The Headteachers' Association of Scotland has now completed a survey of its members on the issues relating to staffing and staff shortages. Returns from a full range of secondary schools, covering almost every authority and from the independent sector, indicate serious difficulties in recruiting specialist staff for permanent posts and finding supply staff to cover for absence due to illness, secondments, maternity leave etc.
There were vacancies reported in most subject areas, some since last year, although shortages in English mathematics, modern languages, technology, science and drama were particularly worrying. Multiple advertisements failed to attract candidates.
Mid-session changes to the timetable, sharing classes, increasing class sizes, reducing the choice of subjects, cutting back on some core subjects and using management time are all strategies employed to cope with the problem. One school reported that 20 per cent of all English lessons were covered by non-specialists.
Other schools have reported that there have been times when they have had more classes than teachers. Clearly situations such as these are critical and may only be resolved by placing some pupils on part-time education and introducing twilight classes.
The current situation is unsettling for everyone. Parents are often unaware of the extent of the problem and senior staf are faced with complaints when the pupils are not taught by specialists. Discipline deteriorates as pupils find it difficult to develop relationships with staff who are here today and gone tomorrow.
The lack of continuity of teaching is a major constraint on pupil progress and is particularly worrying for the Scottish Qualifications Authority candidates. Staff morale is affected as the additional workload is shared across the school and development plan targets are shelved.
The HAS has become increasingly worried about the damaging effect on our schools. The pilot to assess the supply situation in five authorities is welcome, but it will not address the current situation. The signs have been with us for some time, yet no action has been taken. Statistics on initial teacher education entries for next year, coupled with the age profile of the teaching workforce, indicate the problem will become a lot worse.
As a matter of urgency the Scottish Executive needs to undertake an advertising campaign to promote teaching as a profession and a recruitment campaign to encourage the best graduates into the profession. Teaching has much to offer. But we have to be proactive to promote the profession rather than sit back and wait.
Gordon Mackenzie President, Headteachers' Association of Scotland, co Jordanhill campus, Strathclyde University, Glasgow