The Scottish Executive is keeping its powder dry on plans to tackle looming teacher shortages, particularly in secondary schools, as official figures show a slump in the number of newly qualified maths staff.
Ministers want the teachers' ballot on the pay and conditions settlement out of the way first. Voting papers go out today (Friday) and the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, which have recommended a yes vote, are scheduled to reveal the results on February 12.
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which normally finds itself at loggerheads with the other unions, is also balloting members with a recommendation to accept the deal. The Professional Association of Teachers is holding a wide-ranging "consultation" urging members to comment on all areas of the agreement while pointing to aspects which the leadership believes are favourable.
The Executive is planning a recruitment campaign, built around what it believes is a pay and conditions package that will attract new entrants and retain them. It will capitalise on the increase in starting pay after probation from pound;14,550 to pound;21,588 within three years, the shorter time to get to maximum pay which rises fro pound;23,313 to pound;28,707 and the additional prospect of earning up to pound;35,199 as a chartered teacher.
Further confirmation that talking up a revitalised profession is becoming urgent emerged in a parliamentary answer by Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, to Brian Monteith, his Tory shadow.
The figures reveal that the percentage of secondary graduates qualified to teach maths, Mr McConnell's former subject, fell steadily from 19.3 per cent in 1994-95 to 17.5 per cent in 1995-96, 16.3 per cent in 1996-97, 12.9 per cent in 1997-98 and 10.9 per cent in 1998-99.
Mr Monteith said that the post-McCrone settlement may not be enough to resolve the recruitment crisis. He pointed out that student teachers in England have a pound;6,000 training salary topped up by a pound;4,000 "golden hello" for maths, science, technology or modern languages.
The situation would be eased under the Tories' plan to devolve management fully to schools which would allow salaries to be topped up by a premium to attract teachers to shortage subjects.
A spokesperson for the Executive commented: "We are paying careful attention to the needs of teacher supply. One element of the McCrone settlement is to seek to improve recruitment to the profession as a whole."