With Scotland facing nationwide shortages in teacher numbers, the University of Aberdeen has created a new programme to allow those qualified from outwith the country to enter the classroom more easily.
The University is piloting a Post-Graduate Certificate in Educational Studies aimed at those who have previous experience and a teaching qualification but who do not currently meet the requirements to be registered by the General Teaching Council for Scotland.
Programme director Aloyise Mulligan explains that the qualification, which started in September and currently has 11 students enrolled, is already helping to provide much needed teachers for Scottish schools.
She said: “We initially noticed that here in the North-east – an area that attracts many people from beyond Scotland thanks to the oil industry – there are many experienced teachers who do not have a route to full registration.
“This is because they completed their teacher education either in England, in their home country or in further education and is a situation that appears to be replicated across Scotland. The General Teaching Council here in Scotland has very strict requirements which are needed to ensure excellence across the profession, but they are now encouraging teachers to consider this alternative route.
“Previously their only option was to complete a Post Graduate Diploma in Education but this requires them to effectively give up their existing careers and income for a year. For those with families and other responsibilities, this simply isn’t an option and Scotland is missing out on talented potential teachers as a result. We wanted to create an alternative pathway for those unable to access teacher education through our part-time routes such as the PGDE DLITE programme and this has been welcomed by the GTCS.”
Mrs Mulligan, a lecturer in the School of Education, has worked with local authorities from across Scotland to create the course which provides an alternative access route and enables FE lecturers and teachers with experience from outwith Scotland to enter a school setting immediately, filling in much needed posts.
The students apply to their local authority for a teaching job on the basis of their GTCS Provisional Conditional Registration. At the same time they work towards the University qualification, which is equivalent to 60 Master’s credit points and could be the basis of further master’s level study in the future.
All work for the course is undertaken remotely but the students are in regular contact with tutors and each other for support using innovative online learning and collaboration tools.
Mrs Mulligan added: “We support potential students to contact their local authority to identify a suitable school setting and our students, who already have significant experience in teaching, then take on a substantial teaching responsibility with appropriate support from both the school and University.
“This route is unique in that we recognise the pre-existing skills of these students who have already completed a teaching qualification in another country or in further education and we help to ensure that they have the necessary framework in place to transition into an appropriate Scottish school setting.”
Mrs Mulligan said the students had demonstrated wide-ranging expertise and that many brought additional skills to the classroom such as time in industry or fluency in additional languages.
“We have strict entry requirements but I have been taken aback by the level of commitment, dedication and enthusiasm they have shown to qualify through this route,” she added.
“Their depth of knowledge and understanding is phenomenal and they have become a strong community of learners helping to support one another through what is a difficult but rewarding undertaking.
One of those hoping to qualify through the new route is Shaofang Lin, who completed her education as a primary school teacher in China.
Now living in Banffshire she is teaching at MacDuff Primary while working towards the Post-Graduate Certificate in Educational Studies. She described the course as a “life saver” having expected to work up to 70 hours a week to allow her to save enough to take a year out to return to full time study.
“Although I have a few years teaching experience in China working with pupils equivalent to P1 to P6, I knew I would need some help to get up to speed with the Scottish curriculum and educational policies,” Shaofang said.
“The course is an ideal fit for me. My days are long and I often need to study in the evening but I am used to hard work and this is not a problem.
“The course has been wonderful to ease the transition into a Scottish school. It’s allowed me to get back into the classroom before I lose touch with my practical skills while gaining the important extra knowledge I need to ensure I am meeting all the requirements of the curriculum.
“My school and the University have been incredibly supportive. My head teacher has been wonderful and has been there to give me a lot of help and support. Also, I cannot thank Mrs Mulligan enough for all her support during the online sessions, emails and feedback.”
Sarah Wilkinson, who lives on the Isle of Bute and works at Cedars School of Excellence, in Greenock, is also a student on the course. She has already completed a PGCE (Post-Graduate Certificate in Education) in England and has extensive experience teaching in Further Education and in industry where she worked for more than 20 years as an engineer.
She had ruled out repeating the qualification in Scotland and thought she would be unable to teach until she heard about the University of Aberdeen’s new route.
“It was disappointing to find that anomalies between the English and Scottish systems meant I couldn’t use my qualifications here to their full advantage,” she said.
“I am currently taking 15 periods a week in maths, physics and science and I hope that my past experience in industry helps to bring an additional dimension to my lessons.
“The head teacher and the rest of the staff have been wonderfully helpful and are very experienced, committed and caring towards the pupils and each other. This has made all the difference in terms of successfully completing this course and getting the most from it. My 12 year old daughter is also at the school and it means that I can earn a living teaching subjects that I love, with my daughter in the same, wonderful educational environment.
“This course has enabled me to achieve this and I am very grateful to the Head Teacher Fraser Speirs, the Cedars School staff and to my course tutor Aloyise Mulligan for all her help and support in getting me through.
“The course does demand a lot of you but I have learned a lot from it. I think it is good that there are these alternative routes for people. Having taught maths to adults I have seen how much people can achieve later in life.
“Having the right opportunities to allow people to fulfil this without giving up everything they have already worked towards is a good thing and this course is allowing me to do that.”
Cllr Gillian Owen, Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee chair, said: “This is an excellent programme which will help those teachers who have qualifications undertaken outside Scotland to secure positions at schools in a more accessible way.
“I am pleased to see that Shaofang Lin has used this programme to become a teacher at Macduff Primary School. I am glad to hear that she is enjoying her time at the school and I am sure the pupils are benefitting from her experience. I hope that other teachers make use of this initiative and hopefully join us in our Aberdeenshire schools.”