When a proper job is too much to ask

Neil Munro looks at the uncertain prospects for temporary staff as councils cut to the bone.

The reliance of local authorities on temporary teachers, many of whom will have their contracts terminated as a result of council cutbacks, is an issue of "growing urgency", the president of the Educational Institute of Scotland has warned.

May Ferries says the practice "does no good to education, to the teaching profession and to the employment prospects of so many of our ablest graduates". Temporary and part-time staff can be "hired and fired according to the financial circumstances of the time", Ms Ferries said.

The issue of "casualisation" was given particular prominence when Glasgow admitted that no permanent appointments of unpromoted class teachers had been made since December 1995, when the city faced a series of school closures. Over 100 posts have since been filled on a temporary basis.

In early May some teachers on temporary contracts who have less than two years' continuous service will be laid off to prevent them acquiring employment rights and therefore entitlement to redundancy pay.

The most recent national figures, from the school census of September 1994, showed that 5,615 teachers were on full-time or part-time temporary contracts, affecting one in ten of Scotland's teachers. Eighty per cent are women. In the secondary sector, where 46 per cent of staff were female at the time of the census, 65 per cent of temporary contracts were held by women.

Ms Ferries says more than 700 teachers are on temporary contracts in Glasgow alone. But the figure is disputed by George Gardner, the city's depute director of education, who says most of these are short-term supply staff who are not all seeking permanent employment. The true figure for temporary teachers in the city is between 150 and 160, Mr Gardner maintains.

He says: "We have done our best to ensure that those who have given us two years' satisfactory service have continuity of employment. But we can't keep on going as we have done in the past. I have said publicly that we are concerned at our inability to employ young teachers who can refresh the profession and be a source of new ideas. The present situation, I agree, does not give teachers the security and the sense of belonging to a school that we would wish to see."

Glasgow is hopeful that it will be able to thaw its freeze on permanent appointments. But this depends on the number of teachers taking voluntary severance following the agreement the council reached with the teaching unions in an attempt to avoid compulsory redundancies.

Donald Thomas, head of personnel in South Lanarkshire's education department, stressed the employment rights teachers gain after two years. The council currently has between 3 per cent and 4 per cent of the teaching payroll on temporary contracts and Mr Thomas doubts whether a fully permanent workforce is possible because of fluctuations in school rolls.

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