers living and teaching locally contribute to local communities and the local economy. It is those teachers who give our students the classroom experience that is 50% of a one year PDGE teaching qualification.
That partnership is a crucial part of bringing new teachers into our schools, supporting student teachers to develop the skills and knowledge they need to teach our children. Local communities can support that work and encourage local people to consider teaching as a career.