Schools facing major crisis as teachers reach breaking-point

Scotland's schools are facing a major staffing crisis with over-stressed and under-paid teachers reaching 'breaking point', a prominent headteacher has warned.

Scottish schools are reaching a major staffing crisis. Picture: Jon Savage

Rod Grant, of Clifton Hall School, Edinburgh, launched the outspoken attack on the Scottish Government’s handling of the education system after it was revealed parents are being asked for help to solve recruitment problems.

The Scotsman’s disclosure that Edinburgh’s Trinity Academy appealed for parental help after failing to fill two maths teacher vacancies led to Mr Grant voicing his frustration on the Clifton Hall Facebook page.

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In a damning article, Mr Grant accused the Scottish Government of running a system that was “not child-friendly”, over-reliant on exam results and staffed by a demotivated workforce that was about to leave “in droves”.

Speaking to the Scotsman last night, Mr Grant said: “When you have 700 unfilled posts at the beginning of an academic year and then a report saying that 40 per cent of Scotland’s teachers intend to leave the profession over the next 18 months then you have a major staffing crisis on the horizon – if not now then round the corner. The situation at Trinity Academy is symptomatic of that and the perception of the teaching profession in Scotland at the moment.”

His article referred to the Trinity situation, which saw headteacher Bryan Paterson write to parents to tell them that teachers of other subjects were being drafted in to cover maths lessons, despite the posts being advertised twice. In a letter to parents, Mr Paterson cited the “national shortage” of teachers in the key subjects like maths and science.

Mr Grant, who has run his fee-paying school since 2005, said the problems facing schools went beyond staff shortages, and warned pupils were suffering as a result of failings in the education system.

“It’s not just staff that are at breaking point,” Mr Grant wrote. “The recent WHO [World Health Organisation] report into childhood health reports that Scotland has the highest rate of self-harm amongst 15-year-old girls in the world, bar one. This, at a time when more than 250,000 children in Scotland have no access to school-based counselling services. What do all of these indicators tell us?

“We have an education system that is not child-friendly, that is overly-reliant on one success indicator, namely data emanating from examination results and a workforce that is demotivated and on the cusp of leaving in droves.”

Mr Grant said the system was suffering from “stress” and would break under the pressure unless something was done. He listed challenges facing teachers including a 6 per cent drop in salary levels over the last decade and an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report, which found their take home pay was less than other professionals with their qualifications.

Education Secretary John Swinney’s reforms were also criticised with Mr Grant arguing that there was still too much emphasis on examination results rather than producing well rounded pupils. Mr Grant quoted Mr Swinney’s admission that there are almost 700 vacancies in Scottish schools and academic research from Bath Spa University suggesting more than 40 per cent of Scotland’s teachers intend to quit in the next 18 months.

His intervention came as the Tories branded the situation at Trinity Academy “a scandal” while Labour said it was “utterly humiliating” that schools were having to turn to parents for assistance.

Earlier this year a similar situation occurred at Blairgowrie High School in Perthshire, where parents were asked if they would be “interested in supporting pupils” if they had a degree in maths or a related subject.

Responding to Mr Grant’s comments, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This government is committed to closing the poverty-related attainment gap, to raising the bar for all children and young people and to freeing up teachers to do what they do best – teach.

“And addressing excessive teacher workload will continue to be a key theme of our bold education reforms. As the OECD’s independent review showed, Curriculum for Excellence provides a solid foundation on which to transform education nationally, with the latest exam results and statistics on positive destinations demonstrating that CfE is successfully meeting the needs of young people.”