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Teacher recruitment targets not changed in Scotland

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Around half of the places on the postgraduate route into secondary teaching – the most common pathway into secondary teaching in Scotland – went unfilled this year.

Meanwhile, new primary teachers who have just completed their probation are struggling to get permanent jobs. The latest official figures show that fewer than one in five (16.6 per cent) had a permanent post – either full-time or part-time – the September after becoming fully qualified.

Despite these issues, the Scottish government has decided that recruitment targets for teacher education institutions should remain unchanged for 2024-25.

The University Intake Targets for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) 2024-25 – published by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) today – give universities the job of recruiting 4,070 student teachers next year: 1,734 primary and 2,336 secondary. The targets are the same as in 2023-24.

The Scottish government says its recommendation to maintain student teacher intake targets is based on “a statistical model which estimates the number of ITE students required to maintain pupil-teacher ratios”.

In its letter to the SFC recommending that targets remain unchanged, the government adds: “The model is based on a number of inputs including projections about the number of pupils in the education system at primary and secondary ages, churn in teacher numbers (recruitment, maternity, returners, etc) and the retention rates of ITE students.”

Secondary teacher recruitment difficulty

However, the letter acknowledges that the current system for predicting teacher numbers could be improved. It says “local authority need” should be better captured in future years.

Primary teacher education courses usually hit or exceed the targets set by the SFC, which are based on government recommendations.

However, recruitment on to the most popular route into secondary teaching in Scotland, the PGDE – which accounts for 2,000 of the 2,336 places for secondary teaching students next year – has got worse in recent years.

In 2023-24 just half of places on the secondary PGDE were filled. In 2022-23 some 61 per cent of places were filled; in 2021-22, 85 per cent; and in 2020-21, 92 per cent.

Recruitment difficulties are more acute for certain subjects. This year, for example, just a third of the places available on maths PGDE courses were filled – there were 250 places and 83 were filled.

‘Promoting teaching as a career’

The government’s letter says it recognises “the ongoing need to increase teacher numbers in secondary in specific subjects” and “that considerable effort will be required on the part of ITE providers to reach the PGDE secondary target of 2,000 in 2024-25, and support will be required in promoting teaching as a career to meet this challenging target”.

The government says that in order to support workforce planning, the Strategic Board for Teacher Education is looking at “a range of issues, including recruitment into hard-to-fill subjects, increasing diversity in the teaching profession and promoting teaching as a valued career”.

The letter also references the government’s teaching bursary scheme, which offers £20,000 for career changers wishing to undertake a one-year PGDE in subjects that find it more difficult to recruit.

The scheme “has now been extended to include Gaelic as a secondary subject, and Gaelic medium across all secondary subjects and in primary”.

However, the scheme has been up and running for a number of years – it was introduced by John Swinney when he was education secretary in 2017 – and recruitment on to secondary PGDE courses has continued to deteriorate.

Typically, there are 150 bursaries available each year. In 2024-25 the target for maths alone is to train 250 teachers.

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