No way to start a career

12th March 2004 at 00:00
As recruitment plans are set out by the Executive, former probationer Jaye Richards warns that it will also have to persuade many to stay

What makes a teacher leave the job? It is a job, after all, that they have studied for many years to do, struggling with onerous family and financial commitments along the way, having left, in many cases, the security of a permanent and well-paid post to retrain for a new career.

If the stories in the press are to be believed, it's probably down to violence and disruption in the classroom, increasing amounts of paperwork, or just a general feeling of being undervalued for what they do.

Or maybe not, as recent reports in The TES Scotland have highlighted.

Another just as disturbing reason, the one that has prompted my departure after only a few short months in the Scottish system, is a small matter of obtaining a permanent teaching post on completion of the induction year.

Probationers who come to the end of the induction year will have, in the main, the tantalising prospect of a morning wait by the telephone hoping for news of work to filter through via the so-called "supply" route.

And even if those calls arrive, it will probably not be teaching one's own subject but covering for absent colleagues. So the highly skilled graduates will find themselves not imparting knowledge of their own teaching subjects to eager pupils, but baby-sitting someone's art, English, or modern language classes.

Older, experienced teachers, ensconced in the security of permanent posts may well say that that was what it was like years ago for them and why should new entrants to the profession have it any different. But herein lies the crux of the problem in education, namely resistance to change.

Time bombs are now starting to explode all around a beleaguered Scottish education system - lack of salary enhancements to attract mature entrants, lack of opportunities for career progression because of the reduction in promoted posts and lack of funding at school level for inclusion policies.

What can be done? The first step should be to establish a fully funded probationer-training programme so that probationer teachers are surplus to school requirements. This would stop the "training post" syndrome and free permanent jobs for fully registered teachers.

The recent proposals for bringing the induction year under the aegis of the teacher education institutions, creating in effect a two-year PGCE course or extending the BEd degree, need to be revisited and examined. This could also enable secondments to provide valuable experiences for teachers seeking promotion to other posts, without adversely affecting a school's staffing levels, and thus its ability to maintain a consistent programme for pupils.

The job matching exercise to match probationer teachers with available jobs must be combined with increased funding to allow older teachers to wind down or retire early. The current packages are not widely available enough to have any major impact on the numbers of unhappy supply and temporary teachers doing the rounds, not to mention the teachers who desperately want to make way for them. This was always the most talked about issue in any staffroom I ever sat in.

Career progression must also be addressed, particularly with the reduction in the numbers of available promoted posts. The chartered teacher programme must be fully funded. It is ridiculous for teachers to have to pay out of their own pockets, sometimes stretched to breaking point by years at university and the resultant student loan debts. The argument that the increased pay will compensate is spurious. Where in industry are people asked to pay for promotion? Even the cost of an MBA is sponsored by most leading employers. Would a supermarket chain ask its managers to pay for their own training?

Will any of these ideas help? Who knows. Not for this teacher, anyway.

Despite an induction experience provided by a fantastic school with an excellent and committed senior management team and head of department, I am afraid I have already bailed out to the altogether warmer climate of the private sector in Tenerife, alarmed that my local authority was unable to offer a full-time post to any of the previous year's secondary probationers.

As a single parent, I need to know that there will be money coming in every month, and slogging around the supply circuit without the promise of a job is not enough. Will I, and others, be back to teach in Scotland again? Only if we really do get a government truly committed to and prepared to fund a teaching profession for the 21st century.

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