We can't get the staff

30th April 1999 at 01:00
Schools warn that teacher shortages will hit drive for classroom attainment

Teacher shortages in primary and secondary are threatening to undermine key initiatives on raising standards. For the first time in more than 20 years students in training are being chased by authorities across Scotland. Almost all will find some sort of job if they want one, trainers predict.

There is a severe drought of supply teachers, particularly in primary and in some secondary subjects, and schools say they cannot release staff for vital development work because of shortages, which are acute in some rural areas.

Initiatives such as early intervention, ICT, supported study and Higher Still are said to be responsible for absorbing hundreds of extra staff, while cuts in primary class sizes will swallow 600 additional teachers within two years, the Scottish Office admits.

Intakes to teacher training in August have already been increased by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council but teacher education institutions are receiving fewer applications than they would like for secondary.

Low wages and morale are denting the profession's image, says Pat Cairns, head of Firrhill High, Edinburgh, and a member of the Scottish Office planning group on teacher supply. "There are pressures on schools from the number of initiatives launched by the Scottish Office and by the need for upskilling existing staff. You cannot get some subject-specific teachers and supply is going to have an effect on classroom attainment."

Mrs Cairns is unable to release a computer teacher to develop online facilities because there is no cover. Other staff have been paid for developing Higher Still out of hours for the same reason.

Bob Cook, education manager in West Dunbartonshire, warned: "We are heading for a genuine teacher shortage and it bites first in the availability of teacher supply. Unless we get a steady stream of people who are coming out of training we are heading for difficulties."

Mr Cook said the supply list had become the normal route into the profession.

Alex McKay, Fife's director, said: "We have been struggling across the board and it even extends to nursery nurses. We have 200 names on the primary supply list and 450 plus on the secondary list but they do not represent people who are always available."

Kevin Gavin, director of education in Moray, said that mathematics and science were particularly difficult for recruitment. "There is a real threat to staff development and review and in-service in terms of supply cover. We cannot get people to cover in a rural authority."

Ron Elder, vice-principal of Northern College, said the shortage of primary supply teachers in the vast area served by the college was "dramatic".

Professor Elder said: "Students are in a sellers' market and they are getting multiple job offers in primary and secondary. They are quite relaxed about posts."

John McCarney, associate dean of education at Glasgow University, said 93 per cent of last year's students at St Andrew's College found jobs and this year promised to be even better. The previous session it was 80 per cent and the year before that 67 per cent.

Mr McCarney said that Catholic schools in the east of Scotland were facing particular problems, even in areas such as business education and geography. The overall difficulty was exacerbated by "inaccurate" data from the Scottish Office on supply and the new Government schemes coming on stream.

Ivor Sutherland, registrar of the General Teaching Council, which has a watching brief over supply, confirmed the "relative suddenness" of the problem but declined to blame official forecasts.

"It is nobody's fault and it is not the statisticians who have failed. You go from lots of supply teachers and in a year or two you go to the other extreme. Supply is very difficult to forecast," Dr Sutherland said.

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