Councils in a black hole over supply staff

Tes Editorial

THE Scottish Executive has again admitted it has no idea how many supply teachers councils need to cover absence and illness throughout the year. It acknowledges the issue is part of the wider problem of anticipating demand for teachers.

Headteachers last session reported severe shortages in key areas such as English and mathematics, yet the Executive continues to insist it has received no formal representations about difficulties in specific subjects.

"The information we have received from education authorities through the teacher workforce planning exercise is variable and education authorities have reported difficulty in undertaking projections on the subjects in which they are likely to have difficulty recruiting teachers," the latest analysis on teacher supply states.

The Executive's statement updates the position last January and includes fresh detail gleaned from councils. Teacher supply is now a key issue for Jack McConnell, Education Minister, who last month launched the first phase of a long-term campaign to attract more people into teaching.

The looming retirements of large numbers of teachers in their fifties is concentrating minds and driving renewed initiatives to bring more accuracy to workforce planning.

Encouragingly, planners report that over a six-month period some 23,500 hits requested information from a recruitment website set up in late October. The General Teaching Council for Scotland is finding similar interest following the McCrone settlement. Latest figures show more than 540 teachers in the past six months, mostly from south of the border, applying for registration, up by around 25 per cent.

But officials are still unsure how many student teachers actually enter the profession because of student apathy in supplying information. Around 40 per cent of student destinations are unknown.

More reliable information is being collated through a pilot project relating vacancies to shortages and involving five authorities. Information will be reported twice a year.

Alex McKay, head of education in Fife, which is part of the exercise, welcomed the Executive's fresh approaches. "Officials have listened very carefully to local authorities, the GTC and the teacher training institutions. There has been a willingness to address the underlying reasons why the system has not worked as it should," Mr McKay said.

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