The predicted mass retirements of older teachers are failing to materialise because they fear financial insecurity, MSPs heard last week. But the Education Secretary said this week that projected retirements had "hit the target".
This represents another serious blow for newly-qualified teachers who have long been promised by the Scottish Government that they would see a generation of teachers retiring en masse, leading to an increase in jobs for younger teachers.
The Scottish Parliament's education committee was told, however, that such a prediction was starting to look wide of the mark because the global recession was beginning to put teachers' retirement plans on hold. Joe Di Paola, head of the employers' negotiating team at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said it was based on a presumption of many teachers retiring at the age of 60. In fact, there are "definitely" more now wanting to stay on until they are 62 or 63.
Fiona Hyslop told the committee this week, however, that retirements in 2006-07 were projected to be 5,799, while 5,622 actually left. This was 3 per cent fewer than expected, which was "not unreasonable", although Mr Di Paola thought it could cause a "serious mismatch".
He said that even if 10 per cent of this group wanted to stay on for up to three more years, this would "skew" the Government's assumptions quite markedly. It was difficult to work out the exact figure, because age discrimination laws do not permit asking staff about their age.
Mr Di Paola, who chaired the Education Secretary's teacher employment working group, said another explanation was that teachers did not like the "winding down scheme" brought in as part of their agreement, or because it wasn't promoted well enough. But he insisted there were plenty of jobs for newly qualified teachers if they were willing to move out of the Central Belt. He was hopeful that the recent increase in the preference waiver payment for secondary probationers from Pounds 6,000 to Pounds 8,000 - made to those taking a job anywhere in the country - would, in the future, create more interest in rural posts.
Liberal Democrat Margaret Smith had queried whether there should be a national staffing formula, which the working group considered and rejected. She was concerned about authorities making short-term decisions to achieve financial savings by cutting back on teachers. But Mr Di Paola said it "wouldn't work"; councils such as Dumfries and Galloway found it very difficult to fill posts currently, and a national formula would only give them more to fill.
Labour's Ken Macintosh said it seemed "daft" to be recruiting more teachers into the profession than were needed at the end of the year. But Mr Di Paola said universities would be reluctant to reduce numbers, believing that this would undermine the "viability" of initial teacher education institutions and courses, particularly in the field of secondary subjects.
The news that older teachers were increasingly reluctant to retire came on the same day that figures from the General Teaching Council for Scotland showed a big increase in teachers failing to find work in the sector.
One in five new teachers had failed to secure a teaching post following their probation, almost twice last year's number. Only 38.8 per cent of those who had got jobs in Scotland found a permanent, full-time post, down from 46.4 per cent last year, and the proportion entering supply teaching increased from 18.7 per cent to 30.2 per cent.