SNP seizes on empty posts

19th August 2005 at 01:00
Teacher shortages became a political football again this week as the Scottish Executive and the SNP interpreted the latest figures on staffroom vacancies in diametrically opposing ways.

The Executive predicted it was "well on track" to deliver its commitment to increasing the teaching force to 53,000 by 2007.

The SNP said that vacancies for English teachers have trebled, while those for maths teachers had doubled.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, chose not to dwell on these figures, pointing out that 439 posts out of 1,164 advertised had been vacant for more than three months, as of February this year - 132 in primary and 246 in secondary. This was a low rate of vacancies out of a teaching force of 51,287, Mr Peacock said.

The rates represent 0.6 per cent of primary posts not filled within three months and 1 per cent of secondary posts. The subjects with the highest rates of vacancies were English and maths, at 1.5 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively.

This represents 39 English and 33 maths posts vacant for more than three months - up from 17 and 23 in 2002.

The SNP says these vacancies matter because of the Executive's pledge to cut class sizes to 20 in English and maths in S1 and S2 by 2007. It accused ministers of making policy "on the hoof". Fiona Hyslop, the party's education spokesperson, said: "The Executive started late and proceeded slowly in initial teacher recruitment and is failing miserably to tackle workforce planning."

But Mr Peacock pointed out that 2,770 probationer teachers would take up their posts this month, while another 4,000 are likely to emerge from teacher education institutions next year.

The figures also reveal wide variations around the country. The 0.6 per cent average for primary posts vacant for more than three months ranges from 4.3 per cent in Dundee to 0.2 per cent in seven authorities. The equivalent secondary average of 1 per cent ranges from 4.9 per cent in Aberdeen to 0.1 per cent in East Dunbartonshire.

Ian Smith, dean of education at Strathclyde University - the biggest initial teacher education institution in Scotland - said his views lay somewhere in between the extremes of the Executive and the SNP. "We are certainly still recruiting and therefore, at this point in time, we don't know whether we will hit our targets in full in English and maths."

As of last Friday, Strathclyde had recruited students for 100 of the 130 places for maths, and 115 of its 145 places in English. "We are receiving 25 new applications each week right across the secondary field, many in maths and English," Mr Smith said.

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