Emma Seith

Why are so many teachers struggling to find work?

Schools need more teachers to help with education’s recovery from Covid – but many are finding it difficult to get a job right now, says Emma Seith

Covid and schools: Why are teachers struggling to find jobs?

My heart strings have officially been tugged. In fact, several dozen teachers have been swinging on them since last week, when I put out a message on social media seeking teachers willing to speak about the jobs market. I was inundated with responses from those unable to find secure work.

At first I tried to keep up and respond to each message, but soon I had to admit defeat. Suffice to say I had in excess of 50 responses to that one tweet.

Some messages came from teachers who had carried out their probation last year but had been unable to find work. Many others, though, were from teachers who had been qualified for years, had experienced a long string of temporary contracts, and who saw no prospect of that changing any time soon. One teacher said that she and her partner wanted to start a family but, without paid maternity leave, felt unable to move forward with this part of their lives.

The one-year Teacher Induction Scheme has variously been described as “one of the success stories of Scottish education” and a “world-class” preparation for teachers – that first quote is from Glasgow director of education Maureen McKenna, and the latter is from the former chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, Ken Muir, who retired earlier this year.

Covid and schools: Teachers unable to find work

The scheme means that newly qualified teachers in Scotland who successfully complete their teacher education courses are guaranteed a job in a school, funded by the government, where they can accumulate the experience in the classroom that they need to become fully qualified. But it’s clear that, following this year, there are big challenges in securing long-term employment.

And things are likely to get worse. As Tes Scotland revealed last week, probationer numbers are set to rise by 500 this August and with jobs thin on the ground, there is the prospect of those challenges in finding a secure, long-term job becoming even greater.

Often there are areas of Scotland, outside the Central Belt, where teachers can find work. The teacher recruitment woes of the likes of Highland and Aberdeenshire have been well documented. But now the geographical spread of those seeking work includes areas where recruitment has typically been tough.

Undoubtedly, though, sector and subject still have a huge bearing on success. Take biology teacher Andrew Laing. He completed his probation in 2019-20 and has been carrying out supply ever since. He has no job for August. However, he’s carrying out an additional teaching qualification in computing and has been offered jobs so he can gain experience until he qualifies in May. He describes the difference in demand as “staggering”. Other subjects likely to fall into the high-demand category are maths, home economics and technological education.

Workforce planning may be an inexact science but such extremes of feast or famine smack of mismanagement, especially as we know that the government has ignored its own statistical modelling in the past. Last year, the government was told there would be “no requirement for PGDE primary students from 2021 to 2027”, providing numbers on undergraduate courses were maintained. But teachers continue to be trained via this route.

The government regularly argues that councils are responsible for employing teachers and so we should look there to apportion blame. However, it is the government that determines council funding and it is the government that has promised to make education recovery a priority.

Things need to change. Schools need more staff to help them mitigate the impact of Covid; teachers need jobs, and the government needs to step up.

@Emma_Seith

This article originally appeared in the 9 July 2021 issue under the headline “Schools need more teachers – so why is it so difficult to find work?”

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