LibDem education spokesperson Willie Rennie Conservative Liam Kerr and Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth.
By Lucy Ashton
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Willie Rennie has today accused the Scottish Government of degrading the teaching profession as figures showed that the target for recruiting aspiring secondary school teachers was missed by more than third last year.
In response to a parliamentary question from Mr Rennie, Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth directed him to provisional information received from universities on intakes to initial teacher education in 2022-23 which showed that just 1,506 students applied for secondary teaching qualifications, against a Scottish Government target of 2,336.
This included just 48 out of 159 for Chemistry (30%), 34 out of 85 for Technology (40%), 50 out of 138 for modern languages (43%), 114 out of 250 for Maths (46%), 60 out of 131 for Physics (46%), 26 out of 52 for Computing (50%) and 107 out of 163 for Biology (66%).
Mr Rennie said:“These are brutal figures which expose a short-sighted Scottish Government.
“If we want to give our young people the best chance of getting ahead in life, they need access to great teachers and a great education. Instead in key areas such as the STEM subjects, the government is failing to inspire people to train as teachers. We have a tremendously talented group of young people, but they will never achieve their potential if there are not enough teachers to aid and guide them.
“With industrial disputes becoming a regular occurrence and reports of violence in classrooms, I can understand why this is not as attractive a career as it once was. That means it is on politicians to change the narrative and made teaching a career of choice once more.
“We need properly resourced schools and education authorities with a plan for getting Scottish education moving in the right direction. Scottish Liberal Democrats would give young people better access to expert teachers in STEM subjects by bringing back principal teachers for each of them and for each science. That will create a more attractive career path for graduates in STEM subjects within teaching.”
Almost 40 per cent of secondary teacher training places went unfilled last year as young people shunned careers in an education system failed by the SNP.
Recently published minutes from the Strategic Board for Teacher Education reveal “a downward trend in Secondary ITE [Initial Teacher Education]”, with the 2022 intake amounting to just 61 per cent of the target.
The figures for Modern Languages were down on previous years, while there are also over 300 fewer Maths and 300 fewer English trainee teachers compared with 2008, and 178 fewer computer science trainee teachers.
The Scottish Government’s Education Workforce Unit indicates that recruitment is particularly challenging in remote and rural areas, with members of the board pointing out “teacher mobility is limited due to transport and housing issues in rural locations”.
They also admitted the crisis was “about retention as well as recruitment”, as the number of secondary school teachers aged over 40 has fallen by more than a fifth since the SNP came to power.
This fall comes against the backdrop of delayed education reforms, plummeting teacher morale and escalating classroom violence.
Liam Kerr, the Scottish Conservatives’ shadow education secretary, has recognised these findings, saying that teachers are “overstretched and under-resourced”.
Liam Kerr MSP said: “The huge shortfall in teacher training applicants is sobering proof that after 16 years of SNP Government, young people are being turned off a career in this essential profession.
“Sadly people considering entering what should be a rewarding career see 5,000 teachers are stuck on temporary contracts and a profession that is overstretched, under-resourced, and facing a surge in classroom violence.
“Against that backdrop, it’s hardly surprising the number of student applicants has fallen.
“As with so many of the failings of the SNP-Green government, it’s Scotland’s rural communities that suffer most as this Government’s years of under-investment in decent transport links and housing come home to roost.
“A responsible government would speak to teachers, students and those who might have considered a career or even career change into teaching to find out precisely why this decline was happening and immediately seek to address the issues which are putting people off.
“Teaching should be one of the most fulfilling and valuable careers there is – but there’s an obvious lack of effort from ministers both to make that case and to ensure that that is what these professionals are resourced to deliver.
“The Scottish Conservatives’ New Deal for Teachers recognises teachers’ essential contribution to the future success of our country.
“We’ll reduce the bureaucracy educators currently face, encourage professional development and launch a review into teachers’ career structure, along with an initiative to attract candidates from other careers into the profession.”