Under the headline:
‘Rise in pupils staying on at school ‘exacerbating’ teacher recruitment crisis’
‘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.
More robust research from Bath found quite a different picture: