Probationer teachers in Scotland could be sent to rural schools in a bid to address staff shortages.
Members of a body set up to improve initial teacher education have discussed the move, which would mostly target the so-called Northern Alliance area that covers a vast sweep of Scotland beyond the Central Belt.
The includes Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, the Western Isles, Highland, Moray, Orkney and Shetland, local authorities which between them have 434 schools classed as rural – 74 per cent of all schools in the Northern Alliance area.
A long-running problem: Rural schools battle rising tide
Some 38 per cent of all schools in Scotland are officially deemed rural – meaning they are in a settlement of fewer than 3,000 people – with 51 per cent of those in the Northern Alliance area.
Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE) papers, published this week by the Scottish government, highlighted an “increasing challenge” to recruit and retain staff in rural areas, with some schools being forced to close.
Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association and a member of the Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE) said the postings could last for up to two years.
Mr Searson said: “There has been discussion along the lines of everyone doing their probationary period, which could be longer than one year, having to spend at least a year or two years in a rural setting.
“They would gain experience of having to be in a small school where they would be expected to have to do far more than they would in a larger school.
“It would be beneficial to them because it would give them more opportunities.”
Mr Searson, in his comments to The Herald newspaper, added that the idea was not necessarily a “golden bullet”, but it would make a big difference to rural school staff shortages because once staff are in post they often stay.
He said: “We know that if people do go to a rural setting there is a big chance they won’t come back.”
The long-running "preference-waiver" scheme – whereby probationer teachers are given financial incentives to give up any say over where they are posted for their probation year – already exists to plug staffing gaps in rural schools, although the numbers which sign up are relatively low.
In one example in the papers published this week, shortages were said to have led to the mothballing of Longhaven School, in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire.
The papers also said there should be more emphasis on professional development for rural teachers. They recommended more online training, given that island teachers taking time off for courses could lead to schools being closed for up to three days.
North-east Scotland Conservative MSP Peter Chapman said: "More school closures could follow unless chronic teacher-recruitment issues are solved.
“That will require the government to do more to work with education authorities to attract more teachers to some of the most beautiful parts of the country.”