The phone never rang ...

15th October 2004 at 01:00
Glasgow's teacher shortage could be greatly eased if personnel staff simply telephoned round teachers who might be available, rather than waiting for them to call in.

Susan Quinn, Educational Institute of Scotland representative on the city's education committee, said that when supply teachers were told there were unfilled vacancies "they ask, 'why wasn't I told?' And they are told, 'we wait for you to phone us'."

Ms Quinn said: "That is simply not acceptable. We are in a crisis situation and there are people in our supply department telling teachers, 'we wait for you to phone us'.

"They should not be waiting. They should on a daily basis be phoning everyone they have an opportunity to phone. No long-term plan and no long-term audit is going to make any difference if the supply department doesn't rectify this now."

Steven Purcell, education convener, replied: "That is a very basic weakness we have identified. That one correction will go a long way to sorting out this problem."

The city has approved a revised staffing strategy to avoid a repeat of its difficulties at the start of term when there were 114 vacant posts in primary and many more in secondary. Headteachers and deputes in primary stood in at the start of the session and other staff, such as special educational needs assistants, helped out when there was no one in front of classes.

George Gardner, depute director of education, described the position over the summer as "significantly more complex" than in previous years. He cited the closure or amalgamation of 22 primaries and consequent staff redeployment; a drop in the roll of 1,200 pupils which meant moving the equivalent of 50 teachers; the new staffing formula to reflect the cut in class contact time; the placement of around 200 teachers who were transferred from temporary to permanent contracts; and the appointment of 102 principal teachers to primaries and secondaries.

At the same time, the personnel department was under pressure from the nursery nurse dispute, the recruitment of SEN auxiliaries, an updating of staff information and the appointment of new heads and deputes.

"The capacity of the personnel section to cope with this increased range of demands was undoubtedly stretched. Even taking account of the additional demands on the department, it is clear the system failed to give early warning of the mounting difficulties in recruitment," Mr Gardner admitted.

The department was therefore unable to recruit teachers to school posts until early July. Difficulties were exacerbated by the failure of some teachers to appear in post at the start of the session. There was also a higher level of long-term absence than in previous years, a feature that is currently being investigated.

Mr Gardner said that other authorities were better off in not facing such a significant drop in rolls and therefore such an extensive review of staffing.

He points out that authorities estimated they need 7-8 per cent above normal requirements to cover for absence on sickness or maternity leave. It was only this year that the Scottish Executive had taken this into consideration.

Other factors include probationary teachers who take a year out after completing their training programme and the number of central government initiatives that have absorbed extra teachers.

Willie Hart, local EIS secretary, welcomed the council's belated short and long-term action but appealed for this year's probationers to be offered jobs from Easter, either specific posts in schools or a place in the pool of permanent supply staff. No probationer was given a job offer last session and staff in city schools moved outwith the authority, Mr Hart said.

A by-product of non-appointments has been a pound;300,000 saving in the education budget.

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