Golden hello draws new teachers to countryside
A record number of teachers have been tempted to serve their probationary year in rural and remote parts of Scotland by a financial incentive - but many also hope that their flexibility will offer them an advantage in a shrinking jobs market.
A total of 481 teachers chose the "preference waiver", up from the previous record of 427 last year, spread across secondary (290) and primary (191).
Interest in the waiver, which offers a payment of pound;6,000-pound;8,000 for agreeing to spend the induction year in any part of Scotland, has increased in line with teacher unemployment - it reached a six-year high this summer.
In 2004-05, the first year of the scheme, just 20 probationers signed up, when the bonus payment was pound;4,000. This year, that number of waiver probationers is exceeded in the Borders alone, where they make up 26 out of 60 probationers.
"The scheme has certainly been worthwhile for the Borders," said Helen Ross, the authority's east schools manager.
It has been healthy to have a mix of newly-qualified teachers from a variety of universities and parts of Scotland, and particularly useful for subjects with shortages of specialists.
Most Orkney preference-waiver probationers, no matter their geographical roots, try to extend their stay at the end of their induction year, said assistant education director Marilyn Richards.
Orkney had gained many good young teachers through the scheme and secondary schools have benefited most: this year, five out of seven secondary probationers arrived through the waiver.
Waiver students tended to be full of enthusiasm and have a "can-do" attitude, said Mrs Richards - a particularly welcome boon for the authority in a time of budget restrictions.
There has been a big shift in attitudes, believes Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association. Four or five years ago, teachers in the central belt were very reluctant to go for jobs further afield; now they were applying for posts wherever they could find them, and thinking little of making long round trips for work every day. She knew of a supply teacher making an 80-mile return journey.
Ms Ballinger warned that while the waiver scheme had worked well - albeit not for older teachers with families, who could not relocate easily - and did offer a greater chance of work beyond the induction year, probationers' posts were often filled by another probationer the following year.
There is still a need for the scheme even if there is a greater willingness among new teachers to relocate, believes John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland. There were still considerably fewer people applying for jobs in the more remote or geographically- dispersed authorities (see panel) such as the Borders, he stressed.
The Scottish Government is "pleased" with the increase in probationers prepared to move anywhere in Scotland for work, as this helped more remote authorities place teachers in otherwise hard-to-fill posts. A spokesman said there was no threat to the scheme's future.
An average of 17 people applied for every teaching vacancy in Scotland in 2009-10, according to figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats under the Freedom of Information Act.
There is a wide disparity between the figures in different authorities: an average of 49 people applied for each teaching post in Stirling, while Midlothian (47) and South Ayrshire (41) were not far behind.
But in Shetland there were only three applicants for each job, with similar figures for Dumfries and Galloway (four), Orkney (five) and the Western Isles (five).
The knowledge that moving away from Glasgow might offer a better chance of long-term work was a "big factor" in Melanie Logan ticking the waiver box. Yet, as far as she knows, the probationer at Burgh Primary in Galashiels was the only student in her Strathclyde University tutorial group of 20 who did so.
The money and change of scenery also appealed, but as luck would have it she hails from the Borders and has moved in with her mother in Galashiels. The 27-year-old is enjoying working with a P34 class of 19, having experienced behaviour issues during placements in and around Glasgow with classes of up to 32. The only downside is being away from her partner in Glasgow.
Becky Duffield, 22, from Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire, is a probationer at Eyemouth Primary in the Borders. She grew up, studied and did placements in the north-east, and felt it was time for "a bit of an adventure". That and the pound;6,000 waiver payment for primary teachers (secondary teachers receive pound;8,000) were the big incentives, although she hopes her willingness to take a chance will impress potential employers.
Her school is more than four hours from her home town by car. But the experience has been good, with lots of support from Scottish Borders Council and school colleagues, and she would consider staying in the area.
Kathryn Walker, a 28-year-old drama teacher from Kilmarnock, working at Kirkwall Grammar in Orkney, said: "In the current climate, if you show you're more flexible you'll maybe have more chance of getting something."
Having done her postgraduate year at Aberdeen University, studied at Hull University and worked as an entertainer in Wales, she had no compunction about travelling afar. Drama tended to be stronger in east of Scotland schools in any case, so she had always been prepared for leaving Ayrshire behind.
She is enjoying Kirkwall Grammar, where she finds pupils better-mannered than in city schools, and would like to stay beyond her probationary year.
Henry Hepburn email@example.com.
- Original headline: Golden hello draws new teachers to the countryside