The teaching profession has been hit by gaping trainee recruitment shortfalls in maths and science, sparking fears pupils will miss out on vital learning experiences.

Provisional figures for 2020/21 show intake to initial teacher education through a secondary-level graduate diploma (PGDE) and other routes fell well below target in a number of areas, including chemistry and physics.

Critics have warned that failure to maintain a steady inflow could increase the likelihood of subject classes being led by staff whose main qualification is in another discipline and who may not have the same degree of expertise, passion or interest.

The risk is that youngsters lose enthusiasm for the subject before they reach the senior phase, potentially depriving the economy of scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

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Concerns over recruitment come after the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reported declining scores for Scottish pupils in maths and science.

Union leaders said the latest statistics highlighted the need for a renewed focus on issues such as pay, workload and career progression.

Seamus Searson, General Secretary at the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: "It's been a problem for a number of years - how do we attract people into the profession? How do we make it attractive in terms of pay and career structures? Workload is driving lots of teachers away. This is the sort of issue you have to address.

"We have to make it an attractive proposition by addressing the fundamentals, which means the support system in school, career opportunities, and managing and controlling workload.

"The impact [of any shortfall in trainee teachers in specific subject areas] is that those who are qualified in those subjects will primarily be teaching senior pupils, who need to be prepared for exams and assessments, and not so much younger pupils such as those in S3. And the downside then is that those children don't get a grounding in the subject with the experts.

"If you have a teacher who's in love with, say, chemistry, that comes across to children very quickly and it enthuses them to stay with the subject further up the school.

HeraldScotland: EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan.EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan.

"If that experience is not quite as good, a youngster can be turned off those subjects. And if the pupils are not really involved in a subject at the earlier stage, the risk is that you have lost those children for the duration [of their schooling]. You want the specialists to be teaching all the way through school."

New figures show that the intake for chemistry was 100 against a target of 150. Sizeable shortfalls were also recorded in maths (with an intake of 173 against a target of 230), physics (intake: 84, target: 120) and technological education (intake: 59, target: 82). Recruitment for computing fell a little short (intake: 44, target: 47).

However, some subject areas - among them biology, art, business education and history - were ahead of target.

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Across the primary and secondary sectors, and including other avenues such as undergraduate degrees, student teacher intake in October last year was 3,999 against a target of 4,070.

"In terms of maths and science graduates, I think the alternative employment opportunities outside of teaching for them are far better," said Mr Searson.

"We need to make teaching as attractive a proposition as possible and, if we're going to invest in them, we need to keep them for the long term.

"It may be we have to need to consider something like enhanced pay in certain subject areas to encourage new teachers to come in.

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"Also, teachers want to stay with their subject specialism. The SSTA has been supportive of proposals for creating a Lead Teacher role for specific subject areas.

"You would become an expert on that subject within your school, your local authority area, or perhaps even more widely.

"It's about keeping good teachers in the classroom and not forcing them into management posts just to get an increase in salary, and it's something that would attract specialist staff."

HeraldScotland: Student teacher intake for maths was significantly below target.Student teacher intake for maths was significantly below target.

Larry Flanagan, EIS General Secretary, said "continuing challenges" around recruiting enough Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates into education as teachers reflected "a pervading view of teaching as a highly stressful working environment with significant challenges around excessive workload".

He added: "Although there have been improvement in pay, after the EIS’s successful pay campaign, there remains a need to improve conditions of service to make teaching an attractive profession. The simple fact that one in 10 teachers are on temporary contracts reflects the unsatisfactory nature of the current standing of the profession."

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A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Figures published on 15 December show that teacher numbers increased for the fifth year in a row - rising to 53,400 in 2020, an increase of 1,153 on the previous year.

"There are now more teachers than at any time since 2008, and the ratio of pupils to teachers is at its lowest since 2010.

“Last week we announced that the STEM bursary scheme to encourage more people to train as secondary school teachers in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Computing Science, Technical Education and Home Economics is set to continue.

"The success of the scheme demonstrates that teaching is recognised as an attractive profession and that we will once again be providing bursaries of £20,000 to career changers to support teacher training in certain STEM subjects where demand is at its greatest. One hundred and fifty bursaries were awarded during the 2020/21 scheme.”