Workforce - Teacher shortage could close classroom doors

7th February 2014 at 00:00
Schools may have to send children home, education directors warn

Teacher shortages are so severe in some parts of the country that headteachers could be forced to start sending children home, education directors have warned.

The news comes as a Scottish council geared up to tempt teachers with golden hellos of up to pound;8,000. Dumfries and Galloway Council last week agreed that teachers could be offered pound;6,000-8,000 to work in the area, in order to address shortages in primary and secondary schools.

The Scottish government, meanwhile, has revealed that it plans to increase the number of trainee teachers by 210 this year: 60 in primary and 150 in secondary. It is the third year in a row that numbers on the one-year postgraduate diploma in education have been increased after places were slashed between 2009 and 2011 in response to teacher unemployment.

All councils were experiencing difficulty recruiting teachers, it was "just a matter of how fierce" the problem was, said John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.

"There are areas of the country where headteachers are having to think, `Can I keep all these children in school today with the staffing I have?' In other words, they are looking at the possibility of sending children home," he said. "Certainly, combining classes is already happening, and some local authorities are asking specialists to cover the whole class. Others are looking at secondees going back into the classroom."

Supply teacher shortages in Scotland have been well documented - a TESS survey conducted in December found that the vast majority of councils were struggling to recruit cover. However, there were now problems with teacher recruitment more generally, Mr Stodter said.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, agreed that it was getting increasingly difficult to recruit staff. The severity of the problem depended on the subject and the school's location, he said, adding: "More rural areas are always going to have greater difficulty."

Liam McArthur, education spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: "While I don't doubt that workforce planning is difficult to perform and get absolutely right, action has to be taken when we start seeing signs that the ability to deliver education to children of all ages is being affected."

Teachers willing to take up posts in Dumfries and Galloway schools could be offered money as well as a relocation package if they were moving more than 30 miles, councillors agreed at an education committee meeting last week. The staff will be expected to work in the area for at least two years or pay back the bonus. The council will decide in conjunction with the teaching unions which posts qualify.

At the beginning of the school year, Aberdeen City Council was forced to offer golden hellos of up to pound;5,000 to attract teachers. The new teachers were to receive pound;3,000 on appointment and a further pound;2,000 if they stayed for three years.

Aberdeenshire Council, meanwhile, was last summer forced to recruit staff from Ireland and Canada.

In Dumfries and Galloway, the shortage has been caused by more maternity leave being taken than anticipated, increased school rolls and the promotion of staff, a report from the council's education service says. The teacher recruitment environment is "very competitive", it adds.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: "We have increased student teacher numbers for two consecutive years and plan a further increase this year. We continue to work closely with councils and other partners to monitor the teacher workforce and keep teacher supply and demand in balance."

Student teacher numbers rose to their highest level in four years this year, after being cut by more than 25 per cent between 2009 and 2011. This year, there were 4,955 places available on teacher training courses, while in 2009-10 there were 6,692, according to Scottish Funding Council figures.

PLUGGING THE GAP

Funded initial teacher training places by year

2007-08: 5,661

2008-09: 6,106

2009-10: 6,692

2010-11: 4,909

2011-12: 4,859

2012-13: 4,856

2013-14: 4,955

Source: Scottish Funding Council.

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