Stephen Mcilkenny: Newly qualified teachers in Scotland are being let down - and children will pay the price

A few years ago my partner and I found ourselves having a conversation about her becoming a teacher - the phrases “it’s a job for life” and “there will always be jobs going” were bandied around much more frequently and with more vigour than when I had discussed becoming a journalist.

Two years on - I am writing these words from Poland where said newly qualified teacher has accepted a job at an international school, unable to secure a full-time position in Scotland.

And she is not alone.

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A casual glance at Facebook groups for newly trained teachers, or her alumni WhatsApp chat, shows many new teachers are in the same boat, faced with the prospect of a year on a supply list and trying to be the fastest finger first when a job opportunity comes in via text message.

Children will pay the price of the current situation facing newly qualified teachers, says Stephen Mcilkenny
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Two years after the Scottish Government funded her postgraduate degree in primary education, my partner, who was educated in Scotland, is now leaving the UK, unable to give back to a programme that inspired her to become a teacher in the first place.

How did we get here?

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It feels like merely a few years ago we were being told of teacher shortages amid a clamber to train new teachers. Now we can’t even keep them in the country.

My partner applied for over 30 positions between councils and individual schools, and despite a handful of interviews, was given nothing more than temporary supply offers. And she is sadly not alone.

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Stephen McIlkenny

Last week, STV ran a story with a number of newly qualified teachers facing the prospect of having to sell their homes or move abroad in order to survive amid the shortage of positions in Scotland. The article ran figures from the Scottish Liberal Democrats that claimed in the 2016-17 school year, 56 per cent of newly qualified primary teachers in Scotland were offered a permanent contract – by 2020-21 just 23 per cent were made such an offer.

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How many other teachers taught and trained in Scotland are going to be forced to move abroad or take drastic action due to lack of opportunities here? How many took part in degrees fully funded by the Scottish Government - and told they were needed amid a teaching crisis - only to not have a job in first year as newly qualified teachers but to keep their phone on as they'd be supply in case of an emergency.

Real questions should be asked about how we got here in the first place - and real action is needed.

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What support is being offered to our teachers? Why are classroom sizes going up but newly trained teacher recruitment going down? Why were so many trained with so few jobs available? Why is teaching becoming an outsourced commodity? Everyone, from politicians to parents should be asking these questions. They are being let down - as are their children.

Scotland takes a huge amount of pride in education, and rightly so. It has long been a world leader at the cutting edge of academic development. While Scotland continues to try and develop its education, we must make sure that we do not become an outsource supplier for the rest of the world with the next generation of our own teachers.

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