Scottish schools face staffing 'merry-go-round' as requests for probationary teachers soar

The number of probation-year teachers sought by councils is up 44 per cent in six years

Cash-strapped councils across Scotland are asking for huge increases in probationary teacher numbers every year as they struggle to offer full-time contracts to trained staff.

New figures show requests for probationers for secondary schools have risen in each of the past six years, soaring by 44 per cent across the nation since 2017/18.

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In some areas, the number of probation-year secondary teachers sought by local authorities has rocketed, with the figure trebling in Aberdeen and Moray in the period, and more than doubling in Dundee, Midlothian, North Lanarkshire and South Ayrshire.

School children during class at a primary school. Danny Lawson/PA WireSchool children during class at a primary school. Danny Lawson/PA Wire
School children during class at a primary school. Danny Lawson/PA Wire

There has been a 65 per cent increase in Edinburgh, a rise of 40 per cent in Glasgow and a jump of 34 per cent in Fife.

Fears have been raised that schools are now “stuck on an endless conveyor belt of temporary teachers”.

The increases have been recorded despite vast numbers of newly-qualified teachers struggling to find work in Scotland.

Data shows that in 2021/22 only about half of secondary teachers were in full or part-time employment in the September after qualifying, while in primary it was just 20 per cent.

The struggles faced by temporary teachers were brought into sharp focus last month when North Lanarkshire Council provoked angry backlash by e-mailing 80 primary teachers and 50 secondary teachers on a Friday afternoon before the summer holidays to say they would not have contracts from August.

One recently-qualified teacher told The Scotsman: "Newly-qualified teachers suffer, but ultimately it’s our young people because they are not getting consistency in subjects. They are getting teachers like a merry-go-round.

"Councils are just not offering contracts, so the rise in temporary contracts and the rise in student teachers just goes hand-in-hand with them not offering permanent jobs.”

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The figures, released by the General Teaching Council for Scotland, show the number of requests for probationary primary teachers has decreased by about 20 per cent since 2017/18, from 2,078 to 1,656.

However, small rises have been recorded in the past two years, from 1,624 in 2021/22 to 1,644 last year, and 1,656 for the coming year.

In secondary, meanwhile, the total number has risen from 1,522 in 2017/18 to 2,022 last year and 2,189 for the coming year.

Although 2,189 requests for probationary teachers have been made for the start of 2023/24, it is understood there are only 1,698 looking for placements.

Some of the biggest increases in demand for probation-year teachers in recent years have been in mathematics, music, computing, technical education, home economics, drama and business.

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Willie Rennie said: "These figures seem to suggest that schools are stuck on an endless conveyor belt of temporary teachers.

"By offering longer-term funding packages to local authorities, the Scottish Government would make it easier for schools to plan ahead and secure teachers for the long haul rather than relying on probationers that will not be kept on at the end of the year.

"At the moment eager graduates are signing up to teach, but are finding that their job prospects are poor. That's a real waste of talent when pupils could be benefiting from reduced class sizes."

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In Scotland, students are guaranteed a one-year full-time training post in a local authority after graduating with a teaching qualification from one of the nation’s higher education institutions.

The Scottish Government sets targets for student teacher numbers each year and has promised to increase overall teacher numbers by 3,500 by 2026.

But concerns have been raised the recent teacher pay deal means the same money buys councils fewer staff, while other attainment funding is not rising with inflation.

A spokesperson for the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country’s largest teaching union, said: “Councils requesting more probation-year teachers on an annual basis is a symptom of the unemployment and under-employment of newly and recently qualified teachers, an issue of concern which has grown steadily worse in recent years due to budget cuts.

"Scotland needs more teachers, but the scarcity of permanent jobs is leading to many teachers either moving to other countries or leaving the profession entirely in search of greater job security.

"As schools continue to grapple with the challenge of post-pandemic education recovery, the Scottish Government must provide additional funding to local authorities to employ more teachers, and local authorities must ensure that more permanent teaching posts are created.”

A spokesperson for local authority umbrella body Cosla said: “Councils, in line with the agreement with Scottish Government, are fully committed to the employment of newly qualified, recently qualified and those teachers on supply lists, as well as support assistants and other specialists as required, drawing from the full pool of talent we have available.

"Councils do this on the basis of the needs identified of our children and young people and plan carefully to ensure the right staff, in the right place, on the most appropriate contract at the right time."

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said Scotland had the highest teacher-per-pupil ratio in any part of the UK.

"The Teacher Induction Scheme is funded by the Scottish Government and provides a one-year probationary placement to allow teachers to meet the standard for full registration,” he said.

"The Scottish Government has never provided a guarantee of future employment with a particular local authority; it has always been the responsibility of local councils to recruit and employ teachers, based on local needs and circumstances.

"Notwithstanding, the Scottish Government is supporting councils with an additional £145.5 million in this year's budget to protect increased teacher numbers.

"Where this is not being delivered by a local authority, we will withhold or recoup funding given for this purpose. This £145.5m assures funding for councils and removes this as a barrier to employing staff on permanent contracts.”



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