Lifeline for new teachers
The Education Secretary's attempts this week to solve the probationer unemployment crisis through funding a "teacher refresh" package were rebuffed by local authorities, who accused her of riding roughshod over their wishes.
Fiona Hyslop said she was granting councils a pound;10 million borrowing facility over the next two years to support the upfront costs of allowing up to 500 teachers a year to take early retirement - but on condition that they recruit the same number of new teachers in their place.
Linked to the package are the development of a new online resource to help unemployed teachers maintain and develop their skills under Curriculum for Excellence. It will also provide fresh guidance for local authorities on the need to provide supply teachers with continuing professional development.
Ms Hyslop said the package of measures was designed to support teachers and help as many new teachers as possible into jobs. "I fully expect to see new teachers being employed this financial year as a result of this announcement," she said.
But the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities described the announcement as "only partially thought through" and "not what councils want or need". It says nearly three-quarters of its members oppose the scheme.
Pat Watters, Cosla's president, said Ms Hyslop was wrong to call it a Scottish Government scheme, as it was putting no resource into it whatsoever. "This is local government money with Westminster approval," he said.
Cosla also believes the scheme runs counter to the principles of the concordat between local and national government, which removed ring-fenced funding and gave councils more freedom in how they spend their grant settlement.
But John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said Ms Hyslop's approach was right at a time when direct action by local and national government was required to tackle a very specific issue.
He also praised the Government's attempts to link a "teacher refresh" scheme with CPD related to Curriculum for Excellence.
Councillor Watters argued, however, that the scheme was not the best use of limited resources. "This is a quick fix and, as is often the case, a quick fix will not solve what is a fundamental problem," he said.
Ms Hyslop countered, however, that local authorities had been resourced, under the concordat, to maintain teacher numbers at 2007 levels. She told The TESS: "We know from last year's experience that councils have not done that. We feel there is a responsibility on councils and government to do everything we can to ensure that newly-qualified teachers can obtain employment."
It was not Cosla which employed teachers but individual councils, Ms Hyslop pointed out. In talks with local authorities over the summer, she had encountered considerable interest in the Government supporting this kind of scheme.
The fact that the scheme was linked to a borrowing facility which required Scottish Government approval meant that it could insist that councils replace a retired teacher with a new one, she added. This would not have been possible if it had given direct cash funding.
Cosla said it had surveyed its members late last week about the scheme and received very swift responses from 26 out of its 32 members, 23 of whom opposed it.
"It seems the Cabinet Secretary is only interested in consultation when it delivers the answer she wants," said Councillor Watters.
"There is simply no way that the Cabinet Secretary can know how many teachers would leave under this scheme - yet her news release screams 500.
"It is councils who deal with teacher employment and, quite rightly, local circumstances will dictate the mix of experienced and less experienced teachers in each area. It will then be for councils to determine the amount of experience they can afford to lose and replace. We needed a scheme that reflected this requirement for flexibility."
Cosla said the announcement also ran counter to the recommendations in the report by Sir John Arbuthnott this week into how the eight councils in the Clyde Valley area could integrate their services, including education (p4).
Des McNulty, Labour's education spokesman, accused the Education Secretary of "panic measures" in reaction to the next teacher census figures, due to be published today, which he predicted would show an even bigger drop than last year's, when there was a decrease of 1,000.
A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland warned: "If the Scottish Government hopes to achieve this purely by allowing local authorities to borrow money, then they are likely to be disappointed.
"In the current economic climate, very few - if any - councils are in a position to borrow against future budgets. While the Scottish Government will argue that local authorities have already been funded sufficiently to allow teacher numbers to be maintained, the reality is that the Government has failed to prevent councils cutting teaching posts across Scotland.
"More firm financial support is needed from government to allow local authorities to fund teacher retirements and to open up posts for new teachers."