Turned off by jobs scare

19th September 2008 at 01:00
Whatever the causes, there is a consensus on the lack of work for newly- qualified teachers

Applications to study teaching at universty are falling because of the "bad publicity" surrounding the scarcity of jobs for new teachers, MSPs have been warned.

This could result in "the pen- dulum swinging the other way" and lead to future teacher short-ages, Tom Hamilton of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, claimed.

He made his comments at last week's education committee meeting where the employment prospects for probationer teachers came under the microscope. The probe was instigated after a TESS survey revealed that just 22 per cent of new teachers had secured permanent posts by the start of the session.

Teacher education institutions admitted they had seen a drop in applications, but not all agree with Mr Hamilton on the reasons behind it.

Last year, the University of the West of Scotland had 987 applications for places on its Bachelor of Education course; this year, 837 applied.

Strathclyde and Glasgow universities also reported a decline, with 15 mature students who dropped out of the primary PGDE at Strathclyde stating longer-term job prospects as their reason.

However, Jill Bourne, dean of education at Strathclyde, argued that the fall in applications (down 200 since 2006) amounted to no more than normal year-on-year "fluctuations" to a total of 2,800.

Others claimed that "bad publicity" over probationers' prospects was unlikely to have affected the numbers, given that appli-cations came in before the stories hit the newspapers.

UCAS forms now restrict students to applying for five instead of six courses and that has had an impact, according to Glasgow University and the University of the West of Scotland.

A Glasgow University spokes-man said that applications to their education faculty had also been hit by raising the entry tariff to four "B" passes at Higher.

But he added: "We still had eight applicants for each place on our B.Ed course."

Ian Smith, dean of education in the University of the West of Scotland, commented: "Our view is it is premature to jump to any conclusions. Applications are still very high, relative to places."

Meanwhile, MSPs on the committee also heard from prominent figures in education that cash- strapped councils were simply unable to employ the new recruits and that teacher numbers were dropping across the board.

Inclusion in particular was under threat, Brian Cooklin, president of School Leaders Scotland, explained, because reductions to support staff were "relatively easy" to make when headteachers had to find "efficiency savings".

There were also "growing areas of shortage", they reported, in home economics, physics and maths.

The experts welcomed the establishment of the teacher employment working group, set up by Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop, but lamented the fact that finance was not part of its remit when two-thirds of councils were making cuts to education.

It was pointless to work out the numbers of teachers required if the money was not there to employ them, Mr Cooklin said.

The shortage of jobs for new teachers was a "tragic loss and a betrayal", he felt, especially for mature entrants.

Drew Morrice, of the Educational Institute of Scotland, questioned how teacher num- bers could be calculated when authorities were working towards smaller classes in the early years at different rates and when there was "no direction" from central government about whether the previous admin- istration's decision to reduce classes in English and maths should be "honoured".

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