Subject to regional variations

29th August 2008 at 01:00
Too many probationers are looking for jobs. Emma Seith and Elizabeth Buie find out more

The annual TESS survey of probationer jobs reveals a picture of wildly fluctuating regional variations.

West Lothian Council has emerged again as the authority with the best record in employing probationers - some 50 per cent found permanent employment there.

Moira Niven, head of educational development at the council, attributed its teacher employment record to rising school rolls coupled with a relatively high turnover of staff and a commitment to high-quality training. "We know what we put into probationers to make them the best they can be and, therefore, if they are very, very good, we do everything we can to retain them," she said.

Other authorities have a poorer retention rate. Glasgow placed 254 probationers in its schools last year, a number of them fully funded by the Scottish Government, which allowed the council to help the Government fulfil its probationer training commitments while at the same time releasing more experienced teachers for development initiatives.

However, of the 23 new recruits taken on this year, only 14 are probationers - all of them teaching English or maths in secondary. Scotland's largest authority has taken on no new primary teachers this session - a reflection of its revised staffing standard, which has forced schools to consolidate their staffing complements.

Maureen McKenna, Glasgow's head of education services, predicts that when it fills a number of headteacher posts in the coming months, there will be a knock-on effect on unpromoted posts.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said authorities such as Glasgow, which were revising their staffing standard, were making a mockery of national workforce planning. "They are shifting the goalposts after the event," he said.

He also criticised South Lanarkshire Council for trying to save money by reducing the time available to promoted postholders for carrying out management duties and increasing their class contact time, thus reducing the need for teachers.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, called on the Scottish Government to pay for more posts and demanded it "firm up" in legislation its promise to cut classes to a maximum of 18 in P1-3. "It is unacceptable that so many people are sitting waiting for a job. We are going to lose a clutch of first-rate teachers and it's going to get worse, because the message going out to youngsters interested in teaching is that you're not going to get a job," he said.

He added that leaving class size maxima in the form of guidelines, rather than legally-binding regulation, was "just not acceptable" because it made workforce planning very difficult.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, said a working group set up by the Education Secretary should find out whether too many probationers were being trained for the number of jobs available. The group, of which he is a member, is expected to report in early autumn.

The TESS survey uncovered significant regional and subject variations. Renfrewshire has offered no permanent contracts to new teachers, while prospects look equally bleak in Aberdeen City, whose Pounds 50 million budget crisis has already cost between 60 and 80 jobs.

Aberdeen has been given permission by the Government to reduce its probationer allocation this year - 26 in secondary and only three in primary - to allow it to safeguard some existing staff jobs. The council was unable to provide figures for teacher employment this session but, given its financial difficulties, it seems unlikely it offered significant numbers of jobs, if any.

Neighbouring Aberdeenshire, which in the past has had to advertise abroad to recruit teachers to its rural schools, has taken on 29 teachers in permanent posts, 11 in temporary jobs and 64 in supply.

Some subject areas have fared better than others. North Lanarkshire reported its home economics probationers had found jobs in other authorities before the end of their probationary year, before it knew how many posts it could offer.

Recently-published Government figures show the highest proportion of unfilled jobs were maths and home economics, with vacancy rates of 1.9 per cent and 1.7 per cent respectively.

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