Rise in probationers 'leaves teachers without work'

Scottish government accused of a workforce planning ‘disaster’ as probationer teacher numbers rise despite a lack of jobs

Emma Seith

Increase in probationers 'leaves new teachers struggling to find jobs'

The Scottish government has been accused of failing to treat new teachers “with the dignity and respect they deserve” after it transpired that 500 more probationers than last year are set to enter schools this August.

Rising teacher job insecurity and unemployment have been raised in recent months with first minister Nicola Sturgeon – in March, she was told that some teachers were working in supermarkets to make ends meet. Meanwhile, over 2,000 recently qualified teachers have formed the #LetUsTeach campaign, which is lobbying government for more permanent teaching jobs.

However, figures obtained by Tes Scotland, in conjunction with the #LetUsTeach campaign, show that the number of probationers entering the system is set to rise again this coming school year and, given that the Teacher Induction Scheme (TIS) guarantees probationers a job for a year, fully qualified teachers struggling to find work are warning that the already tough recruitment situation is set to get worse.

Background: Teachers working in supermarkets ‘to make ends meet’

News: Teachers taking second jobs to 'put food on the table'

Related: 1,700 teachers without secure jobs demand action

The Scottish government has stressed that probationer numbers will not be confirmed until after the summer holidays, but initial figures show 3,617 probationers are expected to join schools this August, compared with the 3,116 probationers who were on the TIS last year.

New teachers unable to find jobs

The figures also show tahat this is the highest number of teachers on the scheme in almost a decade. In 2013-14 a total of 2,247 teachers entered the TIS.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats, who have raised the plight of unemployed teachers in the Scottish Parliament, accused the government of presiding over “a workforce planning disaster”.

The party’s education spokesperson, Beatrice Wishart, said recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic would require all available “teaching talent” but qualified teachers were “being pushed out of the profession because they can’t secure a contract for next term”.

She said the situation was “indefensible” – but the Scottish government said the figures were "a positive sign" and that the "news that more probationers are coming through the system should be celebrated".

The figures show that, whilst some councils are taking roughly the same number of probationers as last year – or even cutting probationer numbers – others have vastly increased the number that will join their schools this August. Moray Council, for instance, will more than double the number of probationers it takes on next year – it had 35 probationers last year, but next year will have 91.

East Ayrshire Council took on 66 probationers last year but this coming school year it is expected to welcome 104, and in Dundee probationer teacher numbers are projected to rise from 79 last year to 122.

Dr Jehan Al-Azzawi left a career in academia to become a primary teacher after being widowed with a small child. She said she wanted to leave behind short-term, precarious contracts in favour of “professional fulfilment and financial security”. However, after a successful probationary year last year, she has been unable to secure a job and said she was “basically unemployed now”.

She said councils were routinely filling teacher vacancies with probationers because their salaries are paid for by the Scottish government but that the situation is “completely unsustainable” and, ultimately, is going to result in “even more unemployed teachers”.

She said: “Every time the first minister has been asked about the issue she says recruitment is a matter for the local authorities. They will tell you the government isn’t providing enough funding. Neither is willing to take responsibility.

“The entire recruitment process needs scrutiny and urgent change – it is not meritocratic, it is informal, improper and not fit for purpose. It makes a mockery of the values of the teaching profession.”

Sean Kenny, who undertook his teacher education at the University of Edinburgh, where he won the Currie Prize for best student, also has no employment for August.

He carried out his probation last year but was informed just two days before the end of term that there were no vacancies in his council area, despite being told in February that his job interview had been successful. He describes the way teachers are recruited as “deeply unfair” and “rotten to the core”.

He has written about his situation to the education secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville.

He said: “At no point in my six-year teaching journey was a lack of vacancies communicated until the interview process itself. Though I’m well aware this is a national problem, it does appear that teaching employment is currently a postcode lottery. It’s about being in the right place at the right time. Had I been in another local authority for my probationary year, it is very likely I would have employment come August.”

Yesterday North Lanarkshire Council announced that around 400 staff who completed their probationer training in the authority over the past two years would be awarded one-year contracts this coming school year.

Frank McNally, convener of the council’s education and families committee, said staff had gone “above and beyond to support young people over the past 18 months” and it “only right that we show our support and thanks”.

Ms Wishart said: “The Scottish government talk about bringing in new recruits, while failing to treat those they already have with the dignity and respect they deserve. Recovery in education will need every teaching talent available, but qualified teachers are being pushed out of the profession because they can’t secure a contract for next term. That’s indefensible.

“There has been a creeping casualisation of their contracts, because councils haven’t been afforded the planning or resources they need. Local authorities are left playing ‘teacher Tetris’ as a result.

“After a year of shoddy treatment at the hands of the Scottish government, the foundations have been laid for a workforce planning disaster. Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see a full review of teachers’ terms and conditions to make sure they are given the support they need and help keep the profession going.”

The Scottish Conservatives' shadow education secretary, Oliver Mundell, said the rise in probationer teacher numbers in the school coming year would come “as a surprise and shock to the many newly qualified teachers across the country who are currently struggling to secure permanent posts”.

He continued: “While we need to reverse the teacher cuts we have seen over the past decade, we should first be looking to make use of the many trained and committed individuals who are ready and willing to start tomorrow.

“This significant jump in numbers also raises questions about how schools will accommodate additional probationers and about the quality of mentoring and support they will need.

“The Scottish government need to take longer-term workforce planning more seriously and clearly set out the number of permanent teaching roles they believe are needed.”

Ms Somerville said it was "a really positive sign that Scotland has around 500 extra teachers in the pipeline".

She added: "Whilst, obviously, local authorities are responsible for the recruitment and deployment of their staff, we are firmly of the view that we will need all possible teaching resources at our disposal to compensate for any loss of learning suffered since the start of the pandemic. So news that more probationers are coming through the system should be celebrated.

“We are working closely with [local authorities' organisation] Cosla regarding the employment of teachers for the next academic year, and we will continue to do everything we can to maximise the number of jobs available for teachers, including permanent posts. As part of our commitment to supporting the recruitment of 3,500 additional teachers and classroom assistants, funding will be provided to local authorities to increase teacher numbers by 1,000 and classroom assistants by 500.”

A spokesperson for Moray Council said: “Moray Council works hard to ensure the provision of opportunities for both qualified and newly qualified teachers to obtain posts.  The number of permanent and temporary posts at schools across Moray varies from year to year and we will continue to do all that we can to increase the number of jobs available.

“Recruitment for teaching vacancies remains ongoing. However, we can confirm that we currently have 72 teachers joining schools across Moray in August later this year. We will continue to allocate additional funding and resources where possible to support education recovery and the recruitment of additional education staff.”

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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