Student (mature) journalist Andrew Denholm’s undergraduate ‘research’ on Scottish teacher vacancies fails to discover…..anything much


In the student rag, Herald, today, we had another ill-founded report of a crisis:

‘Teacher recruitment crisis: Scottish schools facing nearly 700 vacancies. HUNDREDS of teaching posts across Scotland remain unfilled less than two weeks before pupils return after the summer break. Research by The Herald has revealed there are currently some 670 teacher vacancies at primaries and secondaries across Scotland.’


BAJ Yr 1           Student: Denholm, A.             Tutor: Prof Robertson             5/8/18

Dear Andrew,

  1. Your proposal re teacher shortages in Scotland is seriously short of evidence to back up your case or to contextualise your argument.
    1. How does the number of teachers per capita in Scotland compare with that in, say, England? A quick search finds: 51 513 teacher FTEs in Scotland and 457 300 thousand FTEs in England So, Scotland has 10% of the population but 11.3% of the teachers.
    2. How do the pupil teacher ratios compare? From the same sources, we get 13.6 to 1 in Scotland, 15 to one in English secondaries and 20 to 1 in primaries. So, not surprisingly, Scotland has a better pupil teacher ratio
    3. What percentage of the total number of teachers in Scotland do the 670 unfilled posts represent? It’s a tiny 1.3% so in most primary schools with say 20 staff, there are typically no vacancies and in a secondary school with maybe 50 to 80 staff there may be 1 or 2 vacancies. Crisis? I think not.

See me in Room 101 after today’s Ethics lecture.



11 thoughts on “Student (mature) journalist Andrew Denholm’s undergraduate ‘research’ on Scottish teacher vacancies fails to discover…..anything much

  1. Donald McGregor August 5, 2018 / 7:56 am

    Fair points well made!

    Sadly it’s easy to weaponise education, ( as they do with health) as the ‘news’paper proves.
    Equally sadly, it’s almost impossible to counter these sort of attacks.
    My own children know well that there are clear shortages in stem subjects like maths and chemistry; they also know that teaching standards vary wildly from person to person. These are things that they and we now exist within a more widely successful and supportive education environment. None of that stops us worrying, as parents, as we see our children passing individually through the National Strategy delivery process!

    Wouldn’t our world be so much better though if papers like these took the initiative to frame current problems within existing successes and comparative data? We may even start to buy their papers again.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. gavin August 5, 2018 / 8:17 am

    ” A lie gets half way round the world, before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”.

    But it doesn’t have to be a lie.
    Any fact can be presented out of context, with no perspective and puffed up to be something its not.
    That is why proper editorial practices are taught in journalist classes. Its past time the media which operate in Scotland ( lets not pretend its the “Scottish” media ), were brought into line with the standards of journalism which prevail in normal democratic countries..

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Bryan Weir August 5, 2018 / 9:12 am

    Excellent work. 10/10 ;o)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Bryan Weir August 5, 2018 / 9:18 am

    I often point them to this.

    NUJ code of conduct

    A journalist:

    At all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed.

    Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair.

    Does her/his utmost to correct harmful inaccuracies.

    Differentiates between fact and opinion.

    Obtains material by honest, straightforward and open means, with the exception of investigations that are both overwhelmingly in the public interest and which involve evidence that cannot be obtained by straightforward means.

    Does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest.

    Protects the identity of sources who supply information in confidence and material gathered in the course of her/his work.

    Resists threats or any other inducements to influence, distort or suppress information and takes no unfair personal advantage of information gained in the course of her/his duties before the information is public knowledge.

    Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.

    Does not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of her/his own work or of the medium by which she/he is employed.

    A journalist shall normally seek the consent of an appropriate adult when interviewing or photographing a child for a story about her/his welfare.

    Avoids plagiarism.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Alasdair Macdonald August 5, 2018 / 2:11 pm

    The important thing here is context. There are in excess of 2000 nursery, primary and secondary schools in Scotland, so the ‘shortfall’ is about one teacher per three establishments. As someone with 30 years in senior management of secondary schools, my experience chimes with your estimate of 1 or 2 per secondary school at THIS time.

    And THIS time, just prior to the schools reopening is a crucial period. In my experience, we were always waiting for 2 to 5 teachers being appointed. For most of these vacancies, we knew there were teachers available, but that the authority for a variety of valid reasons – for example newly qualified or recently qualified teachers returning from holiday, or a gap year, of finding a house – but, for a few others, mainly in the traditional ‘shortage’ subjects like Home Economics or Technical, there was some uncertainty.

    In addition, the headline figure for vacancies is a ‘full time equivalent’ figure. In many cases, what schools are seeking are part time appointments – someone available, say, two days per week. In a profession where the biggest category of employee is women with children, there are often a number of things to fall into place, before they can take up posts – principally, childcare, but the teachers concerned sometimes have other non professional priorities, such as caring for elderly relatives, voluntary work or their own small businesses. School timetables usually have to do a bit of adjustment to suit. Also, many teachers are qualified in more than one subject, ad, although they, understandably, prefer to teach just one subject, they can be allocated to classes in their other subjects.

    I can remember few years in the past 50 when such stories of shortages surfaced at this time in newspapers. Some subjects and some geographical areas have had issues of shortage for decades. Authorities have tried and continued to try various innovative methods to increase the supply of required teachers in these subjects and in these areas.

    As ever, the EIS, is using this, as it does every year, to advance its arguments for increased pay and improved conditions. However, I see nothing in the headline figure which is markedly different from anything in the past 30 years. In 1970, when I started teaching and for several years afterwards (and certainly since the war) there were serious shortages and part time education was fairly common for perhaps a majority of children. By part time I mean that up to 10% of their week they were not taught by a qualified teacher of a timetabled subject. ‘Twilight classes’ were often used to make good the shortfall. As a teacher of physics there were around four years during the 70s when I taught from 4.30 – 6.00pm on up to three evenings to ensure that pupils received their full entitlement.

    Improved pay and conditions over the following decades made teaching a more attractive career and part time education was a thing of the past by the end of the 70s. Since then, we have had, with a bit of fluctuation, the kind of pre-term shortages which the Herald is misrepresenting.

    PS the ‘shortfall’ is often made up by the appointment of teachers in training, who can teach up to 0.7 FTE. It is fairly common to fill a 1.0 FTE with two probationers, thus giving the school 1.4 FTE. This allows some teachers time to be mentors to the probationers, a task which many teachers find very fulfilling and which they do very well. However, the time also provides a bit of lubrication for timetable adjustments to optimise the educational experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • johnrobertson834 August 6, 2018 / 6:53 am

      ‘The important thing here is context’ and should be in any journalism.


  6. Legerwood August 5, 2018 / 3:39 pm

    The Herald ran an almost identical story on this issue last year at this time. If I remember correctly last year it was 700 vacancies then as well.

    Liked by 2 people

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