Latest survey reveals worst drought for four years

20th August 2010 at 01:00
It's hard enough for this year's crop of new teachers to get a foothold on the professional ladder - but those who qualified in the past few years face headteacher prejudice and can't even apply for some jobs

The figures compiled by The TESS from its annual survey of local authorities have shown a decline in the number of new teachers finding permanent contracts from about one in three four years ago to one in nine this year.

Employment prospects have been hit by the "credit crunch" and its knock-on effect on local authority budgets. But some have suggested that the roots of the jobs' famine lie closer to home.

Ian Fraser, former director of education at Inverclyde Council, commented: "If you look back now, it's obvious that somewhere along the line, the workforce planning projections were erroneous. That does not just apply to this year but for the previous six years, really for as long as the teacher induction scheme has been in place."

The probationary scheme was based on various assumptions, all of which have failed to materialise, he claims. Chief among these was that the same level of funding in authorities would continue. "Even from the first year, that was not going to be the case, as education authorities were talking even then about having to make hard decisions about how to spend their money," Mr Fraser said.

In addition, money supposed to be in place for class size reductions and P1-3 free school meals never materialised, and older teachers did not retire in the numbers expected.

Mr Fraser added: "We have ended up now with young people who are well trained and well prepared, able to do all the things you could want of a modern teacher. But we are training these people to go to work in private education or abroad and that's shameful."

It is difficult to quantify the number of Scottish-trained teachers moving abroad to find work although there is some evidence of a growing exodus. The General Teaching Council for England's most recent figures show that the number of Scots-trained teachers being registered to teach south of the border rose sharply from 248 in 2008 to 307 in 2009, having remained around the 250-mark in previous years.

But none of the figures show the fate of the new teachers who have qualified in the past two to five years and failed to secure a permanent job.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, argues the Government should be treating them as a distinctive group.

"We need to sustain all the probationers and post-probationers from the past four to five years in a more permanent way," he said.

He acknowledges that headteachers may wrongly be favouring the immediate post-probationer. "If you have someone who is very good and they are very recent, you will be inclined to employ them rather than an outside applicant whom you don't know. Plus, there is a residual feeling that if someone hasn't already got a job, they couldn't have been that good.

"The trouble is that is making a wrong assumption - a lot depends on where someone has been living."

Mr Cunningham's perception is echoed by Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association: "I know of teachers in areas like Aberdeenshire who are in their second or third year of supply. They have done their probation and two years of teaching but are still getting temporary not permanent posts.

"Many of them are finding that, when their temporary contracts come to an end, their jobs are being given to probationers as training posts. And when they do get to the interview stage, jobs are going to those who have just finished their probation."

Ms Ballinger continued: "The longer you are without a permanent post, the more difficult it is. And the longer you're away from probation, the less time is spent in school and the fewer of the buzz-words you know which also makes it more difficult."

But Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, attributes part of the problem to restrictive employment practices operated by some authorities, who only advertise new jobs to teachers already on their books.

The underlying issue, however, is the scarcity of jobs, he insists.

Mr Smith advocates two devices to "lock in" funding to staffing levels - the delivery of class size commitments and the creation of defined staffing standards for schools.

Leader p22


Rebekah Stackhouse

Rebekah is not doing the job she trained for, but she still feels lucky.

In 2007, colleagues talked in glowing terms to The TESS about how well Rebekah had done in her probation year at St Serf's Primary in High Valleyfield, Fife, where she had ended up after ticking the preference- waiver box.

She did enough to gain a year's temporary contract at Masterton Primary in Dunfermline, which finished in summer 2008, but despite applying for 20-30 jobs, she could not find anything afterwards.

Originally from Blairgowrie, she now lives in Edinburgh; personal ties mean she does not want to work too far away from the capital.

She had a couple of interviews, but even in 2007, when the picture was not as grim as today "an awful lot of people" seemed to be going through the job-hunting process.

Then, while scouring the advertisements for teaching jobs in The TESS, she spotted an education officer's post at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and decided to try a sideways step.

Two years on, the 26-year-old extols the positives: it is great to see continuing professional development "from the outside in", to work with children outdoors, and to see Curriculum for Excellence coming to life.

But she would still like to go back into teaching one day and misses working directly with children every day.

Helen Petrie

Helen has been on the Moray supply list since becoming a fully-fledged teacher in 2008.

She started off with three days a week that she could count on and had full-time hours at one stage - but as the new term starts, she faces the "demoralising" situation of having no work lined up. If she does not get anything in the next couple of weeks, she will reluctantly sign on for Jobseekers' Allowance: "There are bills to be paid."

Helen, 31, who lives near Buckie, plans to visit schools to remind secretaries that she is around; work tends to go to well-known faces.

"They're great schools around here. I'd really like to be part of the community - it's just getting your foot through the door."

She was given the impression at Aberdeen University, where she finished her postgraduate diploma in 2006, that a lot of teachers were on the point of retiring, but finds it entirely understandable in these hard times that many have had second thoughts.

Helen has applied for at least 20 jobs, but has, at times, been competing with 200 applicants.

With strong family roots in Moray, she is reluctant to move, but is finally accepting that she may have no other choice - and may even consider looking in England. But she cannot think of anything she would rather do than teaching.

She got into teaching after working as a care assistant to fund an undergraduate psychology degree, seeing the satisfaction to be drawn from helping others.

"It's a really dire situation, but you stay positive and hope things will sort themselves out."

Tom Brown*

Tom decided to leave his job as a retail manager and train as a teacher when he was in his mid-30s so that he could earn a reasonable wage and do a job he could feel proud of. But four years after qualifying as a history teacher, he has yet to find a permanent post in spite of moving outside the central belt to a small rural authority in his search for work.

"Jobs still don't come up that often here, but they do come up. I've been for half a dozen or so, but in every job I've applied for, the probationer who has just finished working in the department has got the job. Some of those probationers might have been better than me, but not all of them. I've got more experience and I've got glowing reports. It's not that I'm just not good - I'm a good teacher; I know I'm capable; I have good references and the results I brought in last year were very good."

A series of temporary contracts has kept the wolf from the door - Tom is now in his early 40s and married with two boys under five. This year, he will go back to supply teaching but if a permanent post continues to elude him the family may move abroad, he says.

* Tom Brown is a pseudonym.

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