'What price target-setting when we cannot staff our schools? It's teachers who make the difference'
PRIMARY HEADS are the latest group to warn that they cannot recruit supply teachers. Their concerns will fuel fears about a staffing crisis that is unlikely to be relieved by the commitment of the new Scottish executive to employ an extra 1,000 teachers.
As the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition last weekend pledged to employ an additional 500 teachers on top of existing pledges, primary heads at their annual conference in Dunblane called for swift action to ease recruitment difficulties.
Leaders of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland revealed that one class in a west of Scotland primary has since last August experienced more than 30 changes of teacher because the head cannot find permanent cover.
Many are being forced back into the classroom to cover. One Glasgow head was reported to be teaching for 42 consecutive days, despite the accepted view that effective management is increasingly vital to a school's success.
A succession of heads said it was impossible to fill short-term and long-term vacancies from supply lists, especially after the October break.
"What price target-setting when we cannot staff our schools? It's teachers who make the difference and it's teachers we need," Alison Rafferty, St Patrick's primary, New Stevenston, Motherwell, said. "If the Scottish Office and local authorities are serious about raising standards, they need to look at supply."
Roddy Clark, Kirkshaws primary, Coatbridge, said: "Heads cannot do their job because they are busy doing somebody else's. We have a teacher shortage and we are finding it increasingly difficult to get supply teachers.
"Long-term supply is time-consuming and difficult to arrange and short-term supply is almost impossible unless you know someone. We are being forced through circumstance to use teachers we might not otherwise use in class."
Mr Clark said many newly qualified teachers were driven into other careers by financial pressures. Intakes to teacher training had to be increased substantially and local authorities had to do more than provide "a shoulder to cry on".
Mrs Rafferty said that some supply staff would choose which days of the week to work and others quickly left after failing to cope. Heads also decided some were not good enough. The profession had the highest levels of absence in the public sector, forcing heads to repeatedly cancel development days.
Brenda Williams, depute head at Netherlee primary, East Renfrewshire, said school staff had to spend hours on the telephone chasing supply teachers.
John Nethercott, Aviemore primary, said it was common to see three different supply teachers in a class over a couple of weeks. Alice Quinn, St Helen's primary, Cumbernauld, accused the press of continually talking down teaching. "We have an excellent system but people are being dissuaded from coming into the profession," Mrs Quinn said.
Rena Mitchell, Forth primary, South Lanarkshire, outgoing AHTS president, said the proposed cut in non-class contact time, part of the outline deal on pay and conditions, would raise anxieties. "How many heads have looked at the staffing implications? There will have to be a big increase in primary schools."