Preference waiver ticked all the boxes

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Colin Nisbet fancied seeing more of his homeland

Getting a secure job was also at the forefront of his mind. So it was easy to tick the preference-waiver box, and sign away any influence over where he would spend his probationary year.

The 22-year-old from Lenzie in East Dunbartonshire started this month as a probationer at Orkney's Kirkwall Grammar, teaching chemistry and science. "It was a big opportunity to see a bit of Scotland I'd never really considered going to before, having lived in Glasgow and the surrounding area and only really seen that," he said. "Knowing what job prospects are like at the moment, I thought: `Why not? It's an adventure'.

"From what I've heard, if you tick the box, you get sent to places that need the staff. So if you make a good impression, you never know what might happen."

Orkney Islands Council puts up its probationers in low-cost accommodation within easy reach of each other. Mr Nisbet shares a house with Murray Gallacher, a primary probationer based at St Andrew's Primary, seven miles east of Kirkwall.

Like his housemate, Mr Gallacher had no family ties to restrict his sense of adventure. The 23-year-old, from the Dumfries and Galloway village of Kirkton, also had other reasons to tick the box: he had been a pupil at a small primary and wanted to work in a similar environment; the money would pay debts accrued in four years at St Andrews University and another at Glasgow University; and he believed there were better job prospects outside the central belt.

Mr Gallacher and Mr Nisbet, despite their short time in Orkney, are effusive about its merits: it is a great place to implement A Curriculum for Excellence, as people are open-minded about new ideas; there is a camaraderie among all 15 probationers which would be lacking if they were scattered across a city; and they have not had to wrestle with the indiscipline they have faced elsewhere.

They also like being known personally by even the most senior figures in the education department. "Marilyn", as they know assistant education director Marilyn Richards, has stressed that six previous preference- waiver probationers have found longer-term work in Orkney in the last three years.

Noting this trend, both Mr Nisbet and Mr Gallacher are open-minded about extending their stay.

Their like are, however, growing in number. They amount to 10 out of 15 probationers in Orkney this year, compared to nine out of 19 in 2008. In the Western Isles, acting education director Catherine Dunn said this was the first year all the authority's seven secondary probationers had arrived through the waiver scheme.

In Aberdeenshire, where officials have previously complained about the unwillingness of central belt teachers to relocate, the number of preference-waiver probationers has leapt to 49 out of 163, from just nine out of 161 in 2008.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said the message was finally hitting home that there were better job prospects in authorities such as Aberdeenshire and Highland.

But Drew Morrice, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, sounded a cautionary note. The jobs situation was "bleak across the board", and there was no guarantee of finding work by looking beyond central Scotland.

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