The Education Secretary is considering "activating" parts of the national teachers' agreement to help older teachers "wind down" as they approach retirement and free up space for new entrants, she told 1,400 delegates at the Scottish Learning Festival on Wednesday.
Fiona Hyslop came under fire from unemployed new teachers, frustrated that "burnt-out" older members wanted to leave teaching but couldn't, while newly-qualified teachers could not get into the classroom. "Perhaps we should look again at step-down areas in the McCrone agreement. I am not talking about opening up the agreement entirely, but maybe we should be helping some teachers to cut down their commitments in the week," she said.
Clauses in the teachers' agreement designed to help them "wind" or "step" down existed but were never activated or developed, she said.
However, she warned that such a move might not be an easy solution to probationer unemployment. Evidence from councils suggested that teachers were delaying retirement because of concerns about the impact of the credit crunch on their finances. The downside of "winding down" was that they would be paid less for working less, she said.
The Education Secretary understood the frustration of post-probationers who saw retired teachers doing supply work, but warned that age discrimination laws probably prevented her from banning it.
This was one of the issues she had asked the working group on probationer employment to examine, she said. The group, chaired by Joe di Paola of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, is due to report next month. She made it clear she expected employers to act "fairly".
Ms Hyslop repeatedly told the audience at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow that the Scottish Government had provided authorities with the money to maintain teacher employment at 53,000 teachers, but they, not the Government, were the employers.
She criticised Labour-run Glasgow City Council for failing to meet the SNP Government's class-size targets and would be pressing its executive member for education and social work, Gordon Matheson, to act on that and on teacher numbers. "Most of the frustrations we hear from people are from Glasgow," she said. "It is in a situation of markedly falling school rolls and an increased education budget, but it is not making as much progress (on class size reductions) as other authorities."