Nicola Sturgeon has accused Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson of having “lost the plot” after the Tory claimed Scotland’s “crippling” teacher shortage was being worsened by government bureaucracy.
Ms Davidson said there were more than 550 teachers who had qualified outside of Scotland and who had been told they could not take up a post north of the border.
She raised the example of a couple who moved to Scotland five years, saying the man had been told to “go back to school” and retrain before taking a teaching post, despite having worked in England as a maths teacher for 15 years.
The Conservative leader challenged the First Minister on the issue after it emerged that a shortage of maths teachers has forced the head at Trinity Academy in Edinburgh to appeal to suitably qualified parents to help out – similar to a situation which arose earlier this year in a school in Education Secretary John Swinney’s Perthshire constituency.
The SNP leader however insisted her Government had fixed the problem saying teachers who had gained their qualification next year could now take up a teaching post on a conditional basis, while they worked towards becoming registered in Scotland.
Ms Davidson had pressed her at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood, saying the Tories wanted those who had trained as teachers elsewhere to be “fast-tracked” into Scotland’s classrooms.
She said: “Yesterday we received an email from a couple who moved to Scotland five years ago, the husband did his teacher training in maths and he worked down south for 15 years as a maths teacher.
“When he moved here he was told he couldn’t teach maths anymore without a full years retraining as a student.
“That is a qualified maths teacher not allowed to teach maths in Scotland. And he is not alone.
“We have a crippling shortage of teachers but according to evidence presented to this Parliament this year we have more than 550 qualified teachers from outside Scotland applying to teach here but who have been told by this government to go back to school themselves.”
Ms Sturgeon hit back, saying: “I received that email as well yesterday, so I have been able to look into it.
“My answer is going to include something I thought Ms Davidson would have known, but since she clearly doesn’t I’m going to tell her about it.
“The circumstances narrated in that email relate back to 2012, since then – and this is the bit I would have thought Ruth Davidson, if she was going to raise this today, might have actually have been aware of – because since then the General Teaching Council for Scotland has introduced provisional conditional registration, which allows teachers qualified outside Scotland to become registered and to take up a teaching post in Scotland while they work towards meeting the minimum requirement.”
The First Minister added: “Ruth Davidson asks me why haven’t we fixed that. Well I’m afraid Ms Davidson the answer is we have, you just didn’t bother to do the research to find out.
“That individual, while he would not have been able to teach in 2012 may now be in a position to do so, which is why we will now be contacting that individual to see if he wants to take up a teaching post.
“That is a change in circumstances that frankly I’m quite gobsmacked Ruth Davidson didn’t bother to find out before she came here today.”
But Ms Davidson claimed that was “smoke and mirrors” from the First Minister, saying the change had not been brought in as yet.
“This was only talked about by the General Teaching Council in May of this year and hasn’t been brought through yet, so it’s smoke and mirrors,” the Tory said.
She continued her attack on the First Minister, saying: “The record that you can not run away from is this – 4,000 fewer teachers on her watch, 40% of Scottish teachers considering retirement over 18 months, hundreds of qualified teachers being held up from getting into classrooms because of this Government’s bureaucracy.
“That is the record of 10 years of failing our children.”
But Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “You always know when Ruth Davidson has lost the plot at First Minister’s Questions because we just get the angry waffling in place of a question.”
She stressed problems with teacher recruitment were not unique to Scotland, but insisted the Government had put in place measures to deal with the problem
The First Minister said: “We have increased student teacher intakes for six years in a row, back in 2011 the intake to student teaching was 2,297. In the most recent year it was over 4,000.
“We had 231 more newly qualified probationer teachers starting the induction scheme in August compared to the previous year.
“We’ve also recently launched the next phase of the teacher recruitment campaign, we’re developing a national approach to support the recruitment of teachers from outside of Scotland, developing a specific campaign for head teachers recruitment and of course we are also finalising right now the specification for a new route into teaching to help us even further to attract teachers particularly to parts of the country or to particular subjects that are under pressure.
“These are the range of actions we are taking to tackle a challenge that is in no way unique to Scotland.”
But Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said teachers in Scotland are “on the edge” and called for a review of their pay and conditions similar to the McCrone inquiry in 2000.
He said: “The First Minister knows that Scottish teachers are on the edge. Their pay is lagging way behind those in other countries. A study found there’s a potential exodus from teaching, with 700 vacancies already.
“The McCrone report was delivered by the Liberal Democrat-Labour government, despite Nicola Sturgeon’s opposition. It transformed education and had future teachers queuing up to join the profession. After 10 years of the SNP that isn’t happening any more.
“Isn’t it time for the First Minister to establish urgently a new McCrone inquiry to reinvigorate teaching and have future teachers queuing up once again?”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “No, I don’t actually think the right thing to do is embark on a review that could take years to undertake and to complete.
“I think the better thing to do is to take the actions, the hard tangible actions, that we are taking right now.”