Pupils face part-time school because of teacher shortage

Primary school pupils may have to attend school part-time after a council warned of a 'grave' shortage of teachers and asked parents to put them in touch with any qualified staff to plug the gaps.

A letter to parents of children in all primary schools in the Moray Council area said the “ongoing challenges” in recruiting staff meant some educational establishments may have to consider “partial closure”, which could see pupils told not to attend on certain days.

There are about 40 teacher vacancies across the council area and schools in the Lossiemouth and Forres area are thought to be worst hit by staff absences due to sickness and maternity leave.

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The warning is the latest sign of a teacher recruitment crisis gripping Scotland. Earlier this month it emerged that a class in Glasgow had had 20 different teachers in less than four years, while high schools in Edinburgh and Perthshire were recently forced to turn to parents for help to cover gaps in its maths departments after struggling to recruit a new teacher.

Moray has been hit by a "grave" shortage of teachers. Picture: Ian Rutherford

In the letter, signed by the council’s head of schools and curriculum development Vivienne Cross, parents were told: “Headteachers have tried a variety of different options to cover classes, including using Support for Learning teachers as well as promoted staff (where available) and themselves to ensure that classes have a teacher.

“Headteachers are working tirelessly to ensure that a full service provision is available. However, the situation has become so grave that a number of schools are at a point where they have to consider partial closure eg a year group or class may be asked not to attend on specific day(s).”

Ms Cross added: “If you know of any primary school teachers who would be willing to come and work in Moray or be added to our supply list, please contact...”

Earlier this year, Moray offered teachers rent-free accommodation in a bid to ease a severe staff shortage, while the council’s education director, Laurence Findlay, in May told Holyrood’s education committee that the chronic shortage of staff in the area was the “number one issue” in his department.

Moray has been hit by a "grave" shortage of teachers. Picture: Ian Rutherford

In Moray Council area, 27 teachers are currently absent due to pregnancies, with seven due to take leave imminently and a further four confirmed pregnancies among women yet to submit paperwork.

Moray Council’s leader said the Scottish Government’s policy to keep small rural schools open had contributed to the crisis, saying that the number of teachers available per pupil in the local authority area was sufficient, but that the high number of small schools pushed up the number of necessary teaching staff.

Leader of the council, George Alexander – who worked as a teacher for 20 years – said: “It is true that we have a serious teacher shortage in some schools at the moment and this is exacerbated by absence due to illness and maternity leave. We have advised parents by letter that some classes may have to be merged, or cancelled altogether. We’ve put out a plea for supply teachers, and asked our colleagues in other authorities if they can spare a teacher for a short period.

“Having said there is a shortage of teaching staff, the fact is we actually have enough teachers for the number of pupils in Moray, however they are spread across too many small schools.

“There is no doubt we have to look at our school estate if we are to provide the best education service for our young people.

“Reconfiguration of our school estate is made extremely difficult by the Scottish Government’s continued presumption against any school closure, but I am confident that this council will succeed in persuading both the Scottish Government and the people of Moray that reconfiguration of the school estate is long overdue and will be done successfully on the basis of educational benefit.”

Liz Smith, Scottish conservative education spokeswoman said: “This is simply further evidence of a crisis in teacher recruitment and a failure of the SNP’s workforce planning.

“There are significant issues across the country as a result of teacher shortages. They are very disruptive for both children and their parents. Children will not receive the education they deserve and need, without enough teachers in classrooms.”

Schools which sent out the letter include Applegrove Primary School in Forres, which as Scotland on Sunday reported earlier this year, lost Canadian P2 teacher Heather Cattanach, who was pulled from the classroom in the middle of the school day in January due to a wrangle with the Home Office over her visa. She has since been returned to Canada and her class remains without a permanent teacher.

Ms Cattanach, who was initially recruited to teach in England through a targeted scheme advertised at her university in British Columbia, took a job in Scotland in January 2018.

She applied to have her UK government visa extended, but a mistake on the part of her lawyers meant the application was submitted late - and despite a written plea from Moray Council’s Mr Finlay, was told she was no longer eligible to work in Scotland, where she lived with her new husband, Scot Gary McIver. She has since returned to Canada, where she is reapplying for a spousal visa to be allowed to return to Scotland.

She said: “I think it’s unfortunate I was forced to leave the UK, when it’s clear Scotland requires teachers immediately. I want to stay with my family in Scotland, a country that could use my support as a teacher. Education should be the highest priority of any country.”

In 2010, Moray Council successfully campaigned to be allowed to close Cabrach Primary in Moray, which had only two pupils. The school, which the council first applied to shut in 2008, but had its initial application rejected by the Scottish Government, cost the council £100,000 a year to run.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We invested £88 million in 2017 resulting in 543 more teachers than last year – the second year in a row there has been an increase in teacher numbers. In Moray, the number of teachers increased this year to 856.

“While teacher recruitment is a matter for local authorities, we recognise some areas have faced challenges filling vacancies. We are working closely with Moray Council, and partner local authorities in the Northern Alliance, to address medium and long term teacher workforce issues.”

He added: “It is sensible for Moray Council to keep parents informed about potential class disruption due to the increased risk of teacher absences over the winter.”