Supply staff crisis forces councils to look abroad

THE first council in Scotland has dipped its toe publicly in the waters of overseas recruitment in a bid to ease chronic shortages of supply teachers.

Scottish Borders agreed last week, despite union unease, to use the Timeplan teacher agency to lure Commonwealth teachers into its classrooms from August.

David Mallen, assistant director of education, reported: "Given the difficulties which we have experienced over the past two sessions in filling both temporary vacancies and those caused by long-term illness and maternity leave, it is necessary to consider augmenting the source of supply staff on which we can call."

Temporary staff would not necessarily be paid at the same rate as other teachers, an issue which concerns the unions, and would remain employees of Timeplan.

The London-based agency, which recruits 3,500 teachers to work in schools south of the border in an average year, vets its recruits and will run induction courses to ensure they are acquainted with developments such as Higher Still and 5-14. They also have tocomply with the "exceptional admissions" requirements of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Mr Mallen said heads would retain the right to reject staff if there were doubts about "competence or practice". Schools would be expected to use the agency only if no one else was available, particularly for longer term absences.

One other council has so far expressed interest, but Timeplan declined to name it.

A spokesman for Timeplan rebutted union fears that teaching quality might suffer. "It is not generally appreciated that teachers from countries such as Australia and New Zealand are often expected, though it is not compulsory, to have an 'overseas experience', what they call an 'OE', as part of their teaching preparation.

"This is considered to enrich their CVs. So it's not a case of recruiting people who cannot get a job in their own countries. You often get the very best people."

Timeplan says that callers to its overseas offices often ask whether there is any prospect of a posting to Scottish schools.

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