'Broaden your horizons'

15th August 2008 at 01:00
Minister tells newly-qualified teachers they must be prepared to move to find a first job

Job prospects for new teachers have been described as "dire", "unimpressive" and "disheartening" by the latest group of entrants to the profession.

A welcome reception for them hosted by the General Teaching Council for Scotland last week, attended by around 60 teachers randomly selected from the 3,500 who completed their probation this year, was marred by tales of hundreds of teachers competing with each other for vacancies, and new recruits forced to leave Scotland in search of work.

In her address to the teachers, Maureen Watt, Minister for Schools and Skills, sought to reassure them. It was not in Scotland's interest to train too many teachers and have them "sit at home or leave the profession", she said.

Ms Watt continued: "In previous years, the GTCS surveys found that around 90 per cent of newly-qualified teachers were working in schools by October, so the prospects are at least as good in teaching as other professions."

But the minister urged the new recruits to broaden their horizons and be prepared to move to find work. "I can't promise you precisely the job in precisely the school you want, but I believe there is every reason to be optimistic even if you've no job at the start of term."

However, Matthew MacIver, the GTCS chief executive, told the new teachers he was "very worried" about the apparent lack of jobs and he welcomed the working group set up by Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, to explore whether too many teachers were being trained.

This was "good news for us in the education world, for successive new teachers and for those of you looking for permanent jobs".

He continued: "We have to make sure that newly-trained teachers find posts in the second as well as the first year of their careers. The health of this country depends on having a well- focused, trained and enthusiastic teaching profession."

Helen Petrie, 29, an Aberdeen University postgraduate who did her probation year at New Elgin Primary in Moray, is one of the teachers who has failed to land a permanent post. "There were about 25 of us from Aberdeen University who carried out our primary pro-bation in Moray and I don't know of anyone who has found a job," she said.

Ms Petrie is now "going down the supply route for the foreseeable future". The experience would be valuable, she acknowledged, but she was "a bit miffed" there were not more jobs available. "We were told there was a lot of retirement coming up in our area, but that has not seemed to materialise.

"Next session, New Elgin Primary is taking on another two probationers and a compulsory transfer," Ms Petrie said. "All the jobs seem to be getting soaked up by compulsory transfers and newly-qualified teachers."

Pauline Eddie, 53, a mother of two who became interested in teaching after working as a classroom assistant, has been applying for any job within commuting distance of her home, but with no success.

"A lot of people coming into teaching are mature students, so they are not in the position to up-root and live somewhere else," she said. "I've heard of 420 people applying for one job."

Twenty-five-year-old James Green, who served his probation at East Milton Primary in South Lanarkshire, does plan to up-root himself - to Qatar.

"I went for interviews and applied to schools in Shetland, South Lanarkshire and East Lothian, but I was unsuccessful," he said. "The job situation is dire. It is quite depressing when you have been working so hard and, at the end of it all, there are no jobs."

Russell Imrie, 27, was "relieved" when he secured maternity cover at Lenzie Academy in East Dunbartonshire, where he carried out his probation as a PE teacher.

"I had three interviews for jobs, but they all went to the probationers working in the schools," Mr Imrie said.

"There were roughly 44 in my class at Strathclyde University, and I know of only four or five who have got jobs."

Last week's GTCS event did throw up some success stories, however. When Perth and Kinross gave permanent contracts to five out of their 180 probationers, Randa Itani, 30, was one of them. It was the perfect end to a "wonderful" probation. Next term, she starts working at Dunbarney Primary in Bridge of Earn.

Similarly, it was a "massive weight" off Alison Adams's shoulders when the 24-year old got a job as an art and design teacher at St Mungo's High in Falkirk, where she carried out her probation. But she acknowledged she was "in the minority".

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