Qualified teachers unable to secure work round on Scottish education secretary

When Jenny Redman* saw a Scottish Government advert asking people working in the STEM industries to retrain as teachers, she decided to take the plunge.

Having worked in a lucrative career as an optoelectronics process engineer for 13 years, she wanted to fulfil a long-held ambition to teach. Now, three years on, she is struggling to find a permanent job as a chemistry teacher - with only supply contracts, sometimes just a single day at a time - on offer.

“Many of us are at our wits end with it and some have left the profession entirely,” said Ms Redman, from Glasgow, who is a single parent of two children. "It was sold to me as 'we desperately need people to live industry and come and share their knowledge in schools', but if I'd known that there wouldn't be any jobs for me, I might have reconsidered. I never thought that I would become part of the gig economy when I became a teacher."

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Today, hundreds of qualified teachers in Scotland are mass tweeting education secretary Shirley Anne Somerville to complain about the recruitment practices which have left many of them unable to secure work.

Many teachers are struggling to find permanent work.

They have warned that cohorts of teachers who qualified since 2018 have found themselves unable to secure permanent posts following probation.

While the Scottish Government is still advertising for new teachers to train and is still offering £20k bursaries to prospective teachers working in STEM industries, qualified teachers say local authorities are rarely advertising permanent positions, preferring to hire a constant stream of newly qualified graduates working in their (Newly Qualified Teacher) NQT year to save money.

Ms Redman said: “It wouldn't be so tricky if there weren't so many trainee teachers. It's a bit demoralising. Local Authorities don't pay for teachers who are on their NQT year, so if they want to get another NQT to fill the position, it is a lot cheaper for them than to hire me, I can't compete."

Temporary teachers are sharing their stories of zero hours contracts and a lack of permanent posts under the hashtag #LetUsTeach, as well as sharing an open letter written to the Scottish Government earlier this year, in which they highlighted their concerns.

Teacher Sean Kenny is unable to find a permanent job.

The teachers have highlighted the practice of filling classroom numbers to capacity and “reducing the number of teachers to a skeleton staff” to save money, leaving many teachers able to only do supply work, which they have said is affecting their personal lives.

In the #LetUsTeach campaign, teachers have bombarded Ms Somerville with posts, explaining how the lack of jobs available to them has forced many to leave the profession, or take other jobs.

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Some teachers pointed to temporary teaching posts which attracted hundreds of applicants.

One mother of three from Stirling left a long term career in business to retrain as a primary school teacher, qualifying last year in her mid 40s. She is now unable to find a position, with only a handful of jobs available in even the permanent supply pool posts – and more than 400 applications.

She said: "Returning to study and juggling childcare was certainly not for the fainthearted. I feel like I’ve been jumping through hoops for two years and it's a slap in the face that there appears to be no prospect of permanent employment any time soon.

"I feel hoodwinked and demotivated, having literally sacrificed so much time and money to follow my dream job."

She said she and other teachers had had to fund resources for their classes such as stationery out of their own pockets.

She said: "All local authorities are trying to cut back on budgets. Money that should be ring fenced for staffing must be being used to plug other areas. The budgets in schools are horrendously low.”

Sean Kenny has just spent his NQT year working in a primary school in Fife, but has been unable to secure a job for next term, despite passing an internal interview with the council. As a mature student, he is settled in the area, but is having to look further afield to get a post in his chosen career.

He said: "I did an interview around February and they told me I'd passed, but later said there weren't any jobs. I am soon going to have to make the choice of taking a job outside of education, but if you go down that route you're probably end up being pushed out of the market because in interviews they want to talk about experience. It's just not a great situation."

He added: "I'm having to look all over Scotland and potentially if a job comes up in, say, Aberdeen I might have to take it, but being a mature student, my partner is in Dundee, so logistically, it's a nightmare.

Another qualified teacher said that she had taken a job with a supermarket after being unable to find work.

She wrote on Twitter: “I'm a teacher in Scotland. Who's my main employer? Asda. They're the ones who actually give me a contract to work on a checkout.

“For teaching, I do zero hours supply. My local authority haven't needed anyone for biology/science for over a year.”

The Scottish Temporary Teachers campaign group, who represent thousands of qualified Scottish teachers struggling to find secure employment, wrote to Ms Somerville on 6 June, but have not yet had a response.

The group said: "We are seeking to put an end to unfair recruitment practices, oversaturation of students into the sector and the occurrence of zero hours contracts of teaching staff. Probationers are used year in and year out to fill vacancies and following probation year teachers find themselves now unemployed.

"This is not a new issue or related to the COVID 19 pandemic and the government and teaching unions have failed to act year upon year. At a time when education is crucial for our young people, it's time for this to end."

Larry Flanagan, EIS General Secretary, said: “The EIS supports the challenges being made around recruitment practices and is continuing to pursue the issue of teacher unemployment and under-employment with the Scottish Government and local authorities. It is clear that in the wake of the pandemic, Scotland needs an increased number of teachers, employed on permanent contracts, working to support young people in our schools.

"At our recent Annual General Meeting, the EIS passed a number of resolutions on this issue and will step up our campaign for an end to zero hours contracts and precarious employment practices for teachers. As part of this, we will also be pushing the Scottish Government and COSLA to commit to increased permanent posts through mechanisms such as introducing smaller class sizes, cutting maximum teaching time, increasing ASN support and fully finding probationer posts as supernumerary.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Teachers are sounding the alarm on the workforce planning crisis. But the Scottish Government are treating the profession with contempt, and the Education Secretary hasn’t even dignified them with a response.

“The creeping casualisation needs to be stopped, and more permanent contracts need to be created. No qualified teacher should have to battle for a job like this.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "While local authorities are responsible for the recruitment and deployment of their staff, we are firmly believe we will need all possible teaching resources at our disposal to compensate for any loss of learning suffered since the start of the pandemic.

“We are working closely with COSLA regarding the employment of teachers for the next academic year, and will continue to do everything we can to maximise the number of jobs available for teachers, including permanent posts. Since the start of the pandemic we have committed over £200 million of funding to support the recruitment of additional teachers and support staff to aid education recovery.

“As part of our commitment to supporting the recruitment of 3,500 additional teachers and classroom assistants, funding will be provided to local authorities to increase teacher numbers by 1,000 and classroom assistants by 500 within the first 100 days of this parliamentary term. We have also committed to a reduction in class contact time for all teachers. This in itself should create a need for more permanent teachers.”

*Jenny Redman’s name has been changed to protect anonymity.

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