A market that's all over the place

25th February 2011 at 00:00
Why do some recruitment ads attract hundreds of applicants while elsewhere particular skills shortages persist?

We begin a 4-page report on an exclusive TESS survey by examining the evidence.

Stick a pin in the centre of Scotland and you would not be far from Stirling - which may go some way to explaining why 411 teachers applied for a single unpromoted primary post there in the past six months.

In Orkney, meanwhile, the highest number of applicants for a similar post was 11.

A TESS survey of local authorities' teacher recruitment experiences - to which 31 out of 32 councils replied - offers a comprehensive picture of the difficulties in a harsh jobs market, and reveals what a postcode lottery it is.

We asked local authorities to state the highest and lowest number of applicants they had received for a primary teacher post over the past six months: the graph on this page (bottom left) illustrates the scale of competition for each new job.

Councils were also asked whether they advertised such jobs nationally or internally.

Six councils offer unpromoted primary classroom jobs only to those already working within their council.

A further 11 use a mixture of internal and national recruitment procedures, so some jobs are only advertised internally. It is a restrictive employment practice that lawyers for teacher union the EIS have scrutinised - but found no remedy in employment law.

The union is particularly concerned that teachers leaving probation are being discriminated against: they may have done their induction training in their fourth or fifth-choice authority, but could now be barred from applying for jobs coming up in authorities higher up their list of preferences.

Shortage subjects

The survey also sought to uncover whether some shortage areas still exist, where teachers might have a better chance of finding a job. Some of the results could have been predicted - Gaelic medium teachers, particularly in secondary, are notoriously hard to recruit, and home economics has long had a reputation for being a difficult area. But the shortage of science teachers - in particular, chemistry - came as a surprise (see map, left).

Most subject shortages will fluctuate from year to year. When, in 2003, the Scottish Executive introduced maximum class sizes of 20 pupils for S1 and S2 English and maths, the problem was finding enough maths graduates interested in teaching. Now that the cap has been lifted, the reverse is likely to be the case.

Another surprise is Mandarin. Scottish Government policy encourages schools to offer Mandarin, and teacher education institutions have trained up to six teachers a year. But cash-strapped schools have not recruited them in any number and it has been a struggle to find placements, leaving new teachers having to seek jobs in the independent sector or south of the border.

Anyone looking for a headteacher or depute head's post should have a better chance. Recruitment remains a persistent problem. Alistair Farquhar, head of educational services in Moray, had to advertise three times for a new headteacher for Keith Grammar, a smallish secondary of under 500 pupils. He also struggled to find enough good-quality applicants for depute head posts in large primaries in Elgin. But when he was looking for an unpromoted classroom teacher for New Elgin Primary, he received 200 applications.

Young teachers' hopes will be riding high, following the deal hammered out in November between Education Secretary Michael Russell and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The agreement is supposed to deliver 2,800 jobs - the same number as post-probationers entering the employment market in August. But anyone can apply for the jobs - and they could just be for one year.

Some councils will expect others to take a larger share, judging by Mr Farquhar's response. He says: "We are sitting with 32 probationers this year, but we won't be advertising 32 jobs. Teachers will have to be willing to go wherever the jobs are."

Supply and demand

The Government may set policies, but the concordat has left councils under no obligation to implement them. The P1-3 class size reductions promised by the SNP have not worked out in practice, leaving a surplus of trained primary teachers.

The Government's workforce planning group aims to have a 4 per cent margin so that there are enough teachers available for supply cover. In the past couple of years, however, the margin has been as high as 8 per cent, though ministers believe teacher unemployment is bottoming out in Scotland.

Workforce planners are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they don't train enough teachers, there will be difficulties in finding supply cover; train too many and there is an over-supply.

There have also been unforeseen factors. Tough budgets have forced councils to squeeze more teaching time out of school managers; and the high number of secondments out of school has ended, leaving fewer opportunities for vacancies.

Yet Government sources suggest that if we continue with the current number of teachers going into training, soon we will not have enough because more teachers are leaving each year than are going into the system.

"The numbers will have to go up again," said one source. "The clever bit is knowing when to put them up."

The inside track

Councils that advertise all unpromoted primary posts internally only

Dumfries and Galloway, Highland, North Lanarkshire, Perth and Kinross, South Lanarkshire, West Lothian

Councils that advertise some unpromoted primary posts internally only

Angus, Clackmannanshire, East Ayrshire, Falkirk, Fife, Glasgow, Orkney, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, Scottish Borders, Western Isles

Home economics shortage risks sending health and well-being up in smoke

Fifteen councils told TESS they had difficulty recruiting home economics teachers. It does not surprise Yvonne Dewhurst, who trains home economics teachers at Aberdeen University, or her counterpart Lesley Beaton at Strathclyde University.

Both lecturers have had headteachers phoning up on a regular basis asking if they know of any recently-qualified teachers in the subject who have not yet got a job. When they are unable to offer any names, the schools face the prospect of having to reduce the availability of the subject - at a time when health and well-being is right at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence.

The training route for home economics is not easy: only a limited number of degrees meet the PGDE entry requirements.

The BA in consumer studies at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, the BSc in food and consumer science at Abertay University in Dundee and the BSc in nutrition and dietetics at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen are about the only pathways into this postgraduate degree. Even then, students often have to do top-up courses, such as textiles at Cardonald College or professional cookery at the City of Glasgow College.

The fear is that high numbers of retirements in the next few years will exacerbate the shortage.

"Home economics is not just about food production and cooking skills - it's about that and a lot more," warns Mrs Dewhurst.

"If we do not address this continuing shortage, it will impact on one of the Government's five strategic objectives - the one that relates to improving health."



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