Herald’s emeritus professor gets it wrong on alleged teacher shortages in Scotland’s schools which are much better staffed than those in England

Under the headline:

‘Rise in pupils staying on at school ‘exacerbating’ teacher recruitment crisis’

We read:

‘TOO many pupils are staying on at school until sixth year putting further pressure on Scotland‘s scarcity of teachers, according to an expert.’

Emeritus Professor and former Dean of Education at Strathclyde University, Douglas Weir, is the expert and provides the supposed evidence. Douglas is the real thing. Hugely well-qualified and experienced in educational management and a prolific researcher too. I agree with much of what he goes on to write about alternatives to staying on, but he’s wrong to have lent his status to the Herald’s underlying strategy which is, as usual, to try to undermine the SNP government, with spurious suggestions of incompetence or flawed policies.

I should admit that, after reporting my former higher education employer to the Scottish Government and to the ombudsman, for the waste of public funds, on vanity projects and jaunts to the Seychelles and elsewhere, they didn’t offer me retirement as emeritus professor but left me to depart as naemeritus professor.

There are apparently 700 unfilled teacher vacancies in Scotland mostly in Science and Mathematics. There were around 51 000 teaching staff in Scotland’s secondary schools in 2016.



So, that’s 1.37% short or, as we soft social scientists might say, just a smidgeon? Now, if a system with 51 000 staff can’t get by just 1.37% down then it clearly lacks the robustness you’d expect of it, or it was already dangerously over-stretched. Was it?

There are 51 500 teachers in Scottish secondary schools and the pupil/teacher ratio is now 13.6 pupils per teacher, down from (better than) 13.7 in 2016.


In England, there were 457 300 teachers in 2016. The pupil/teacher ratio in 2016 was 17.6 pupils per teacher. England’s population is almost exactly ten times that of Scotland, so you might have expected there to be around 515 000 teachers there.


So, thanks presumably to the Scottish Government, Scotland’s secondary schools are significantly better staffed than English ones. Also, I know from personal experience they are better staffed than universities. I commonly did mass lectures to as many as 200 and conventional class teaching with groups of 20 to 30. As for small group tuition or interaction with individuals, I had to make use of new technologies such as ‘virtual learning environments’ or VLEs for this.

We’d also need to look at changes in the number of pupils being taught. Perhaps they’re under pressure from dramatic growth in the number of pupils being taught? No, they’re not. See this graph which shows secondary pupil numbers currently at a low point since 2000 though projected to rise a bit in the next two years:



The article in the Herald alludes to the pressure of these unfilled posts being a factor in teachers quitting and quitting early, but are they? ‘Research’ by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, in 2014, found that only 51% of Scottish teachers were considering quitting while 80% of English teachers were considering quitting. However, the research was based on a small sample of only 900 UK teachers (90 Scottish teachers?) Finally, this was trades union research not academic research. Ask the members of any occupation whether they’ve considered quitting because of unmanageable workload –100% of cleaners, 100% of carers, 100% of hospital laundry workers? I did the last one for 6 months and feel sure of the figure.

Scottish Teachers Less Likely to Consider Quitting

More robust research from Bath found quite a different picture:

Scottish teachers report lower job demands, better relationships and lower perceived stress levels than those in England and only 4% are considering leaving their jobs

13 thoughts on “Herald’s emeritus professor gets it wrong on alleged teacher shortages in Scotland’s schools which are much better staffed than those in England

  1. Gavin.c.Barrie January 3, 2018 / 8:26 pm

    Conclusion: From this article, and Kirsty Blackman’s misquote ref the publics’ day to day concerns,avoid interviews with the Herald to safeguard your career,


      • Clydebuilt January 4, 2018 / 10:01 am

        Do you think he is naive / ill-informed enough not to know the politics of the Herald.

        An educationalist has told me that “they did not like the article, it had no resemblance to reality and it clearly wouldn’t work, pity the poor teachers who have to teach the lower stream all the time”

        So maybe the prof is naive / ill informed enough.


      • Clydebuilt January 4, 2018 / 10:05 am

        The first time the educationalist told the article was shite!


      • Alasdair Macdonald January 4, 2018 / 11:39 am

        Having encountered Douglas Weir on a number of occasions during my career, like you, I developed a fair bit of respect for his ability and integrity. I have not seen his original article or, perhaps it was an interview, and it is possible he was selectively quoted and the quotes placed out of context. He certainly would not have described the final year as ‘Sixth Form’, which is a term virtually unused in Scotland. The Herald article was most likely written and edited by someone from a private school and, probably, English background.

        The Herald has always had an institutional private school bias, for many years. Private schools are invariably described as ‘Top Schools’. Articles about Hutcheson’s Grammar School are fairly common. Many years ago I asked the then education correspondent of the Herald why there were so many articles about the school. For a couple of weeks there had been daily articles about internal politics stushie involving governors, parents and some senior staff (probably to the chagrin of most parents and staff, who would have preferred them to concentrate on ‘the day job). She replied, that ‘these are the people with whom the editor attends dinner parties and that is what they talk about’.

        There has long – and I am talking of at least 30 years – concern about the purpose of the Sixth Year in Scottish secondary schools, i.e. the 95% which are comprehensives. Essentially we had, and still have, a system where the first four years of secondary education are compulsory for all pupils and then there are another two years of voluntary education added on. With increasing staying on rates, the moral point about some pupils being provided with free education while others left to take up work and pay taxes and NI has tended to decrease in importance for a variety of reasons and, with FE and work training, there is pretty much ‘compulsory’ education for all until almost 19 years. However, the financing model for allocation of funding has been skewed towards these senior years and, in practice, because of the relatively low size of classes in the senior stages these students receive a disproportionately larger per capita spend (mainly because of teachers’ wages) than do students in the first four years. I suspect that it was this – entirely valid – point on which Douglas Weir was basing his argument. I think his argument would have been along the lines of the following two paragraphs.

        Staying on rates in schools serving areas with higher SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) scores tend to be lower than those serving more affluent areas and which often accept many placing requests from less affluent areas. Thus the ‘squeeze’ on these high SIMD schools because allocation of teachers to the the senior stages is more marked. Supporting students who wish to continue advancing their education is unquestionably a good thing and to be fostered and to enable them to do so in the familiar surroundings of their ‘own’ schools and with teachers who know them well is to be encouraged. The teachers in those schools have their morale enhanced, because they are getting the opportunity to deploy their expertise at a fairly high academic level and they are also seeing many young people develop into excellent young adults. The satisfaction in that is immense.

        I have written in other posts that I think the pupil premium which the SG introduced last year should be focussed mainly on the earliest years of education, but I think that the formula should also be weighted towards schools serving areas of high SIMD to enable them to sustain a wide senior school curriculum without impacting adversely on staff deployment to the first four years.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Brian Powell January 3, 2018 / 9:02 pm

    If the teachers in Scotland aren’t willing to stand up for the system here there are those in Westminster and in Scotland who want to take it away from them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brian Powell January 3, 2018 / 9:03 pm

      Not just want, but will.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. davidbsb January 4, 2018 / 11:14 am

    I suspect the desire of teachers to consider quitting has a lot to do with the tinkering in their pension arrangements. The handful of my acquaintance often remind me of that issue.


  4. literacyadviser January 4, 2018 / 1:38 pm

    Loving the new title John. ‘Naemeritus Professor’. LOL


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