Break for the Border

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Su Clark examines the teacher shortage in Scotland and the carrots for new recruits

With jobs scarce in England, thousands of graduate teachers are chasing fewer and fewer posts and only the most challenging schools and the most deprived areas struggle to find recruits.

But in Scotland, often perceived as cold and bleak, there is a sunnier future for new graduates. Over the next few years demand for teachers will increase.

The bonanza is due to radical changes to the profession following the McCrone Report, published in May 2000, which looked at teachers' pay and conditions. McCrone proposed teachers' working hours be restricted to 35 a week, with class contact time reduced to 25 hours in primary schools and 23.5 in secondary schools. Even better, by August 2006 contact time in both systems will drop again to 22.5.

Emily Connell, who trained and taught in Durham before working in Scotland, reckons this is one of the best benefits of moving north. "When I was teaching in County Durham, I'd only have one or two free periods a week. It was really stressful," she says.

This extra non-contact time means Scotland needs to recruit more teachers - 2,000 over two years, and the Scottish Executive is looking to England to fill some of that need. In January it launched a pound;250,000 advertising campaign, flagging up the inducements to working in the North.

"The Scottish Executive is committed to increasing the number of teachers to 53,000 by 2007 and to reduce class sizes in primary one and S1 secondary classes in English and maths," says a spokesman.

Qualified teachers may find the transfer smooth, but graduate probation is treated differently. While English graduates struggle to get NQT posts, Scottish graduates are guaranteed a job for their probationary year.

For students who don't get a post in one of their five preferred authorities there is a one-off sweetener of pound;6,000, paid in three instalments. Beware; you could end up in the middle of nowhere or at one of the more challenging schools that the Scots don't want to touch.

"The greatest number of vacancies is usually in the Highlands and Islands," says Professor Ian Mentor, chair of teacher education at Glasgow University.

David Bowman, head at Sgoil a'Chaisteil (Castlebay community school) on the Isle of Barra has personal experience of trying to recruit.

He is searching for a PE teacher, music teacher and 0.6 of an art teacher.

"The problem is finding jobs for the partners," says Mr Bowman, who would be willing to take on a probationer. "But for the teacher there are great benefits. In a school this size (200 pupils in P1 to S6) you are running a single teacher department and straight away you get a higher class."

The down sides are the weather and the distance from other amenities.

Probationer posts are not permanent, but it does take the sting out of getting into the profession. Those who trained in the South will not receive this boost, and the only way to find a job would be to watch the job pages or to write to the 32 local authorities.

Another incentive is that those graduates who do their probationary year in Scotland, which is also valid in England, will only have to work 70 per cent of the timetable, the rest is spent on personal development with an appointed mentor. Those in England may work more than 90 per cent of the timetable.

There is no playground duty or the compulsory 15 minutes of daily collective worship, which means Scotland has fewer assemblies. The curriculum is more flexible, with teachers freer to develop lesson plans.

"You don't have to stick with the literacy or numeracy hours, which makes the job more interesting," says Emma McLachlan, who recently returned to Scotland to teach at Bruntsfield primary, Edinburgh, after six years in London because she couldn't afford to buy a house.J Pay is on par with England, but house prices can be much lower. Starting salary for a probationer is pound;19,095 and qualified teachers can pick up pound;29,000 for an unpromoted post, while those on the islands get an allowance of pound;1,479.

Ms McLachlan and Ms Connell are satisfied with their moves. More importantly, Ms McLachlan has a house, while Ms Connell has bought a flat.

The horror of inspection is less in Scotland as it is based on generation cycles, soJa primary school is inspected every seven years (the length of time a child attends the school), and a secondary every five to six.

In England, the plan is to introduce inspection every three years from September.

Who can teach in Scotland?

To be a teacher in a state school in Scotland, you have to register with the General Teaching Council of Scotland, at a cost of pound;30. For new graduates, there is provisional registration, and it is possible, with the right documentation, to be accepted within a week, says GTCS.

But, as every applicant outside Scotland has to go through an Exceptional Admissions Procedure, it usually takes longer.

The GTCS wants to quicken the process, however it does have to wait for Disclosure (criminal record bureau equivalent), which can take several weeks or even months. The GTCS takes each application on its merits, but it reckons the process should be complete in two to three months. If you have a BEd or PGCE from England it shouldn't be too complicated. However, you must also hold a Standard grade or equivalent in maths and English. Primary teachers must also be able to demonstrate training across the age range, and possibly experience of teaching infants and juniors. Secondary school teachers must possess 80 Scot cat points, a credit system that considers degree content, within their specialist subject. There have also been problems for some qualifying under the employment-based graduate training programme, because of a lack of academic content, although the GTCS is adamant it would consider all qualified teachers.

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