Probationers - go figure

24th August 2012 at 01:00
Full-time opportunities for newcomers to the profession have spiked, the TESS annual employment survey has revealed, but some 50 per cent will still be jobless or on supply as the autumn term gets under way

The proportion of post-probationers who have landed a permanent post at the start of the school year is the highest in five years, TESS can reveal.

Our figures show that 23.5 per cent of 2011-12 probationers have found permanent work, based on replies from 30 of Scotland's 32 local authorities (Edinburgh and Dundee were unable to provide the information requested).

That compares with 16 per cent last year and 12 per cent in 2010 - the lowest point recorded in TESS's annual probationer employment survey.

The highest level recorded in the six years the survey has been conducted was in 2007 - 32 per cent. The subsequent three surveys saw year-on- year falls in the proportion securing permanent work.

The upward trend for last year and this year will be seen as a vindication of the Scottish government's decision to slash intakes to initial teacher education for the past two years.

But although employment trends are moving in the right direction, there remains considerable room for improvement. Of 1,736 probationers in 2011- 12 for whom TESS has data, 407 now have permanent posts, full-time or otherwise.

Around 480 (27.6 per cent) have temporary posts, but that still leaves about half of this year's post-probationers going into the new session either unemployed or reliant on supply work - and that is before taking into account recently qualified teachers from the past few years who may not yet have found job security.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said any increase in the number of teachers getting the security of permanent contracts was welcome.

But he feared that many teachers categorised as "temporary" were effectively in permanent positions - only without the job security and conditions that should bring.

"We've had concerns that temporary contracts were being abused, and a certain degree of casualisation was taking place," he said.

Some of the larger authorities appeared to be responsible for stringing out temporary posts for extended periods, he suggested. If a post lasted more than a school session, it should no longer be considered temporary, said Mr Flanagan.

He underlined that, with the Donaldson review of teacher education advocating a master's-level profession, teaching had to hold out the prospect of an attractive, secure career in order to attract high-calibre people.

John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said: "What everyone is trying to avoid is a waste of the talent and enthusiasm of these young teachers and, of course, the personal investment they have made."

But he warned that it was unsustainable for the government to continue to insist on a minimum number of teachers being employed when councils were trying to do things as efficiently as possible.

"It will become increasingly difficult for councils to keep their numbers up," he said.

It was a difficult balancing act trying to match jobs available to the number of trained teachers, he acknowledged, and soon another unknown factor would enter the mix.

"Curriculum for Excellence will lead to different patterns of subject choice and different subjects being offered, which in turn will influence the number of teachers required at secondary," he said.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, was happy to see the upward trend in permanent posts, but remains concerned about schools' heavy reliance on temporary staff.

She said it was "extremely unfair" to expect young teachers in temporary posts to provide the kind of commitment needed at a time of increasing demands on teachers; nor was it fair on pupils.

There was an increasing tendency for local authorities to fill posts with teachers in their induction year; previously, they would have been taken up by fully qualified teachers, said Mrs Ballinger.

In turn, there was an "enormous amount of cynicism" among probationers that, upon completing their induction year, many apparently permanent posts would simply be given over to the next batch of probationers.

Supply, meanwhile, was not as strong a fallback option as it once was: a growing number of supply teachers were having to supplement their income with other jobs, sometimes in supermarkets or call centres, said Mrs Ballinger.

Unemployed post-probationers would often have been used for short-term cover in the past, but the supply issue has become embroiled in the controversy over reduced pay for stints of five days or fewer.

Another issue, which the EIS's Larry Flanagan said had been raised with the Scottish government, is that supply teachers may be hard to come by at a time when schools, gearing up for the new National exams, want to send their teachers on additional CPD courses.

Edinburgh City Council was unable to take part in this year's survey; information from individual schools had yet to be collated centrally following "a very high level of recruitment", it said.

There were several factors influencing recruitment levels, including rising primary rolls, said David Wright, senior education manager for Edinburgh schools. More significantly, the council has been carrying out a management review of secondary schools.

Some jobs that came up while the review was ongoing had been filled on a temporary basis but now that the review was 95 per cent complete, many were being made permanent, he said.

In addition, 80 principal teachers who had opted for voluntary early release had had to be replaced at unpromoted teacher level, Mr Wright explained: "This gave us the opportunity to employ young teachers who until now had not found employment and has led to a refresh of our teacher workforce."

But he added: "We are still getting over 100 applications for individual jobs in schools, which means there are still a lot of people trying to find permanent teaching positions."

Neil Shaw, headteacher of Boclair Academy in East Dunbartonshire and president of School Leaders Scotland, said his school had not employed someone straight out of probation for at least four years. He believes that, generally, "the scope to take on probationers is diminishing", although two of last year's five probationers at the school had secured permanent work elsewhere.

"I find the whole situation very sad," he said. "Over the past few years we have had about 20 probationers, and the standard has been outstanding. The sense at the moment is there are too many good, well-qualified young teachers unemployed."

A more upbeat picture was painted by Gillian Purves, headteacher at Falkirk's Victoria Primary and a member of the national executive for the AHDS union. She has seen the situation improve in her own school and beyond.

"In the five years that I have been in Falkirk, all my probationers have found work," she said. "Even the people from a couple of years ago are now getting jobs. They may not have had immediate permanent posts, but they have had long-term work."

The school's sole probationer from last year now has a permanent post in the school. "I'm in a position for the first time in ages where I won't be doing timesheets for temporary people this year," added Ms Purves.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Since 2009, the government has taken tough decisions to address over-supply of teachers. All sources of information on this issue indicate that this decision has led to a steady improvement in employment prospects for newly qualified teachers since autumn 2010.

"Jobseeker's Allowance claimant figures started to show a year-on-year reduction in September 2010. This has continued steadily and July 2012 is the 11th consecutive month for which the claimant figure is lower than in the same month in each of the past three years. We also know that vacancies become available throughout the academic year and that the proportion of 2011-12 probationers in employment will rise as the year progresses."

Billy Hendry, spokesman for human resource management at the local authorities' umbrella body Cosla, hailed the TESS survey's "good news".

"The landmark agreement that was reached in May 2011 between teaching unions, the Scottish government and Cosla guaranteed opportunities for new and future teachers across Scotland and protected teacher numbers as fully as possible. Although those were difficult negotiations for everyone involved, the information collected by TESS is further evidence that these guaranteed protections were not empty promises and that these changes were the right decision, for the right reasons."

He added: "Teachers did not create the current financial situation, and neither did councils, but this information shows just how effectively the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers can work together to protect education in the classroom."

Probationer prospects


A probationers' wiki has become a focal point in the hunt for jobs, says quality improvement officer Winnie Mallon. Experiences are shared, with those who get interviews posting the questions put to them. They also get specific training in interview skills and techniques.

There is more dialogue than in the past between probationers, and between probationers and the council, which is preparing them better for work, she says. Probationers are encouraged to take every opportunity to observe colleagues teaching.

Extra support is built into QIOs' quality assurance visits, rather than a probation manager being the only line of support beyond the school. With the Donaldson review in mind, probationers are encouraged to reflect on their practice and shape their continuing professional development, rather than merely turn up for CPD planned by the council.

This year it emerged that Glasgow bucked its recent jobs dearth when it advertised 80 posts for permanent full-time primary teachers.

A rise of about 300 in the primary pupil roll was one factor. But the city council has been creating teaching jobs by restructuring permanent supply pools of around 100 primary and 100 secondary staff to put as many as possible in permanent work.

But caution has been exercised in workforce planning for secondary, because Curriculum for Excellence may affect the subjects pupils choose.


Aberdeenshire has pioneered a full-time mentors scheme, praised for improving the employability of probationers since it started in 2009- 10.

At an end-of-year event to celebrate the completion of the induction year, probationers have got up to talk about the vital place of mentors.

"What has come through very strongly is the support that they have had and how it gives them confidence," says quality improvement officer Sheila Marr.

The scheme is influenced by the New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz, California, and involves secondment of teachers for up to 23 months. This year, for the first time there is a secondary mentor, joining five primary mentors.

A mentor typically works with 10-12 probationers, including one-to-one work and weekly joint sessions - collaborative working has been a feature from the start. Each probationer has access to his or her mentor daily.

The mentors' contribution is in addition to, not instead of, school-based support. Some probationers have talked about being able to confide in a mentor in a way that would not have happened in school.

Education Scotland has become closely involved in the scheme, with Kay Livingston (University of Glasgow) and Lynne Shiach (University of Aberdeen) providing expertise - and has produced research showing its effectiveness.

A report to Aberdeenshire Council's education, learning and leisure committee in June stated: "Significantly, there was clear evidence that the systematic and rigorous approach had enhanced learning and teaching in our classrooms as well as developing leadership skills."

Foot in the door: the search for teaching jobs

Louise McGeever, 23, primary: probation in Inverclyde, going to teach in Dubai

There were a lot of jobs coming up but very few were permanent. So I looked into working abroad. One of my best friends was looking as well and we were both offered jobs in Egypt, and then we got the offer from the school in Dubai - Sheffield Private School in Al Qusais. After that, I got interviews for a couple of jobs in Inverclyde but I'd made up my mind about Dubai. I've never been there before, so I'm looking forward to seeing how education in another country works. The school is private and it's going to be the English curriculum as opposed to the Scottish, so that will be a big change. I was in India for five weeks over the summer doing voluntary work, teaching street children in the Delhi slums. That was the first time I'd ventured far from home. There will always be the opportunity to come back to Scotland to teach, but if I don't do this now, I probably never will.

Iain MacCorquodale, 29, secondary PE: probation in Western Isles, one-year contract at Glasgow Gaelic School

After university, I went to work for Adidas in Germany at its global headquarters, as a footwear developer. I'm a runner and it was great, but it got to the stage where I was getting a bit older and I knew that wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had the time of my life there, but a lot of my work for Adidas was office-based. I knew straight after school I wanted to be a teacher. I've got a year's contract at the Glasgow Gaelic School. I'm from North Uist and my Gaelic is OK - better than my German was, anyway. I'm not fluent, but I'm going to try and build up my knowledge. I'll be expected to use it when I can, but I don't have the ability to teach in it all the time or to transfer a Higher course into Gaelic.

Julie Cairney, 28, secondary English: probation in Stirling, full-time permanent post at Larbert High, Falkirk

I had a one-year contract working for Stirling Council, but there was no guarantee I'd get a permanent post at the end of it and then, a couple of weeks before the summer, I went for a permanent post in Falkirk and got it. I was quite sad to turn down the temporary contract, but they were very understanding. I thought getting a job was going to be almost impossible, but I was actually pleasantly surprised. From MarchApril time, jobs started to come up for English. I'd always thought about teaching, but I wasn't sure, so I did an honours degree in English and psychology which were subjects I enjoyed and was interested in. When I finished, I got a graduate job working for the credit card company Goldfish. I worked there for a couple of years, but teaching kept popping back into my head. It was something I wish I'd gone into sooner, to be honest.

Christina Smith, 37, secondary biology: probation in North Lanarkshire, full-time permanent post at Clyde Valley High, North Lanarkshire

In 2007, I was diagnosed with leukaemia and had seven months of intensive chemotherapy. At one point, they thought I had 24 hours to live. But once I'd stabilised, things started to improve. We had moved house three months before I was diagnosed, and taken out insurance. Because of the leukaemia, that paid off the mortgage. This gave me the freedom to really consider what I wanted to do. Before I settled on teaching, I had thought about doing a community education degree because I enjoy working with vulnerable young people, but I wanted to do something with my science. I went into youth work straight from school. I come from quite a rough and chaotic background and left school with no qualifications. I sat some crash Highers, did an HNC and then entered the second year of university. When I left, I worked for pharmaceutical companies, then I got headhunted for a job in scientific recruitment and continued in that line of work until I became ill. Once I decided I wanted to be a teacher, I wasn't worried financially about finding a job. If we shopped carefully and didn't go out too much, we would get by. But I wanted a good quality of life for my three-year-old daughter, and I was worried that being at home was not enough for me. I felt I had some kind of stability when I got my job.

Original headline: Prospects for probationers climb to a five-year high

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