Shirley-Anne Somerville: Teaching is an 'altruistic' profession and other careers are 'more financially attractive'

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 23 March 2017 in News

Education minister Shirley-Anne Somerville said graduates need to be convinced that teaching is an "inspirational and worthwhile career"

Shirley-Anne Somerville - Image credit: Scottish Government Flickr

Scotland’s education minister has said that teaching is seen as an "altruistic" profession and that "other careers are more financially attractive".

Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science Shirley-Anne Somerville said more needs to be done to convince graduates that teaching is an "inspirational and worthwhile career".

The STEM Scotland conference in Edinburgh, run by Holyrood, heard that Scotland "has gone backwards" in computer science teaching.


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Scottish entrepreneur Ian Ritchie, founder of tech trade body ScotlandIS, complained about a 14 per cent drop in computer science teachers in the last 20 years – and suggested this could be because graduates "can get much better jobs" elsewhere.

Somerville agreed that more must be done to encourage people with industry experience to become teachers.

"There are challenges in some areas because other careers are more financially attractive to graduates, so we need to be cognisant of that," she said.

"But when we were doing research into the Inspiring Teaching campaign that we’re running at the moment, the people who wanted to get into teaching wanted to do it for very altruistic reasons.

"There was a certain group of graduates who wanted to get into teaching if we could prove that it is an inspirational and worthwhile career, and that is where we need to come in as a government to be able to do that.

"So we have taken action, we know that there its more that we need to do on that, and that does very much include encouraging people at different stages in their careers to come and join the teaching workforce." 

Ritchie said: "Nicola Sturgeon has said we need 12,000 new people with digital skills every year for the foreseeable future.

"Scotland’s universities currently graduate around 3,000 computer graduates, many of whom are from international destinations and go back, so we have got a massive, massive gap. 

"It all starts in the schools and I’ve been very concerned that in the last 20 years we’ve got 14 per cent fewer computer science teachers in school than we had 20 years ago, so we’ve gone backwards. This is terrible.

"I understand that obviously with the computing industry booming, people coming out of university with degrees probably don’t want to go into teaching because they can get much better jobs, but there must be solutions to this."

He said Scotland does not encourage people to turn to teaching later in their careers.

"This is ridiculous - we need to do something about that," he said.

Commenting on Somerville’s remarks, Seamus Searson, General Secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said: "Most people enter teaching as a vocation and a willingness to make a difference. 

"However, the reality that teaching does not pay the bills is coming home to roost. 

"Teacher pay has been depressed over the last number of years as many other public sector workers."

He said teachers are becoming increasingly attracted by well-paid jobs abroad, where "a three year stint would give enough money for a mortgage".

He added: "When a young teacher can earn thee or four times the same in the middle-east why would they stay?

"The Scottish Government needs to realise that education is in crisis and that a real investment is needed quickly before we see the problems of England and the lack of teachers real starts to hit home."

Scottish Labour's education spokesman Iain Gray said: "At some point the SNP must acknowledge that under its government we pay teachers less, provide fewer support staff, have bigger class sizes and more class contact time than almost anywhere else in the devolved world. No wonder they struggle to recruit more teachers."



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