For those of us young enough to remember choosing subjects in school, it was often a slightly nerve-wracking experience. In our early teens we are expected to make decisions that we are told may affect the rest of our lives, determining not just college and university choices but our careers and very futures.
Scary stuff. But scarier still if we, or our children, were to make these choices and find out come November that the subject we’d chosen six months ago no longer had the teacher available to teach it. Or, as in many more cases, there were no suitable specialist teachers, properly trained to teach the subject chosen.
The teacher recruitment crisis has hit the headlines over the shortage in maths teachers but there are also major issues in specialist subjects like home economics, business education and administration and IT. A bit niche you may think, but precisely because of this they are typically taken as ‘crash’ Highers in S6 as a route into college, university or the workplace.
Currently they are the forgotten casualties of the recruitment shortage, marginalised while ‘core’ subjects are prioritised as our headteachers juggle often impossible demands. This is exacerbated by the requirements of the Curriculum for Excellence, which is forcing schools to offer the so-called ‘broad general education’ up until S4. All that puts more strain on timetables, forcing pupils to cram specialisms into a shorter period later.
The real casualties are not the subjects or teachers but the pupils. They are sold a course the school can no longer properly teach, so they fall behind on the course work and by Christmas too late to change subject.
Many conditional offers from universities require a certain grade so you don’t want that subject taught by someone with limited knowledge of the specialism and, crucially, how it is examined.
As we rapidly approach the New Year, our pupils are again faced with the next year’s subject choices.
It is crucial that the subjects on offer adequately correspond with the available teaching staff.
The council must be slicker on the administration of recruitment, as we are losing out on good candidates who are accepting faster offers from other councils and independent schools.
And we must do more to encourage mobility within our city’s schools to make sure we are plugging these gaps; this can mean for pupils as well as teachers.
This is also a national issue and one not adequately foreseen by the Scottish Government. As a Government, it seems hamstrung by the power of teaching unions that oppose the introduction of golden hellos, the use of the successful Teach First programme for graduates, which is run in England and Wales, or the ability to allow those with other UK teaching qualifications to teach in Scotland.
The attitude seems to be “it’s no good if its not invented here”.
If we are serious about the council’s mission of “Getting it Right for Every Child” we need to ensure that the courses on offer are as broad as possible, but only when we have the resources to teach them.
One of the first things we teach our children is not to make promises they can’t keep.
Our educational establishment would be wise to take this to heart.