Many needed, few feel called

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
AMONG the many problems facing education in Scotland (vested interests, reactionary 19th century unions) there remains a major one of whether there will actually be enough secondary teachers to go round in about 10 years' time. There was a time when additional payments had to be made to get teachers to go to certain schools. Councils even paid the bus fares to get them there, and pupils were on four-day weeks. It looks like these days could soon be with us again.

A few years ago I worked out the age distribution of the science teachers in the authority for which I then worked. It turned out that over two-thirds were aged 40 plus then; so it means that roughly the same fraction are now over 45. There were virtually no teachers in their 30's and a handful in their 20's. I managed to obtain the global picture for England and Wales and found their distribution much the same; so I have no reason to suppose that Scotland is any different.

Given that there are about 20,000 secondary teachers in Scotland, within a few years the Executive will have to find and retain something like 1,000 new secondary teachers each year for the foreseeable future. This was another non-financial reason why early retirement was curtailed. Recentlythere has been talk of allowing 5,000 burnt-out teachers to retire early and no doubt many hopes have been raised. But this begs the question of where the replacements will come from.

Unfortunately for education the economy is doing well at present and at such times teaching does not look too attractive other than for the committed few. It was a hard enough job in times when there were permanent contracts, rising rolls and a large number of reasonably new schools that were drugs free. But now, in a time when companies offer all sorts of incentives to retain good staff, one must ask how will new entrants be attracted into and retained in the job? The answer is "with some difficulty".

With a few notable and praiseworthy exceptions, the fabric of too many schools simply does not match the workplace environment of other similar forms of employment. Study after study shows that, once above a certain salary level, if you want to motivate a workforce you pay attention to what are known as the "comfort factors". These are things like decor, decent furniture, blinds that work and a lack of petty restrictions - and all this was years before anybody had heard of feng shui.

Wilson Flood

Rowanbank Road, Dumfries


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