Tough times ahead for probationers

28th April 2006 at 01:00
The jobs market looks bleak for new teachers next year, writes Su Clark, but smaller classes in 2007 could mean the pain will be shortlived

As this year's cohort of student teachers claw their way to graduation, they can relax, thanks to the national teachers' agreement, knowing they have a one-year induction post at the end of their studies.

But not so this year's probationers as they enter the last term of their teaching post.

With a record number of freshly qualified teachers due to leave university in the summer to join a sector already struggling with diminishing school rolls, the immediate future for them is not so rosy.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland estimates 3,900 new probationers - 1,200 more than last year - will need placements across the 32 local authorities next session and it has warned this will have a knock-on effect this year. Local authorities, obliged to fill vacancies with the increased numbers, will struggle to find enough posts for their existing probationers. Many already admit they simply won't be able to.

"The target of 53,000 teachers is for 2007," warns May Ferries, member of the GTC and former president of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

"The demand for teachers will rise next year as the restricted class sizes come in, but the universities couldn't cope with training all the teachers necessary in one year, so it was spread over two. It means this year's cohort will struggle to find permanent jobs."

The situation has been exacerbated according to Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, by local authority budget cuts, falling school rolls and compulsory teacher transfers.

"HAS has concerns that local authority budget cuts may lead to a situation where experienced members of staff are declared surplus while posts, perhaps in other subjects, are filled by increasing probationer teachers, funded by the Scottish Executive.

"The probationers' scheme is the jewel in the crown of the McCrone Agreement," he says. "Newly qualified teachers used to struggle to find jobs and had to make do with supply and temporary contracts, which meant their professional development was not managed properly. With the new scheme that has been resolved, but it also means that it merely puts off the uncertainty for a year."

The fear is that many of those who are unable to find jobs over the next few months may be lost to the profession, opting for a graduate training scheme in other sectors rather than the potential drudge of supply.

A survey last year by the GTC, found that only 70 per cent of probationers had found permanent employment. It is likely to be much lower in 2006-07.

But many of this year's probationers are prepared for supply and temporary contracts, especially after a year of continuing professional development in the class with their own pupils.

"It has been an excellent year," says Kirsty McKune, from Laurieknowe Primary in Dumfries and Galloway. "Working in a classroom with the back-up of constant CPD has been great. It has improved my confidence and now I'm quite relaxed about my prospects. If I don't get a permanent job, I know I'll be able to do supply."

Siobhan Kielnar, from Whitdale Primary in Whitburn, West Lothian is determined to stay in teaching, even though she needs full-time work.

"I have a mortgage and a family, but if I don't get enough work on supply I'll do temping until I can get a teaching post. This is my second career, I'm going to stick it out," she says.

Ms Kielnar may not have to wait too long. In 2007 the reduction in P1 class sizes comes into force, as they do for S1 and S2 maths and English. The knock-on effect will mean more vacancies. Meanwhile, the demographic timebomb of an ageing teaching profession means increasing numbers of older teachers retiring in clusters.

"We would not expect schools suddenly to meet the 2007 targets over the course of the summer holidays," says a Scottish Executive spokesperson.

Some local authorities are determined to keep as many of their probationers as possible, such as Highland, an authority which has benefited greatly from the scheme. It reports that many of its probationers want to stay in the area after having experienced work and life in the region. "Over the next 10 years around half of the teaching workforce will retire, so it is imperative that we plan ahead," says Bruce Robertson, director of education in Highland.

"There may be difficulties in finding permanent posts immediately, with the added pressure of the numbers of new probationers and students needing placements, but it is important that we increase the number and range of teachers in our schools.

"We can't guarantee every one of this year's probationers a job but we will try and place the majority."

One option is to offer temporary contracts and supply - areas that previously were hard to fill - to encourage them to stay, especially after the investment the authorities have made in their CPD. However, over the next session inevitably some new registered teachers will be spending more time on the sofa at home than they would like. But the messages coming from local authorities and the Scottish Executive suggest if they can stick it out, there could be more jobs in a year's time.

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