Do numbers add up?

20th June 2008 at 01:00
Planning regime for newly-qualified teachers to be examined by new working group. Liz Buie reports

Planning regime for newly-qualified teachers to be examined by new working group. Liz Buie reports

A working group has been set up by Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, to explore whether too many new teachers are being trained for the number of jobs available.

It is the first official acknowledgement by the Scottish Government of growing concerns raised by teacher unions and the General Teaching Council for Scotland that new teachers are struggling to find jobs on completion of their probation.

Some education leaders have suggested that cuts by authorities in their staffing formulae and school budgets have led to a shortage of jobs.

Joe Di Paola, head of the employers' association in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, who is to lead the working group, said that education budgets would not form part of the group's remit.

Ms Hyslop said the remit was to "assess whether the current planning process inherited from the previous government is fit for purpose, taking into account relevant policy developments, while examining whether improvements can be made to maximise the compatibility between student numbers and employment opportunities for teachers".

She added: "It will also consider the impact of the teacher induction scheme and make recommendations for improvements in the process."

The group is expected to report back by early autumn.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "Although the latest GTCS employment survey shows that 92.7 per cent of probationers found employment - an increase of 5 per cent since last autumn - we are not complacent and want to ensure teacher workforce planning is robust."

Rhona Brankin, Labour's education spokeswoman, pointed out that the survey masked "a huge problem of probationers failing to get jobs", as only 1,100 teachers out of a possible 3,300 responded to it.

Statistics released this week by the Government showed that in February there were 607 vacancies advertised, down almost 13 per cent on last year. On June 2, its snapshot survey showed there were 3,445 probationers provisionally allocated to schools for next session; 86 per cent had been allocated to their first or second choice authorities.

A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland said the lack of permanent jobs opportunities following the probation year was "a very serious and growing problem for young teachers".

Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, described the workforce planning regime as "a weird mixture of guestimation, looking at a crystal ball and praying". He argued that the target of 53,000 teachers, set by the previous Executive, was correct. The problem was not one of an over-supply of teachers but the "inability of local authorities to employ them" because of lack of money.

A spokesman for East Renfrewshire Council said that, even with rising rolls, it would be able to keep on only nine of its 46 probationers this year. "We are very sorry we can't employ more," he said.

John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said the workforce planning exercise was predicated on all the policies on class sizes being implemented and there being sufficient budgets for councils to retain the same level of employment. "Even if pupil numbers have gone down, then we should have the right number of teachers - that's what the plans are trying to do," he said.

Nevertheless, it was getting more difficult for newly qualified teachers to find jobs, he said. "It's a mixed picture of some authorities not being able to find people and others where there are up to 100 applicants for a job."

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