Innovative online courses breaking down barriers for Scotland's future teachers

Innovative online courses breaking down barriers for Scotland's future teachers

As Scotland looks to address challenges in teacher recruitment, a new initiative is helping would-be teachers to overcome a barrier preventing well-qualified candidates from entering the profession.

The University of Aberdeen has introduced a pioneering Online Access course to allow those who want to teach gain pre-requisite qualifications in Maths and English.

Dr David Smith, Head of the School of Education at the University of Aberdeen explains: “There is a great demand for teachers in Scotland, particularly in certain subject areas; and many people who have enjoyed successful careers in other industries want to meet that need.

“Many are extremely well-qualified in the subject areas that they want to teach; however, given the responsibility of all for Literacy and Numeracy, all teachers are expected to demonstrate their ability in English and Mathematics.

“Our experience of meeting prospective Student Teachers highlighted to us a gap in their own formal education in these subjects, which was holding them back from gaining entry to our Professional Graduate Diploma in Education, which educates many of our new teachers.”

As a result, the University, with support from Scottish Government, has developed in partnership with Secondary School teachers from Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils, an innovative online programme which enables students to take short courses, which can be joined 24/7 365 days a year and completed in a timeframe which suits the individual student’s learning.

Dr Smith continued: “Making a career-change or continuing your education is a big undertaking and we wanted to widen access to allow potential teachers to make up for gaps in their own formal education as simply as possible.’

“Our Online Access courses are demanding, but we have kept flexibility at the heart of their development, allowing students to join whenever they choose and to exit the course at many points throughout the year – in order to support entry to the teaching profession throughout Scotland.

“It means that if they need to complete quickly and are prepared to put in many additional hours of study, they can do so; but, if they are fitting study around work, family, and other commitments, they can take longer.

“We wanted the students to dictate their own pace and place of learning, and to make the experience as interactive as possible with video and other engaging content.

“The feedback has been fantastic, and despite only running the courses for a short period of time, we already have 423 students who have completed or are working towards the qualifications. This is a real testament to the need that existed for such an option.”

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education & Skills in Scotland, said:

“I am delighted the Scottish Government has been able to fund the development of the University of Aberdeen’s innovative and flexible Online Access programme, which is already helping a significant number of individuals gain the qualifications necessary to join teacher education programmes in a way that best suits their personal circumstances.”


The University of Aberdeen currently offers Maths at SCQF Level 5 (National 5 equivalent Level) and SCQF Level 6 (Higher equivalent level) and English at SCQF Level 6 (Higher equivalent level); but is planning to expand its offering into other subject areas. 

Although they were primarily developed for PGDE candidates, the courses have also attracted students wishing to gain access to other Higher Education courses which require them to demonstrate proficiency in these subjects.

In 2017, Scottish Government provided a grant of £29,000 which contributed to the development of Online Access.

 Details of the course can be found here



Paul Gibson

With more than 30 years’ experience in engineering and a Masters of Science degree in Mechatronics behind him, Paul Gibson has plenty to offer as a teacher.

But when he decided on a career change, he hadn’t expected to find that choices he made in the classroom more than four decades ago would prevent him entering the profession.

Although Paul was highly qualified in the subject he plans to teach, Engineering Science, he could not meet the criteria for English to be accepted onto a Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE).

“I was rather annoyed at first,” admits Paul, “I had decided this was something that I really wanted to do, to make a difference to young people and become a real part of the Borders community in which I live, but I didn’t take English at Highers and this was a pre-requisite of the course.”

Paul, 57, passed the interviews for a PGDE at the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) which has a partnership with Borders College to train teachers remotely, but this was conditional upon attaining an appropriate formal qualification in English.

With an August start date for the course, Paul did not have time to sit a Higher in the subject, then he was told about the University of Aberdeen’s pioneering Online Access courses.

“It was just what I needed,” he adds “The flexible start dates and exit points suited me as you can complete the course in as little or long a time as you need.

“For me, the clock was ticking and I was able to get through the work in just five weeks but it did require a high level of commitment. Working frantically was well worth it though as it means I don’t need to wait 12 months for the next intake of trainee teachers.”

Despite initial hesitations about needing to ‘tick the box’, Paul says it has given him new confidence in the subject.

“I’ve always had a reasonable grasp of written English and used it in my work as a global product manager but is wasn’t until I started the course that I realised just how much I didn’t know or had forgotten!

“Taking the course was a lovely experience from start to finish and it was great to be able to interact with my peers and get their feedback. It has been a nice introduction to becoming a student again.

“The course model is great – it just walks you along what you need to do and I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. It’s given me additional confidence in the English skills that I will need as a teacher.”

Paul is now preparing to start his PGDE on August 20 and has already met up with others enrolled on the course in his local area.

“I’m really looking forward to it and doing the course has given me a new enthusiasm for learning. As part of my work I trained new engineering graduates to ensure they were up to speed with technology and I realised that teaching is something I’d really like to do. I hope the skills and experience I have behind me will allow me to bring something extra to the classroom.”