The situation just before the summer break was “more difficult than I have ever experienced”, says Harlaw Academy headteacher David Innes.
He cannot remember a time when so many teachers were moving between jobs around Scotland, and it was becoming harder to predict which subjects would have pressure points: “It used to feel more stable – we weren’t having to fiddle around with the curriculum quite so much,” he says.
Harlaw lost five or six teachers very close to the end of term, forcing some tough calls. Knowing that teacher recruitment can prove “well-nigh impossible” over the summer, the school decided to scrap its National 4 and 5 computing courses, despite 80 pupils having signed up. Otherwise, there was a danger of struggling through to October without a dedicated teacher, then having to drop the courses when it was too late for pupils to pick up anything else.
Mr Innes has been encouraged by some of the city’s innovations – Harlaw will shortly provide a placement for a former oil and gas worker training to be a maths teacher. And he finds that the flexible approach to the secondary curriculum allows much more room for manoeuvre.
Yet Mr Innes admits that he presides over “not quite the curriculum I would have in an ideal world”. And, while staff are working “flat out” to maintain standards, he fears this could ultimately lead to a spike in stress-related sickness and early retirements. “It’s very difficult to call the long-term impact,” he says.