Probationary monster has two heads

3rd August 2007 at 01:00
The teachers' agreement has created a monster in fact, it has created an army of monsters, and it's in the summer that you can hear the unemployed probationers gnashing their teeth most loudly.

In schools across Scotland last term, you could hear two distinct voices: probationers complaining about not having a permanent job for August and established teachers complaining about probationers expecting to walk into jobs.

No one can argue that the probation scheme is anything other than an improvement on the old system. Probationers now get proper training in a stable environment for a year, with lots of support from inside and outside school.

But this orderly introduction into the profession has given many probationers the feeling that the next step in their progression as teachers will be a permanent job immediately on finishing training. In fact, I get the impression from some probationers that anything less is seen as a personal failure. The agreement is unkind: it gives probationers a job for a year and then takes it away from them.

But what feels like constant carping by probationers about not walking into jobs is causing resentment among permanent members of staff who had to spend years on supply, not knowing where the next pay packet was coming from and going into schools each day as cannon fodder.

Quite a few supply teachers have spoken about the look of condescension they get from probationers when their lowly status is discovered as if they can't be very good if they are not permanent. Yet, for a lot of teachers, it is those years on supply that can make you as a teacher.

Perhaps in the past, teachers have been too compliant, allowing education authorities to treat new teachers as they would mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed manure, before finally, grudgingly handing out a permanent contract. Now, through the internet, probationers are better informed and know what jobs are available and who is getting them. Also, the group identity created for them has given them a stronger voice.

On the other hand, no one was ever guaranteed a job. After all, teachers should not be treated any differently from any other profession. What is the alternative to the present system? Teachers being retired earlier so that probationers can get a job?

Gordon Cairns teaches in Glasgow

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