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Teaching Scotland's Future - Report of a review of teacher education in Scotland


Chapter 3: Getting the right people in the right numbers

The foundations of a successful education system lie in ensuring an appropriate supply of high-quality teachers covering geographical areas, education sectors and curriculum specialisms. Achieving that goal with any consistency has proved difficult for countries across the globe, including in Scotland. It needs teaching to be seen as an attractive option for well-qualified individuals who have a commitment to young people and their learning. It also requires good, flexible workforce planning and careful selection of students into initial teacher education courses. This chapter explores these two themes in turn.


The challenge of having the right number of teachers is not new. After the Second World War, for example, the burgeoning birth rate led to an acute shortage of teachers. It was forecast in 1957 that the shortage could rise to some 3000 teachers within four years. There was also an increasing gender imbalance, with men making up only 17% of the total intake in 1962. 'Emergency' and 'Special Recruitment' schemes were established to attract returning service personnel, but these failed to address the underlying problem of undersupply.

By the late 1970s the earlier shortfall in teacher numbers had become an oversupply, owing to a dramatic decline in the size of the school population. Falling birth rates and curbs on public expenditure in the early 1970s led to reductions in numbers of students training to be teachers. Discussions at national level about the resulting over-capacity in the colleges of education were followed by the publication of the Government's policy document Teacher Training from 1977 Onwards ( SED, 1977)16. The proposed scale of reductions in student intakes called into question the survival of all of the existing ten colleges of education. The solution was merger, and in 1981, then again in 1987, the teacher training system in Scotland was reduced first to seven and then to five colleges.

Following devolution in 1999, Government policy gave priority to increasing the number of teachers in Scotland to 53,000 and then to reducing class sizes. However pressures on education budgets and falling school rolls have resulted in fewer teachers than expected being employed and, instead of rising as predicted, teacher numbers fell by almost 800 between 2009 and 2010 to 52,18817(Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland, No.1 ¦ 2010 Edition).

This lower than forecast demand has resulted in high levels of teacher unemployment, particularly among those who have just completed their induction year. The GTCS Employment Survey 2009-2010 Probation Teachers October 2010 (1)18showed that only 16.1% of those who responded had full-time permanent contracts. A further 19.5% had full-time temporary contracts. This has led to demands for improvements to the Government's workforce planning to ensure that the numbers entering initial teacher education match the number of posts available more closely.

Table 1: Employment basis of all respondents to GTCS Survey of Probation Teachers

Some employment as a teacher in Scotland

Percentage of all respondents

2004 - 2005

2005 - 2006

2006 - 2007

2007 - 2008

2008 - 2009

2009 - 2010

Full-time Permanent Contract







Part-time Permanent Contract







Full-time Temporary Contract







Part-time Temporary Contract







Full-time Supply Contract



Part-time Supply Contract







Supply List



Not employed







(from GTCS Employment Survey 2009-2010 Probation Teachers October 2010)

Initial teacher education is a subject where numbers are controlled. Annually, in consultation with an advisory group comprising representatives of GTCS, the local authorities, teacher unions and the universities, the Scottish Government carries out a teacher workforce planning exercise. The basis of this exercise is a model which looks at expected pupil numbers at each stage in the years going forward, calculated from national population data. It then works out the number of teachers required, given the same number of schools and size of class. The model then looks at how many teachers there were the previous year, how many are expected to leave the profession either on a temporary or a permanent basis in the coming year and how many are likely to return to the profession. It then calculates the student intake required to fill the gap between supply and demand. Where government policy calls for an increase in teacher numbers, the student numbers required to meet the additional demand are added to the baseline total at the end of the process. At the end of this process the Scottish Government issues a letter of guidance to the Scottish Funding Council. It is a matter for the Council to determine overall intakes and the distribution between universities.

At present the teaching profession in Scotland does not sufficiently reflect the demographics of the Scottish population as a whole. An overall gender imbalance (76% women to 24% men) is particularly marked in the primary and pre-school sectors (92% and 95% female respectively) and has been consistent over a number of years (75.7% in 2007, 75.8% in 2008 and 76% in 2009). This trend is reversed, however, in promoted posts (headteacher/depute headteacher) in secondary schools where only 31% of headteachers are female, and 49% of deputy headteachers 19 (Statistical Bulletin: Education Series: Teachers in Scotland 2009).

Historically this was not always the case. Until the 1872 Education Act, teaching in Scotland was dominated by males possessing a university degree or a teaching certificate. However, with the introduction of compulsory schooling for children between five and 13 the demand for female teachers grew rapidly. By 1911, 70% of teachers in Scotland were women, whereas in 1851 the figure had only been 35% 20.

Ethnic minority populations are also under-represented in the teaching profession. Ethnic background data was given by 97.3% of teachers in the 2009 census, which showed that 1.6% were from minority ethnic groups as compared to 5% of their pupils (Statistical Bulletin, Education Series, Teachers in Scotland, 2009).

For several years, and in all parts of the UK, there have been difficulties attracting science and mathematics graduates into the profession. In Scotland, there are also significant differences in recruitment geographically, with relatively fewer applicants to some areas outwith the central belt. Future policies need to address these challenges.

Building in flexibility in teacher numbers

Historically, numbers wishing to enter teaching tend to fluctuate over time.

In previous periods of oversupply for teaching posts significant numbers of those failing to find posts have left the profession entirely. When there has been a lack of applicants, immigration from other parts of the UK and abroad has provided a solution to bridge the gap between supply and demand.

An effective policy for workforce planning must contain mechanisms to deal with periods of both high and low demand for teaching posts. The process needs to be looked at in two ways: first, what can be done to predict the required numbers earlier and with greater certainty; and second, what can be done to mitigate the impact of mismatches between supply and demand?

Accurate modelling of predicted teacher numbers

One of the main difficulties with the current method of deciding student numbers is the time delay between determining the number of places on teacher education courses and the point at which the fully qualified teacher is seeking his or her first post. Numbers are determined around 10 months before the student enters the course. The one-year full-time postgraduate diploma course is followed by a one-year probation period and it is therefore, at a minimum, just under three years from the decision on student numbers to the point where those teachers are seeking employment. For the undergraduate courses the time lag can be as long as six years. Moves to more concurrent degrees could provide greater flexibility in the system.

An alternative approach might be to cease modelling of teacher numbers, and simply allow market forces to drive teacher education places. However, this would be likely to increase the variability in numbers and might in the long run lead to a lack of teachers. Any sustainable solution must look to provide reasonable stability in student numbers.

If, as seems likely, it remains necessary to control the number of initial teacher education places centrally, we must look for ways to further refine the model used by providing more current local intelligence of, for example, projected retirements. As indicated above, at present most of the information used to determine the number of new teachers required each year is generated from national statistics.

The accuracy of the workforce planning model should be improved through universities and local authorities providing their latest projections on an annual basis.

Increasing the transferability of a teaching qualification

Information gathered from university teacher education departments has shown that, as would be expected, the vast majority of students graduating with a teaching qualification seek employment within the education sector. Those entering initial teacher education do so with a clear goal in mind and have chosen to enter the induction year.

It should be remembered that in previous periods of high applicant-to-post ratios many people have left the teaching profession. Whilst it has not been possible to identify the destinations of these people, it must be assumed that the majority found employment elsewhere. Evidence from discussion with teachers at the start of their career has suggested that some of their contemporaries were moving abroad to find teaching posts.

It is clear from university prospectuses that, whilst students undertaking a general arts or humanities degree are encouraged to consider a wide range of careers, teacher education courses simply tell prospective students that there are plenty of opportunities to teach both in the UK and abroad.

A teaching qualification should be a guarantee of good communication skills, ability to think at a high academic level and ability to work well with others. As such, it should be valued more widely. However, representatives of the business community have indicated that a teaching qualification is not necessarily seen as an asset in a prospective employee in other employment sectors. This contrasts with the situation in Finland, for example, where individuals with teaching qualifications are seen as attractive to business and industry.

Because workforce planning cannot be an exact science, steps should be taken to increase flexibility in the availability of teachers and to manage fluctuations. To achieve this, students undertaking a teaching qualification should be given greater information about prospective employment in teaching, particularly at those points where alternative degree options might still be open to them. The marketability of transferable skills in education degrees beyond the education sector should be highlighted both to students and to employers. (See also recommendation 11 about the nature of teaching degrees).

Increasing diversity and ensuring high quality applicants

Periods of high levels of teacher unemployment can be followed by periods when it is difficult to fill teaching posts. It is therefore important to ensure that as many as possible of those with teaching qualifications remain connected to the profession, and retain an option to return.

In order to maintain a wider pool of potential teachers, individuals who have met either the Standard for Full Registration or Standard for Initial Teacher Education but have sought employment elsewhere should be encouraged to retain a reduced level of GTCS membership which gives them access to employment information and continuing professional development. Where an individual seeks to return to teaching, local authorities should provide them with relevant training to support their return to the classroom.

It may also be helpful in times of teacher shortage and to increase diversity to have more flexible access to initial teacher education. Current developments in part-time provision in a number of universities already provide an important point of growth. The Open University currently has only a small presence in teacher education in Scotland. However its courses, more generally, are highly regarded 21 and there is potential for it to play a greater role in Scotland in the future. Its flexible structure would allow students to be taken onto the course at different points in the year, potentially shortening the time between identification of need and entry of the teacher into the classroom. Further, it would allow students to use prior experience in teaching to shorten the length of their period of study. Distance learning approaches of this nature can also address access issues, encouraging a wider range of people to consider teaching as a profession.

An increase in entry routes such as employment-based routes, part-time and home-study initial teacher education courses would enable more 'career changers' or people with young families to join the profession, and would allow people who live at a distance from a university to study, and gain school experience, in the area where they would seek to teach.

'Teach First', which grew out of 'Teach for America', has an increasingly strong position in England. Teach First focuses on areas of deprivation. It attracts highly-qualified graduates who might not in other circumstances have considered teaching as a profession. The OFSTED report, 'Rising to the Challenge: a review of the Teach First ITT 2008 programme 22, said that 'a commitment to excellence is a significant feature of the programme, with over half of trainees demonstrating outstanding teaching capabilities and 83% being good or better'. Although there is not the same pressure to recruit more teachers in Scotland and many highly-qualified graduates are already attracted into teaching, routes of this nature could complement more established ways into the profession. To achieve this in Scotland, Teach First would need to work with a Scottish university to develop the academic component of the course to the same standard as other routes.

Further high quality part-time provision, capitalising on the growing potential of ICT, should be developed, including the kind of model provided by the Open University in Scotland. The suitability for Scottish education of a Teach First/Teach Now model of placing students predominantly in a school for their initial teacher education should be investigated.

Selecting the right people to be teachers

Good academic qualifications are a necessary but not in themselves sufficient condition for being a good teacher. As noted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, 2004 and Goe, 2007 23, some research does suggest that a teacher's academic qualifications have an impact on pupil achievement (see the Literature review). The McKinsey report (2007) also noted from their analysis of the Programme for International Student Achievement ( PISA) that with respect to primary teachers there was a relationship between system performance and selective entry requirements for initial teacher education (see the Literature review). Three local authorities in their responses the Review's call for evidence expressed concern around selection criteria for initial teacher education and proposed that higher entry requirements should be sought.

In addition to ensuring appropriate academic qualifications for entry to teacher education, there is a need to be more effective in identifying and selecting candidates with the potential to be future high quality teachers. We need to be clear about the qualities and capacities which are associated with high quality teachers and develop procedures to select for those qualities.

The process of selection begins with the candidates' applications through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service ( UCAS). Through this process many applicants apply to several universities and may be considered and interviewed by several within a short space of time. Individual institutions expend considerable time in the selection process, as do staff from schools who are also involved. Each institution develops and carries out its own procedures. Evidence from current and past students who were considered by more than one institution indicates that the processes are not consistent and show considerable variability. There is a need to address the substantial duplication of effort, the lack of consistency and the low evidence base of the effectiveness of the procedures.

Evidence presented to the Review suggested that a small, but none-the-less significant, number of initial teacher education students lack some of the fundamental attributes to become good teachers, including limited interpersonal skills and basic weaknesses in literacy and numeracy. Although the evidence was largely impressionistic and applied only to a minority of students, the concern was persistent and widespread and needs to be addressed. There can be no doubt that prospective teachers should model high standards of literacy and numeracy for their pupils. Current requirements relating to Scottish Qualifications Authority qualifications in English and mathematics do not seem to provide a sufficient guarantee of the levels of competence which are required for teaching.

Equally, prospective teachers should have the kind of personal qualities which allow them to relate well to young people and show characteristics of the attributes which they must develop as extended professionals. The selection process should focus more directly on these attributes, partly through using a wider set of assessment techniques in an assessment centre and partly through the testing of literacy and numeracy skills in relation to a threshold of competence for teaching.

The selection for entry to initial teacher education programmes should be made more rigorous, drawing on existing best practice and using a wider set of selection criteria. The possible establishment of a national assessment centre should be explored. The role of future employers should be significantly strengthened within this revised process.

Candidates for teaching should undertake diagnostic assessments of their competence in both literacy and numeracy. The threshold established for entry should allow for weaknesses to be addressed by the student during the course. A more demanding level should be set as a prerequisite for competence to teach.

Workforce planning must also ensure that within the population of teachers there are individuals capable of filling all roles within the Scottish education system. The improved selection process described in this report should help to ensure that all those entering the profession have the capability to play a full part in the distributive leadership which characterises Scotland's best schools.