The number of teachers registered to work in Scotland after qualifying elsewhere has jumped, sparking hopes of a capacity boost for the education system.

Figures from the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) show 1,314 applicants who qualified outside Scotland and the EU were registered in 2020/21. This is up 26 per cent on the 2019/20 total of 1,040.

GTCS bosses stressed there had been legislative and policy shifts that resulted in a requirement for college lecturers and teachers in independent schools to register. However, they noted that the Covid pandemic “may have provided an opportunity for individuals to reflect on their career and life ambitions, which may have led to some teachers considering joining the profession in Scotland”. Scottish education continues to have a “positive international reputation”, they added.

Statistics also show that, in 2020/21, 477 people from EU member states registered with GTCS, which is down from 545 in 2019/20. However, the organisation said the effects of Brexit had not been “substantial”. Overall, the number of GTCS registrants increased from 76,756 to 77,386 between 2019/20 and 2020/21.

Professor Ken Muir, former GTCS chief executive, said: “With the statutory requirement for all teachers in the independent sector to be registered with GTCS, this will account for some of the increase in Qualified Outside Scotland registrants. 

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“We also need to remember that there has been a Scottish Government teacher recruitment campaign – that, possibly, could account for some of the increase. Also, when I was at GTCS, we were seeing an increasing number of teachers from England who were applying to come to Scotland, and I think that has probably continued to a degree. Teachers from England, in particular, see Scotland as an attractive location in which to teach and I would anticipate some of that is down to lifestyle change as well.” 

Commenting on the overall increase in registrants, Prof Muir added: “A number of years ago, we did a piece of research at GTCS into the number of Scottish teachers between the ages of 21 and 45 lapsing from the GTCS register. There was quite a large number of younger teachers who had decided to teach overseas but with every intention of coming back. I suspect some of those teachers are now coming back into the system in Scotland and adding to the registration numbers.”

HeraldScotland: Professor Ken Muir said it was probable that the number of GTCS-registered teachers from England had continued to rise.Professor Ken Muir said it was probable that the number of GTCS-registered teachers from England had continued to rise.

There was previously concern over signs of a marked fall in post-EU referendum applications from outside Scotland.

Figures for 2018 that were reported by Holyrood magazine showed just 14 EU teachers formally requested GTCS registration in the period until June 30 that year. The number of registrants from the bloc had been rising, with 128 in 2015, 159 in 2016 and 186 in 2017.

Overall totals were also down, with 614 registrants from outside Scotland in 2016, 598 in 2017 and only 126 in the first half of 2018. Prof Muir said there was a partial recovery over the subsequent six months.

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Henry Maitles, emeritus professor of education at the University of the West of Scotland, told The Herald that the 2020/21 figures could provide opportunities for a re-evaluation of class sizes.

He said: “Whilst any increase is positive, as there appears to be more qualified teachers able and wanting to teach in Scotland, there is also an increase in those registering from outwith Scotland, which is very welcome as it always adds to the student experience in the schools.” 

But he added: “The devil can be in the detail. We would need to know how many college and private school registrations have been added to the register since it became compulsory to do so. If they add up to more than the 630 additions to the register since 2019-20, then there could actually be a smaller number able to teach than before the compulsory registrations.

"On a more positive note, the increase in those registered who qualified outside Scotland is good to see, although this could also be a consequence of FE or private school teachers who qualified outside Scotland now having to register. So, we need to treat these, what seem like positive, figures cautiously.”

A spokesman stressed that the GTCS would always welcome applications from teachers who qualified outside Scotland. He added: “The teaching profession, and children, young people and adult learners benefit from a diverse range of lived experiences in our schools and colleges.

"Scotland’s education system continues to have a positive international reputation, not least in part due to the high quality of the teaching profession.”