Has Hyslop lost the plot?

12th September 2008 at 01:00

The Scottish Government is hell bent on marinating newly-qualified teachers in a solution of burgeoning bitterness and gall. The TESS survey (August 29) revealed that three-quarters of Scotland's probationer teachers did not get a permanent job this session - a travesty. Quite rightly, the editor did not apologise for returning to the subject of probationers in his comments, and neither do I for raising it yet again.

The statistics are shocking - only 770 out of 3,426 probationers have found permanent employment. No wonder it feels as if the Education Secretary has lost the plot.

NQTs are emerging from their initiation year feeling disillusioned and with their enthusiasm castrated as jobs melt like snow in June. Who is to blame? The aim of the NQT year is surely to ready the novice teacher for a full timetable by offering time to prepare, and providing other support mechanisms. It should be a temporary state with the intent of moving to a permanent position, but it has become a limbo land with little prospect of escaping from purgatory. Any lingering doubts that NQTs are supernumerary are nailed by these shocking figures.

Local authorities should hang their heads in shame. In some areas, the appointment of successive newly-qualified teachers prevents their predecessors from getting permanent jobs. NQTs, far from being supernumerary, are required to staff schools and departments during their probation. They go away, and the next lot move in, with authorities validating this cyclical process to the ultimate detriment of new teachers looking for jobs. Why, and how, do they get away with it?

It's in much the same way as they get away with allocating insufficient per capita to schools, not making sure that national assessment bank procedures are correctly adhered to, sometimes failing to provide proper specialist teachers for senior classes at secondary level - the list could go on ad nauseam.

Something is very rotten in the state of Denmark when it is impossible to recruit good-quality supply staff in some areas. Many schools call in supply teachers who are not up to the mark, because there is no one else available. Permanent teachers are on their knees having to cover classes for absent colleagues, and we have that absurd aspect of the McCrone deal which allows principal teachers to be stung for a limitless amount of cover.

Obviously, we need to progress from inane rhetoric about how every year thousands of teachers will either retire or leave the profession. Meanwhile, we turn out more and more NQTs who are increasingly cynical and demented about their career prospects. The Education Secretary should red card the local authorities who abuse the system. Name and shame, throw the flak at them.

We need to look for clever solutions. Why not make the over-55s an offer they cannot refuse? If some of them are willing to take early retirement, this will free up jobs for the NQTs and inject fresh new blood into schools. Some of the over-55s may choose to take on supply teaching, thus bringing experience and professionalism to that area.

We need some insight and intelligence in dealing with this serious problem. Otherwise, our new young teachers will disappear to other pastures, and I for one won't blame them. What a fiasco!

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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