CLASSROOM assistants will be encouraged to take up a career in teaching under new plans to tackle the current school recruitment crisis.

Professional watchdog the General teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) is currently holding discussions with universities to establish new routes into the profession for those already working in the classroom.

There are currently more than 5,600 classroom assistants working in Scottish schools with 1,163 in the secondary sector and 4,567 in primary.

The new courses will preserve entry requirements for teachers, but could allow flexibility for those working as classroom assistants to study part-time to ensure they can keep earning. It may also be possible to recognise some of the experience classroom assistants have gained.

The move comes research by The Herald last summer showed there were more than 700 unfilled teacher vacancies before the start of term, with the shortfall blamed on a rise in numbers quitting the profession early and historic under-recruitment.

Shortages are particularly acute in the so-called Stem subject of science and maths where graduates can secure better pay working in industry. Rural areas have also been hit.

The Scottish Government and the GTCS have been working together to try and improve the flow of new teachers by making routes into the profession more flexible.

However, there are also concerns the job of a teacher is not as attractive as it once was because of falling salaries and increasing workload.

Analysis of statistics from the Scottish Government show there has been a 21 per cent reduction in the number of teachers aged 45 and over since 2010 - accounting for some 5000 members of school staff.

The decline has come at a time of major reform with the introduction of a new curriculum and qualifications which were widely seen as being introduced in a confusing and overly-bureaucratic way.

Ken Muir, chief executive of the GTCS, said: "We have been developing a range of flexible approaches to registration to get more teachers into the profession.

"I know from my visits to schools we have had requests from pupil support assistants and other who work in the classroom who, as they operate in schools, are enjoying it and want to see if there is a route through which they could become teachers over a period of time.

"As a result we are exploring the possibility with some universities as to whether it would be feasible to offer a programme that would allows pupil support assistants with an adequate level of qualifications to undertake some teacher education programme."

Mr Muir said a key issue was to preserve the quality of those coming into the teaching profession through entry requirements.

He added: "There is a captive market out there because these individuals are effectively part of the wider education profession and they themselves have an interest in, but there is nothing bespoke for them at a national level.

"It is critical that we have a range of opportunities for all sorts of different folk into the teaching profession and this is one way of doing it."

Meanwhile, new figures show a new fast-track route into teaching for Stem graduates has not proved as popular as hoped.

Dundee University has only managed to recruit 16 of the 35 places available. A university spokesman said it had 90 applications and interviewed 31 candidates.

A spokesman said: "This rigorous selection process was intended to ensure we were getting the right people, with the necessary attributes, who want to pursue a career in teaching."