Anthony Finn: Schools must not miss out on benefits newly qualified teachers have to offer

Teacher unemployment is reportedly an issue which can keep Michael Russell awake at nights.

So should we expect him to sleep more easily in his bed following the publication of the latest employment statistics of newly qualified teachers by the General Teaching Council for Scotland?

Certainly, this year’s survey of the employment patterns of teachers who have completed the Teacher Induction Scheme is a bit more encouraging than those published in recent years. However, this was predictable, since earlier this year the Scottish Government, employers and trade unions agreed to prioritise the protection of teaching jobs, reaching a difficult deal which led to significant budget cuts.

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There are signs that these quite controversial steps have improved the job prospects of new teachers. For example, the overall proportion of probationers in full-time employment has risen since the last survey. When we add full-time permanent posts (20.9 per cent) to those currently on full- time temporary contracts (24.8 per cent), almost half of our new teachers are now in stable posts and most others are finding some kind of employment, if only in part-time or supply posts.

When we look at longer term trends, however, we can see just how far we still have to go before Mr Russell starts to need an alarm clock again. In 2004, 63.3 per cent of teachers gained permanent contracts, a further 14.5 per cent worked full-time on temporary contracts and only one in 20 teachers was unemployed, often because they had chosen to teach elsewhere or to work in other jobs. There has been a progressive decline in employment every subsequent year.

We hope that the latest survey will lead to a renewed commitment to improve the job prospects of new teachers. For, although no-one would argue that every new teacher is entitled to a job, is it not reasonable to expect that most of our cohort of enthusiastic new teachers can find a place in a profession with over 40 per cent of teachers now over the age of 50?

The highly skilled and enthusiastic teachers who graduate from the Teacher Induction Scheme have much to contribute to the development of our new curriculum. It is important that our schools and our young people do not miss out on the benefits of their energy and expertise.

• Anthony Finn is chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.