How we can keep our best teachers

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The fact that Scotland's teachers are sought after the world over means that if we want to hang on to them, then we must work harder to make them feel valued. Alex Wood looks at how this might be achieved.

There has been a flurry of recent interest in the Scottish press over English councils, including Kent, recruiting Scottish teachers.

The recruitment firm leading the Kent campaign noted that teachers were among Scotland’s “greatest exports”. It’s a back-handed compliment but Scottish teachers should be happy to accept it.

It has not however only been English local authorities that have been actively recruiting Scottish teachers. Schools in the Middle East and Far East regularly advertise teaching posts, at all levels, in the Scottish press. Talented Scottish teachers, including at senior levels, have headed to Singapore, to the Gulf States and to Hong Kong and, to some extent, that is inevitable. Scots are adventurous.

The Scottish teaching workforce is highly qualified; entry to both secondary and primary teaching has been open only to graduates with a teaching qualification for a considerable time. The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) also insists on an English language qualification, currently a pass in English at SQA Higher or equivalent. Primary teachers also require a basic maths qualification. It has always been harder for those who qualified in England to find work in Scotland than vice versa.

Teachers who qualified outside Scotland are at a further disadvantage because all 32 Scottish local authorities have been committed to offering every new probationer who qualifies in Scotland a year-long post – leaving fewer vacancies for teachers trained elsewhere. 

The result however is that in 2010, 27 per cent of teachers, after having completed their probationary year, were not employed in teaching. A survey by the GTCS found that in June 2011 only one NQT in five found a full-time, permanent teaching job after completing their induction year. 

That situation varies enormously across the country. Immediately prior to my retiring in 2011, I had more than 60 applications for some posts. In the more remote and rural parts of the country however there is far less competition for jobs. There are also subject areas, including maths and the sciences, in which numbers are limited. 

The government target of two hours of PE for every Scottish pupil however led to deliberate increase in the numbers of students accepted on courses training PE teachers and, consequently, they have been in over-supply in recent years.

There has been an issue with recruitment. The tap has been turned on and off too often. In 2010, because the Scottish government believed, against a background of local authority cuts, that there was an over-supply of teachers, it reduced the teacher training targets from 3,857 to 2,307.

The problem has been compounded by new flattened management structures. The McCrone agreement abolished the Senior Teacher, Assistant Principal Teacher and Assistant Headteacher grades. The Chartered Teacher grade is about to disappear. 

The creation of Curriculum Leaders heading cross-disciplinary faculties has reduced the number of Principal Teacher posts. The result is that ambitious young teachers see decreasing opportunities for promotion and professional advancement.

The recent Donaldson review of teacher training has identified the need for a major improvement in the workforce planning model but the required co-operation between the councils, the universities and the Scottish government is yet to be seen.

Scottish teachers need security and the likelihood of professional progression. Scottish schools need continuity of staffing but also need high quality staff. Workforce planning is essential and it is almost unimaginable that a complex management system could get it so wrong. Even more important however, if we are to retain our best teachers and make Curriculum for Excellence work, teachers need to feel valued. Pay freezes, attacks on pensions and cuts in resources are not the means to achieve that.

  • Alex Wood has been a teacher for 38 years. He is currently an associate with the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration at Edinburgh University.


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