Peacock upbeat on probationer jobs

Ministers have promised newly qualified teachers that they will have almost 500 new jobs to apply for - while admitting to concerns that councils may divert the cash intended to make that happen.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, has confirmed the extra funding for more teaching jobs, first reported in The TES Scotland on June 23. At an event organised by the General Teaching Council for Scotland, Mr Peacock sought to reassure probationers who had just finished their induction year that their prospects were good. He said he had been able to persuade cabinet colleagues to release pound;14.5 million in June to pay for almost 500 new jobs.

But it has emerged that the minister's department has written to authorities warning them that priority must be given to the Scottish Executive's priorities of cutting class sizes to 25 in P1 and limiting S1-S2 English and maths classes to 20 pupils.

"Evidence will be required as to the employment effect additional funds have had, should auditors need access to confirm how the funds have been applied," Donald Henderson, head of the education department's teachers division, told directors of education and finance.

But Mr Henderson conceded that councils would have "a degree of flexibility in how the additional teachers are deployed".

The extra cash is on top of an extra pound;18 million the executive had already invested this year to train enough newcomers to meet its target of 53,000 teachers by 2007 - bringing the total to pound;32.5 million, equivalent to 1,250 new jobs.

Next year, the executive would be investing a further pound;44 million in creating jobs, Mr Peacock said. "We found flexibility in the budget before the end of the school term - an extra pound;14 million - so we can accelerate progress to cutting class sizes," he told new teachers. "You will see more jobs advertised."

His comments came as a survey of authorities by The TES Scotland at the end of last term showed that hundreds of probationers had still not been offered jobs for the following year. The problem appeared to be most acute in the central belt. One council, Renfrewshire, had employed none of its 70 probationers and the best it could offer was eight posts "in the near future".

By contrast, more rural authorities, which have traditionally struggled to fill vacancies and provide supply cover, were offering permanent posts to high numbers of probationers.

Mr Peacock told the new teachers: "This time of year for probationers is a very anxious time because people are searching for that permanent job in teaching. You come from a year when you have been guaranteed a year's job as a probationer. For a period you are not necessarily guaranteed a job in the place that you want or the time that you want.

"But I have checked and most people do get permanent or temporary contracts. I do recognise that uncertainty. It is no different from what it has been in previous years, but there are more of you. We are training more teachers than ever. We have clear priorities in mind: we want to cut class sizes, but as a consequence of that, there are more teachers coming into the system."

His comments were echoed by Matthew MacIver, chief executive of the GTC. Mr MacIver told the new teachers: "It upsets me when people criticise the new system because it is simply so much better. Your colleagues five years ago had to go through astonishing hoops. Over half of probationers then floated from school to school taking years and years to gain full registration because there were no full-time jobs.

"The Olympic champion was a primary teacher who had 132 primary jobs before getting full registration; in secondary, it was a chemistry teacher who taught in 66 separate departments."

Mr MacIver said: "We have improved the system quite immeasurably - an enormous amount of public investment is going into the induction system."

He added that each year there were scare stories about hundreds of probationers not getting jobs, but the actual evidence suggested otherwise.

The GTC's annual survey of probationers showed that, by September last year, 70 per cent of probationers had found permanent posts, 74 of them teaching in the same authority they had had their induction year in.

"That is an interestingly reassuring figure. It means that local authorities are taking their roles seriously.

"Nevertheless, some of you will end up on supply, and some will not have permanent posts and will cover long-term sickness and maternity. By the second year, most of you will be in permanent posts."

Mr MacIver urged the new intake not to be apologetic about being a teacher.

"Talk it up, speak it up in front of the staffroom cynics who will try and make you like them, and promote it to friends who will just talk about the long holidays," he said.

He added: "You have got to change the philosophy that the very people who tell young people not to become teachers are the teachers themselves."

Mr MacIver pointed out that teachers were not turning their backs on the profession - only 0.6 per cent were doing so.

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