Figures released today by TESS show the first upturn in probationer employment in five years - but still only 16 per cent have found permanent jobs.
The first annual survey of probationer employment carried out by TESS in 2007 found that 32 per cent had secured permanent posts at the start of their first year of teaching. Last year, the lowest point of the survey, showed that only 12 per cent had done so.
The Scottish Government is taking credit for the upturn, having pressurised universities to slash numbers on postgraduate teaching courses and given councils additional money to increase teacher jobs.
But the picture remains gloomy for many: four years ago there was an angry reaction to the finding that only a third of new teachers had found permanent work; this year's figure is not even half that.
The 29 authorities who replied this year - Dundee, South Ayrshire and Stirling said they were unable to do so - had 2,622 probationers, but have given permanent posts to only 407.
Most 2010-11 probationers are taking temporary posts or hoping to eke out a living on supply lists: 667 (25 per cent) have been offered temporary contracts, while 917 (35 per cent) have made it onto the supply list this year.
This compares with 15 per cent finding temporary work last year and 39 per cent being added to the supply list. In the first year of the TESS survey, only 3 per cent of new teachers were on supply lists.
Education Secretary Michael Russell said the TESS figures showed that 76 per cent of post-probationers were employed this year, which he described as a "good improvement". That, however, includes the 35 per cent of post- probationers who have been placed on supply lists, which does not necessarily guarantee them work over the year.
Mr Russell added: "This is far from the final picture but I'm pleased that these figures show real progress in reducing teacher unemployment and I look forward to seeing the census figures (in September) which should confirm that local authorities have indeed met their side of the agreement."
A number of councils stressed in their responses to TESS that they expected to recruit additional teachers in the coming weeks and even months.
Although 1,800 extra jobs were to be provided through this year's agreement struck by the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, many of those have gone to the large number of teachers who qualified in previous years and could not find permanent work.
Half the councils told TESS that they gave the majority of their jobs to new post-probationers (61 per cent) but the rest went to a mix of relatively new teachers, experienced teachers and compulsory transfers.
With 2011-12 local authority budgets expected to be even tighter than the past year's, the yawning gap between numbers of teaching posts and jobless teachers still appears some way from being bridged.
"The good news seems to be that permanent and temporary posts have increased significantly since last year," said John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.
"However, councils are trying to achieve a very challenging balancing act: creating and maintaining vacancies on the one hand, while anticipating significant budget reductions within nine months. In these circumstances, it is difficult to take a long-term view or to act strategically."
The shoots of recovery for the latest batch of post-probationers will provide some solace to the profession, in what has been its most tumultuous year in Scotland for more than a decade.
Local authorities have been under huge political pressure to tackle teacher unemployment, a problem which Education Secretary Michael Russell admitted last year kept him awake at night.
In the agreement struck between Finance Secretary John Swinney and the local authority umbrella body Cosla in November, councils were given an additional pound;15 million in exchange for jobs being available for all probationer teachers to apply for; the maintenance of P1-3 pupil-teacher ratios; the creation of a new pound;5m early years fund; and support for implementation of Curriculum for Excellence.
That tranche of pound;15m has been distributed to councils to help them boost teacher employment. But a further pound;15m, which effectively clinched the national teachers' agreement at the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers in April, will not arrive in council coffers until next April, when it will be backdated. That second tranche paid for a better deal to be hammered out on teachers' sick pay and reduced from eight to five days the length of time that short-term supply teachers would be paid on only Point 1 of the salary scale.
The wording of the SNCT deal, however, is crucial: councils agreed to undertake to protect the number of teacher posts as far as possible in order to secure "sufficient teaching posts available for all probationers to apply for who achieve Standard for Full Registration in summer 2011 (i.e. successfully complete their probation)".
That phrase has been misinterpreted by a number of first-year post- probationers, says Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the EIS union - a fault he lays in part at the door of Cosla, who referred in publicity material, just before the revised agreement was signed, to every probationer getting a job.
"The understanding was that there would be a number of vacancies equal to the number of probationers, but that these were not reserved exclusively for those currently on probation who would be coming out in June," said Mr Smith.
Reserving jobs for immediate post-probationers would have breached employment laws on discrimination grounds, argue education directors and the EIS.
Mr Smith believes there has been some "looseness of language" on the part of a Government trying to "ride two horses at the same time" - seeking to create the impression that every probationer would get a job, while at the same time looking at a different audience of new teachers who have qualified in the past two, three or even four years.
As part of the SNCT agreement, the Government, Cosla and teachers' side also agreed on a target number of at least 51,131 teachers in employment - to be measured in the September census.
Failure to meet that target will result in penalties being applied - a reduction of pound;40,000 for every full-time equivalent teacher below 51,131 or a return to the previous SNCT agreement.
The 51,131 figure allows for an estimated overall loss of 800 teachers through retirement, natural wastage and so on. Councils have not been given individual targets for teacher recruitment, however, and it is likely that some will be hoping that authorities with rising pupil rolls will compensate for others with a falling pupil population.
There is a further tranche of pound;37.6m which education directors hope will help them boost teacher employment - the amount normally allocated to them by the Government to pay for the additional costs associated with chartered teachers and to pay for probationers on their induction year.
The coming year will see a significant drop in the number of probationers coming out of university, and a consequent reduction in costs, but education directors hope the pound;37.6m will remain intact and allow them further scope to maintain jobs or even create additional ones.
As part of its current survey, TESS asked additional questions this year, relating to the SNCT deal and this year's teacher employment target, including how many immediate post-probationers had been employed this year, compared with other teachers, and whether they gave jobs purely to their own probationers.
One senior education manager said his criteria for allocating jobs were, in descending order: compulsory transfers; teachers who had gained permanency through two years' continuous employment; and merit.
Glasgow City Council said it had taken on only teachers who did their probation in Glasgow or were already working for the authority.
Asked whether the additional Government money had been sufficient, responses varied:
- East Lothian: "Although additional funding is always welcome, the current economic climate continues to challenge us in relation to having sufficient financial resources available to meet our staffing requirements."
- Orkney: "We were surprised at how many posts became vacant as we reduced the numbers of posts overall, in line with reducing rolls. The additional money from Scottish Government was welcome and created 3.5 posts that otherwise wouldn't have existed."
- East Ayrshire: "The allocation of the additional Government funding as agreed in 2010-11 should be sufficient to compensate for the cost of these additional posts."
- West Lothian: "To date, yes (the money is sufficient). However, we await clarification of the distribution of the outstanding balance of the probationer funding, some pound;14m (Government figure is pound;15m). Once confirmed, this will be applied in full to probationer teachers."
- Dumfries and Galloway: "Additional funding through the local government settlement provided a significant support to our teacher refresh scheme."
- Moray: "The funding is there - discussions required at council level as to how it couldshould be used."
A TALE OF TWO COUNCILS: BALANCING THE WORKFORCE AGAINST CHANGING school ROLLS
Argyll and Bute
Argyll and Bute hit the headlines this year for its plans - currently in abeyance - to close a third of its primary schools. One of the drivers was the need to cut its budget - but the other was the problem of falling pupil rolls, particularly in certain rural areas.
In 1975, its primary school population was 8,093 spread across 93 schools; in 1996, there were 7,809 pupils in 88 primaries; in 2010-11, the school roll had fallen to 5,808 in 80 schools - a decline of 28 per cent over 35 years. According to the General Register Office for Scotland, the primary school-aged population in Argyll and Bute is expected to drop by 14.07 per cent between 2008 and 2020.
Against this backdrop, how easy is it for the authority to give jobs to probationers entering the jobs market?
Carol Walker, head of education, reports that Argyll and Bute had 22 probationers last year and this year. The authority is giving a mix of permanent and temporary contracts to 12, five of whom did their probation year in another authority.
Argyll and Bute tries to support its probationers as well as it can, she says - and if a vacancy arises within a probationer's school, the probationer is automatically given an interview for the job.
But she admits that there are "an awful lot of places within Argyll and Bute that young people just don't want to go to".
The council often has to persuade young teachers to go to places like Islay, Campbeltown and other rural areas - but once there, they love it and want to stay on.
Argyll and Bute also has a high demand for Gaelic medium teachers, but often finds itself in competition with the central belt, where Gaelic medium education is increasingly popular with families.
The council has to keep its staffing and projected rolls closely aligned and relies on headteachers to keep it informed of potential changes to pupil roll.
"The only area where there is an increase is Helensburgh - everywhere else, pupil rolls are declining. Staffing standards are adhered to very carefully. That means we may need to move surplus staff into other areas before we start looking at probationers for each teaching position. We want to encourage young people to stay with us as far as possible," she adds.
West Lothian, in easy commuting distance of Edinburgh, has the opposite problem to many authorities - its pupil roll continues to rise.
The authority had 6,275 pupils in P1-3 alone at the start of the 2010-11 session; this year (2011-12) should see 6,407 pupils in the first three years of primary. In total, primary rolls from P1-7 are expected to increase by just under 200.
Bathgate and Armadale, areas of major new-build housing development, see particular pressure on school rolls.
A spokeswoman for the council acknowledges that the demographics can put pressure on the numbers of pupils in individual classes.
"We therefore enhance staffing in schools in areas of relative deprivation to achieve a class-committed teacher ratio of one to 18 for P1-3," she added.
From 34.6 per cent of P1-3 pupils being in classes of 18 a few years ago, West Lothian expects to achieve a level of 40 per cent this session.
Figures like these mean that the authority continues to request probationers over and above its quota.
This year, it has offered 99 temporary posts to teachers who finished their probation in West Lothian schools last year - 60 in primary and 39 in secondary. A further 150 temporary contracts have been renewed, 95 of them for post-post-probationers, i.e. those who completed their probation in summer 2010.
"The intention is to offer permanent contracts during the academic year wherever possible and certainly in relation to key subject areas," says the council.
Original headline: Probationer jobs rise, but 84% still without permanent posts