TEACHER shortages have forced their watchdog to relax the rules on joining the profession.

Classroom staff who have qualified outside the country will now be allowed to work in a school immediately under a new conditional registration.

People who secure a job in this way will be put on probation while they complete any additional studies or training required for full registration, a legal requirement.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), which receives several hundred applications from outside the country every year, said the new flexibility would ensure teacher quality while allowing schools to plug vacancies.

Chief executive Ken Muir said: "The provisional conditional registration category is a means of giving GTC Scotland added flexibility to attract a wider range of teachers to teach in Scotland.

"This registration is available to applicants who do not immediately meet our normal eligibility criteria for full registration and allows us to recognise the diverse range of qualifications held by applicants whilst ensuring that appropriate teaching standards are maintained in Scottish schools.

"We are also working with universities to accredit top-up programmes which will help suitably experienced teachers meet the full standards for registration while they are working."

The move comes after a number of councils in rural areas have complained of crippling teacher shortages, with concerns the current registration process for teachers who have been working outside Scotland can be lengthy and inflexible.

Last year, seven local authorities called for a national taskforce to halt shortages including Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray, the Highlands and the Western Isles.

There have also been concerns over shortages of specialist teachers in key subjects such as mathematics, physics and computing with Scottish Government targets for training places not being filled.

However, the GTCS has also been forced to act after a landmark legal ruling in 2014 found a science teacher from England had been wrongly prevented from working north of the Border because he lacked a degree.

The teacher successfully argued that his graduation from the Royal Society of Chemistry was the equivalent of a degree and the GTCS accepted it would have to more flexible in future over qualifications achieved by prospective teachers.

Councils and teaching unions welcomed the greater flexibility introduced by the watchdog.

A spokesman for Cosla, which represents most local authorities, said: "This gives councils the flexibility they seek to overcome some of the challenges faced recruiting teachers for certain subjects in certain parts of the country which has become a real problem."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: "It is essential that Scotland's high standards of teacher professionalism are maintained so that only appropriately qualified staff are deployed in our schools.

"The new rules for conditional entry to the register offer a practical solution to a challenging recruitment issue while also ensuring that the high standards expected of all Scotland's teachers can continue to be upheld."

Private schools have have been concerned over the impact of new legislation which requires all teachers in the independent sector to be GTCS registered in future.

They feared high class applicants from outside Scotland would have been put off applying because of the "lengthy" wait for registration.

John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), said: "This is a common sense response to our concerns that the new requirement for all teachers in the independent sector to be registered with the GTCS could have damaged recruitment.

"The more flexible the routes are into the profession then the better it will be for our schools because a lot of them recruit nationally and internationally."

A GTCS report summarising responses to a consultation on the new conditional registration said: "At one end of the spectrum, respondents were asking for an even greater level of flexibility and willingness to register those who may not have qualifications comparable to that of a Scottish qualified teacher, but who have a proven track record of good teaching.

"At the other end of the spectrum, respondents were urging extreme caution in showing greater flexibility, concerned that high teaching standards and an all graduate teaching profession in Scotland must be maintained."

GTCS officials said they were currently in discussions with Moray Council to allow former teachers living in the military population of RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss Barracks to fill long-standing vacancies in local schools.