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Flexible hours end supply stand-off

Scotland's largest education authority has outlined radical plans to tackle teacher shortages.

Glasgow City Council's education committee this week agreed to streamline the appointments system and, following months of negotiations with teacher unions, has won agreement to appoint supply staff on permanent contracts but with variable hours - a major breakthrough, in its view.

The moves are likely to mark a major departure in the way the city operates its recruitment and appointment systems and may well lead other councils to follow suit.

One of the most significant changes is a plan to recruit teachers not to posts in specific schools in the first instance but to Glasgow City Council - a move that initially met with some resistance from headteachers who saw it as a threat to their discretion.

Ronnie O'Connor, director of education, told The TES Scotland: "We are trying to put in a system that improves the efficiency of recruiting teachers and develops other types of permanent contracts for newly qualified teachers to encourage them to teach in Glasgow."

Mr O'Connor hopes the changes will make the process "less cumbersome". The new policy follows major concerns about teacher shortages at the beginning of the 2004 session when the city failed to secure sufficient numbers to cover class non-contact time in primary schools or to cover all subjects in secondaries.

A major recruitment drive was launched, amid threats of legal action from primary heads who complained that they were being taken away from their management duties to cover classes.

As part of the latest phase in its recruitment strategy, the council has produced a marketing brochure aimed at persuading teachers to apply for jobs in Glasgow. It urges them to "help us create the new future" and to "join us in making the difference in raising the educational attainment of Glasgow's children".

A report to the council's education committee yesterday (Thursday) by George Gardner, depute director of education, revealed that, by the end of last year, nearly 250 additional teachers had been appointed. Nevertheless, the report stated: "The provision of absence cover remains an area of major difficulty for Glasgow City Council. The difficulties relate both to the provision of short-term and long-term cover."

They affect the primary sector in general, Catholic schools, specific secondary subjects including English, home economics, religious education and science, and special schools.

Mr Gardner said: "The department is struggling to fill a number of long-term absence and maternity leave positions in schools. The figure changes on a daily basis as staff are redeployed from posts from which they are no longer required."

The Local Negotiating Committee for Teachers endorsed an increase in the size of the permanent supply pool from 60 to 200 teachers in January 2003.

But that move was delayed by the "Clause 8.5" case, brought by the Educational Institute of Scotland. The union won a legal victory in the Court of Session to force the city to transfer teachers from temporary to permanent contracts.

However, Glasgow has insisted on introducing variable hours into permanent contracts, which fall into two ranges - 0.2-0.5 and 0.6-1 hours (full-time equivalent). In other words, a teacher with the former contract could be employed to work 0.2 FTE hours one month, 0.5 the following and 0.3 the month after that.

The city argues that, while this introduces more variability into contracts, it is an improvement on the current position of a supply teacher who does not know from one day to the next whether they are working or not.

Willie Hart, secretary of the EIS Glasgow local association, welcomed attempts to streamline the appointments system but said: "We don't think the variable hours contracts for permanent supply staff will be a particular carrot because, if people see the chance of a full-time job or even a long-term temporary contract somewhere else, that will be more attractive.

"This does not give as positive a message as we would like about the attractions of working in Glasgow and it will not necessarily encourage more fresh teachers into the city."

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