Should aspiring primary school teachers be required to have additional science or maths qualifications before training?
Holyrood’s Education Committee has heard potential “obstacles” to teacher training, such as qualification requirements in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem), could limit the number of people going into the job.
Education minister Richard Lochhead said teachers should not be required to gain these qualifications amid staffing problems in Scottish schools.
He said the Government has to be “careful” about restricting people who want to be teachers, and insisted the confidence to teach Stem subjects is more important than qualifications or experience.
The committee previously heard from the head of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, who said the body is often asked to introduce new minimum standards for trainee teachers, in addition to the Maths Nat 5 qualification required.
Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservatives’ education spokeswoman, asked the minister about the “reluctance to go down that road, because of the shortage of teacher numbers”, and the apparent tension between teaching standards and recruitment.
Mr Lochhead said: “Putting extra barriers in the place of aspiring teachers is one that we have to be very conscious of.
“The more qualifications we ask aspiring teachers to have, clearly the more obstacles we put in place for applicants.
“We have to be careful about that.”
Stuart Robb, head of the Scottish Government’s education workforce unit, told MSPs: “The recruitment of teachers and student teachers is challenging in some subjects,” but he said the rising number of alternative routes into the industry have brought about 770 additional teachers or students into the system.
Scottish Labour MSP Daniel Johnson asked about the benefit of having teachers who have studied science through secondary school, to which Mr Lochhead replied:
“In the case of primary school and early years, it’s all practitioners having the confidence to take part in Stem learning, and that is seen by many of the experts I’ve spoken to and heard from as the key.
“That’s where a lot of the emphasis of Government policy is and where the emphasis on Stem strategy is, to ensure that all primary school teachers or early years practitioners have enough confidence to teach Stem.
“That way it’s not down to certain teachers with certain qualifications.
“Early years intervention is shown to have much more of a longer-term impact in take-up of Stem careers in later life and therefore we have to focus on how in the early years and primary school we spark the curiosity for science, engineering, mathematics and so on.”
On the issue of ongoing training – known as continuous professional development (CPD) – Mr Lochhead hailed it a “success”, despite a lack of data on how many teachers take part or in what areas.
He explained: “Because there are so many different routes for CPD, we do have to keep working on getting a complete picture for the country.
“It’s actually a sign of success because there are so many ways in which practitioners can access CPD.”