2nd January 2009 at 00:00

One has to be careful not to be ageist, the Education Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, was keen to point out at the Parliament's education committee meeting before recess (after all, you never know when the pesky human rights commissioner is going to poke his goody-two-shoes nose in and say you are doing something that violates the smelly European Convention on Human Rights).

But teacher workforce planning is complicated and old wrinklies aren't making it any easier.

First, there were those due to retire - about 25,000 over the next four year - but who hadn't retired yet. The Education Secretary had heard the rumours that the credit crunch was putting them off reaching for pipe and slippers; instead, they were clinging to their jobs like limpets, throwing doubts on the Government's calculations for the number of new teachers needed.

This new reluctance to leave was only anecdotal, said Ms Hyslop. But she would be monitoring the situation, she assured MSPs. It sounded ominous. Perhaps such teachers would be wise to sleep with one eye open, or hire a burly minder. However, stalwarts could be equally troublesome when drawing a pension, it transpired. Retired teachers were clogging up supply lists, stealing work from the CVs of babes.

In this case, Ms Hyslop had stumbled on a humane way to stop the geriatric pests: permanent supply pools. These would give more security to new teachers awaiting permanent posts; meanwhile, retired teachers would struggle to participate without jeopardising their pensions. Ha!

Another thorn in Ms Hyslop's side when trying to workforce plan - "local authorities, especially the big ones" - may prove trickier to deal with. They have a nasty habit of projecting one thing and then employing another. Glasgow, for instance, which, like all authorities, is supposed to be maintaining teacher numbers, had cut 240 posts, she moaned. If Glasgow had not reneged on the deal, virtually all 275 teachers claiming jobseekers allowance could, in theory, be in employment, she continued.

Usually, the cabinet secretary is happy to single out Glasgow and stick the knife in (it is Labour-led, after all). But Aberdeen, Perth and Kinross and Edinburgh are now in her sights.

Happy New Year!

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