Best probationers 'are poached'

Independent schools have been accused of "poaching" the best student teachers and probationers, Elizabeth Buie writes.

Rory Mackenzie, headteacher of Balerno High in Edinburgh, has taken up cudgels on behalf of state schools in the city which, he says, are left at a disadvantage.

Mr Mackenzie claims fee-paying schools are able to opt out of the induction scheme and yet can pick the best student teachers when they are on placement, offering them probation followed by a guaranteed job.

State schools in Edinburgh, meanwhile, had to take a quota of probationers but were unable to offer them a job the following year.

Four days before the end of last term, he was told that his school's modern languages probationer had been offered and had accepted a post at one of the independent schools in the city.

The probationer had "no contractual obligation" preventing her from opting out of her probationary allocation. His school therefore had had to recruit a new modern languages teacher, which cost it pound;10,000 because of the difference between a probationer's and a qualified teacher's salary.

Mr Mackenzie said: "Independent schools do not appear to have to follow the teacher induction scheme, which was introduced as part of the national agreement. They seem to be able to offer newly qualified teachers a permanent post where they either follow the old probation scheme (lasting 18 months) or a post following the new teacher induction scheme - but with a guaranteed job at the end of one year if they pass their probation. State schools are not in a position to do this."

The situation was exacerbated by "the increasing practice of the independent schools in Edinburgh offering posts to promising student teachers during or following their second-term placement".

Mr Mackenzie said: "Over the past few years, several student teachers who were placed with us for their third teaching practice placement had already been offered jobs in independent schools."

"Again, this is something state schools are not able to do as we are required by City of Edinburgh Council (quite correctly as part of the national agreement) to fill a number of our vacancies by taking an allocation of probationers."

Judith Sischy, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said Mr Mackenzie misunderstood the sector's position. When the induction scheme was introduced, independents had been keen to take part in the same way as local authorities.

However, the Scottish Executive decided at the last minute that it would not be appropriate for funding reasons if independent schools became part of the scheme, and the sector had to make separate arrangements.

Mrs Sischy commented: "From our point of view, because the independent sector receives no funding to support probationers, schools have to recruit to fill vacancies. Many schools have been enthusiastic about taking on probationers even though they have to fund the salary, the CPD element of time, the mentoring and the training."

Headteachers in independent schools therefore had to advertise posts and interview candidates in the usual way. This, however, meant that heads were also able to say that if the probationer liked the school and vice versa, the induction year might be followed by a permanent post.

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