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Scotland offers career-change bursary to boost declining teacher numbers

John Swinney speaks at the SNP conference in Glasgow to announce career-change bursary scheme. Source: Reuters.
John Swinney speaks at the SNP conference in Glasgow to announce career-change bursary scheme. Source: Reuters.

Fewer and fewer professionals in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are entering into teaching. The Scottish government is proposing a bursary scheme in an attempt to solve this issue.

The government is to offer a bursary of £20,000 (US$26,388) to those who switch career to teach in a STEM subject.

The so-called career-change bursaries were put in place to encourage and enable industry professionals to take a year out to embark on a teacher training course. Education Secretary John Swinney announced the plans in his speech to the Scottish National Party conference in Glasgow.

Swinney claimed it was necessary to “reach beyond recent graduates” and help professionals into teaching. Many professionals feel unable to take a year out to train due to financial constraints. Foregoing a salary for a year is simply not doable for the majority of the population.

Swinney said at the conference that these subjects are “crucial not just to the education of our children but the future of our economy”.

Those with relevant degrees working in industry need the opportunity to complete teacher training at a later age. Not all routes into teaching are the same, and with dwindling numbers of people following the traditional route it is necessary to provide other paths.

“We will never compromise on quality – but we can make it easier for [people] to make that career change,” he added.

“And because we understand that they have to balance family and financial responsibilities that new graduates may not face, we understand that the prospect of giving up a salary for a year while they do their teacher training is a real barrier for them.”

The scheme was met with mixed reviews. Lecturer and writer James McEnaney took to Twitter to express his irritation. He seethed that the government is supposedly unable to increase current teacher’s salaries but has the funds for the bursary scheme.

The announcement has also caused a stir in Scottish politics. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson claimed that it was her party who came up with the idea back in 2016.

Davidson tweeted a photograph of her party’s manifesto from the 2016 Holyrood election. The manifesto details “introducing a postgraduate teaching bursary” for “the best high-achieving graduates who are interested into getting into teaching, especially in STEM subjects”.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray contested this claim. He stated that it was Labour who originally put forward the policy, not the Conservatives. Speaking to the BBC, Gray claimed “hardly a day goes by now without the SNP U-turning and giving into Labour demands”.

“Scotland’s schools are blighted with a teaching shortage, with 4,000 fewer teachers since the SNP came to power, and urgent action is needed,” he added.

“We welcome John Swinney adopting one of the policies from our 10-point plan for Scotlands schools, and look forward to him seeing the sense of the other nine too.”

Despite the conflict, it is unarguably a decision which the majority of Scottish party leaders agree with. Only time will tell what it means for the future of teaching in Scotland.

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