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Interest drops in rural waiver

The number of probationers being tempted to rural and remote parts of Scotland by a financial incentive has dropped for the first time.

Only 280 opted this year for the preference waiver, a pound;6,000 payment given to each graduate who agrees to be assigned a post anywhere in Scotland. It was the first decrease in annual uptake since the payment was introduced in 2004-05 - following last year's record high of 321 - although the Scottish Government says the figure may rise a little as authorities confirm their data.

Despite the fall, the waiver remains highly popular in authorities which might otherwise struggle to fill certain posts.

This year in Orkney, the scheme has yielded seven probationary teachers: five out of the authority's 10 secondary probationers ticked the waiver box, as did two out of nine primary probationers.

"From our point of view, the preference waiver has worked really well," said assistant director of education Marilyn Richards. "Without it, we would struggle to fill some of the subjects where there are shortages across the country."

Teachers are arriving in Orkney who otherwise would not have considered such a move. Most stay on after their probationary year, even if they do not get full-time work.

Mrs Richards said there was a knock-on effect: these teachers were telling their friends at home that Orkney was a great place to teach, encouraging more teachers from outside the islands to enquire about jobs. Those who tick the preference waiver box tend to share qualities.

"It's a brave move," Mrs Richards said. "It tells you that the person has a bit of get-up-and-go and is prepared to have a go at things. That bodes well for their prospects of being a good teacher - you have to have confidence and courage."

In Aberdeenshire, nine out of 161 probationers took up the preference waiver. All are secondary teachers, and have filled posts in art, drama, geography, maths, and religious, moral and philosophical studies.

Of the nine who ticked the box, six came from outside Aberdeenshire but three were from within its boundaries. In a large authority - Fraserburgh to Braemar is a three-hour drive - having home-grown probationers who say they are willing to work anywhere makes it easier to find local posts for those who, usually for family reasons, cannot be so flexible.

As in Orkney, most of the probationers who arrive in Aberdeenshire via the waiver scheme stay on. Of 121 probationers last year, 37 ticked the box (24 secondary and 13 primary). More than half of those will continue working in Aberdeenshire this year, including 14 secondary teachers and five in primaries.

A Scottish Government spokesman stressed that the 8 per cent of probationers ticking the box was, proportionally, the same as last year. "Uptake of the preference waiver payment scheme continues to be stable, as there has been a planned reduction in student intake numbers in the secondary sector," he said.

"Each year the Scottish Government asks local authorities for their views on probationer allocation and local authorities are very enthusiastic about the preference waiver, particularly in rural areas. We have no plans to stop the scheme and are always looking for ways to refine the allocation process."

Meanwhile, separate figures show that fewer probationers are getting work in their preferred local authorities. Only 79 per cent of secondary probationers got their first or second choice (59 per cent their first choice), compared to 81 per cent last year. The rate for primary teachers had remained steady at about 92 per cent each year since 2004-05, until this year when it fell to 90 per cent (78 per cent got their first choice).

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