ON the face of it, it sounds like a good idea. There is a staffing crisis in Scotland’s schools so why not encourage classroom assistants to take up a career in teaching so they can fill the gaps? The potential bonus of the scheme would be that classroom assistants already have wide experience in the classroom – something that could be recognised as part of their training. It sounds like a possible solution to a real and pressing problem.

But would it work? At the moment, the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) is discussing the idea as part of talks on more flexible ways to get more teachers into the profession. Ken Muir, the chief executive of the GTCS, says he often encounters teaching assistants who enjoy working in the classroom but would like to take it further and become teachers. Clearly, there is a potential pool of enthusiasm and talent out there waiting to be tapped.

The scale of the problem with staffing is also beyond doubt. The most recent 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. In other words, there may be a potential pool of talent among classroom assistants, but at the other end of the profession, some of the country’s most experienced teachers are walking away from the job for good.

In the long term, more will need to be done to find out, in detail, why these senior teachers are leaving the profession, but we already know that the exodus is happening at a time of great upheaval in education. Many teachers say the introduction of the new curriculum and qualifications has led to a stressful increase in their workload and bureaucracy. There is also concern about the slow erosion of pay.

Without addressing these issues, the danger is that, even if classroom assistants are recruited as teachers, they will become subject to the same issues of stress and workload and may end up leaving the profession before long themselves. Teacher recruitment is a real issue, but so too is teacher retention. What would be the point of opening the door of the teaching profession to new recruits if they head straight for the exit once they realise what the job involves?

Any scheme to train assistants as teachers will also have to be carefully calibrated. The suggestion is that the experience assistants have gained in schools should be recognised in determining how the new courses should work, which makes good sense. However, one of the reasons Scottish universities refused to work with the fast-track teacher training charity Teach First was concerns that many of the teachers they recruited were sent into the classroom too quickly. There is no suggestion the new courses for teaching assistants would repeat the same problems – indeed, the entry requirements for teachers would be preserved – but a careful balance will have to be struck between recognising experience as a teaching assistant and preserving the quality of new teachers entering the profession.

The possible effects of the scheme on assistant numbers would also have to be considered. Hundreds of assistants have been lost over the last seven years as councils have made cuts and the situation could deteriorate further if assistants leave to become teachers and are not replaced.

All these factors mean the idea

of encouraging assistants into teaching will need careful handling and proper funding. There is a staffing crisis in Scottish teaching and a shortage of staff at all levels and the idea of more classroom assistants becoming teachers is worth exploring. But it will only work if the status, salaries and work/life balance of teachers are maintained and improved so that the men and women who join the profession decide that it is worthwhile staying there.