Probation means job for everyone

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Is Scotland's trainee scheme the way for Wales too? George Wright reports

Avril Walls cannot imagine how newly-qualified teachers coped without a guaranteed job for their induction year.

As one of 2,300 Scottish probationers in the middle of a one-year teaching placement, she has not had to worry about finding enough work to complete induction - unlike hundreds of NQTs in Wales.

Ms Walls, a teacher at St Joseph's RC primary school, Kelty, Fife, said: "I cannot imagine how previous new teachers coped before the probation scheme was put into place with the stability and support it provides."

The Teacher Induction Scheme (TIS), launched in Scotland in 2002, is described by Matthew MacIver, registrar at the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), as a "real success story".

The scheme guarantees all trainees a one-year teaching post after graduation, with dedicated support from a mentor and scheduled time out of class (30 per cent of the working week) for professional development. The salary is Pounds 18,000, with pound;4,000 incentive payments available to those willing to work in less popular, isolated areas such as the islands.

It was introduced as part of the McCrone reforms of pay and conditions north of the border, and was designed to solve a problem familiar to teachers in Wales: NQTs, known as probationers in Scotland, were finding it difficult to complete their induction year.

Before TIS, full registration with the GTCS required the equivalent of two full years of teaching experience. Some probationers spent this in a number of posts, sometimes in more than one local authority, and spread over three years.

Now 2,300 trainees every year are allocated to local authorities and all are guaranteed an induction year at a school (most, it is claimed, in their preferred local education authorities).

The scheme is not compulsory, but more than 99 per cent of trainees opt for it - putting an end to the agony of not finding a placement.

Councils allocate NQTs to schools. Some have also been able to release teachers for curriculum development work, to help staff social inclusion projects and, in at least one local authority (East Lothian), to make all heads non-teaching.

There have been teething troubles. In the first year, local authorities faced difficulties placing probationers with their first or second choice school, and one union described it as "a bit of a shambles". And there have been concerns over filling placements in less popular, rural areas.

But as Mr MacIver says: "It's worked wonders for us. It is a healthy, constructive way for teachers to enter the profession."

He believes the Scottish government deserves huge credit for funding 40 per cent of a probationer's salary (and the entire post in areas where there are not enough vacancies) - to the tune of about pound;25 million per year.

The remainder, some pound;40m, is paid for out of local authority core budgets.

Those figures might make the Welsh Assembly pause for thought, but the Scottish Executive believes it has proved worthwhile. "Scottish teachers are the most quickly qualified in the UK, without any dilution of standards," said a spokeswoman.

"The scheme is encouraging more people to take up a career in teaching and ensuring a steady flow of new teachers into schools."

The unions tend to agree. Brian Cooper, spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: "The scheme is certainly seen as preferable to what we had before."

Pat O'Donnell, Scottish official for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Scotland, added: "Overall it's been a success."

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