New thinking on new blood

Neil Munro outlines plans to respond to the McCrone report's criticism of the way the system is letting down probationer teachers.

A SURVEY of probationers by the General Teaching Council for Scotland has shown that only

10 per cent are on short-term supply work. Two out of five are in permanent jobs while just under half are on long-term contracts.

But Aileen Purdon, the council's probation officer, cautioned a seminar for local authority probation managers last week that the true picture is not quite so rosy. The 530 probationers who took part from 16 education authorities covered in the survey had all attended council-run training sessions - from which those on short-term supply posts are likely to be absent.

A total of 9,000 teachers are provisionally registered with the GTC, although not all are actively seeking work in schools.

The McCrone report has given added impetus to the long-standing issue of new entrants to teaching starting their careers on supply work in a multiplicity of schools, calling such treatment "little short of scandalous".

The use of probationers in this way has grown, however, as the general shortage of supply teachers is reinforced by the increasing number of classes requiring cover because staff are on training courses. The McCrone report stated that this did not allow them time to get to know other staff or pupils and added:

"It is difficult to think of circumstances more likely to lead to discouragement and to new recruits leaving the profession for other jobs."

The Scottish Executive has already moved to improve the probationer's lot with pound;1 million earmarked for training and support. It has also set up a project to develp a new "standard for full registration" which will stress the importance of a quality induction for new teachers. The McCrone committee recommended that probationers should enjoy at least one year's stable employment, with a limit on the number of placements they undertook, and that they should not be used for "intermittent supply".

Jim McNally, development officer for the GTC-based project, agreed that stability and continuity are important for probationers. But he did not believe that the two years of induction had to be spent in a single school. Two or three schools could be managed successfully, Mr McNally said. He also called for new recruits to be given time to teach their own subjects and to have some "protected time" away from classes.

The new probationary standard is likely to build on the competences required for students on initial training, but Mr McNally said this was not as easy as it sounds since the challenges are different. Schools should in any case have "a structure of support" for probationers, but it should be kept simple and should not ignore the value of informal learning or the "wise counsel" of other teachers to which McCrone refers.

HELP IS ONLINE

THE isolation facing probationers scattered across schools in rural Scotland could be eased by information and communications technology, the seminar heard.

John McPhee, distance learning manager with Argyll and Bute education department, said his authority planned to set up a dedicated probationers' conference area through the council's ICT network, Argyll Online.

Video-conferencing will be used for face-to-face contact, avoiding the considerable costs of travel and accommodation.


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