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A few negatives but huge positives

Rugged, beautiful but immense, Highland struggles to attract probationer teachers to many of its schools. Even when, like Jim Crawford at Elgol Primary, they have agreed in principle and there is an extra pound;4,000 on offer (it is going up to pound;6,000 next session), the details of a posting can make them think again.

"They often don't realise how vast the authority is," explains the principal staffing officer, Elaine Kirkham. "One girl last year got really angry with me when she learned she had to work in Ardnamurchan.

Another was placed in a school in Wick and drove as far as Aviemore, then turned back. If it was further than that, she didn't want to be there."

Remoteness is not the only problem for some teachers. "Accommodation is an issue throughout Highland," says Ms Kirkham.

"Inverness is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe. Property prices have gone through the roof and a probationer can't get on the first rung of the ladder.

"In Ardnamurchan, it's hard to get even a plot of land to build on.

"We are looking at ways of making it easier for teachers, but it's politically difficult to favour one profession over others.

"Once people come to Highland, they like it and a lot of them stay. There are huge positives: the quality of life, small class sizes, better attention for pupils and often better support for probationers.

"We asked for 80 secondary probationers for next session and have been allocated 54. We asked for 62 in primary and got them all. Twenty-four qualified through our new distance learning scheme with Aberdeen University.

"In other authorities probationers are going into training places with no permanent job at the end of it. We aim to put ours into real vacancies, then advertise internally, so they can apply. A lot of them are getting the jobs.

"The quality of probationers nowadays is high. Those who come to Highland do well in our schools."

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