Emergency summit to tackle teacher shortage

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:
Photo: MA Education

An acute shortage of teachers has prompted six Scottish councils to hold a summit at which they will push for a national plan from the Holyrood government.

Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, the Highlands, Moray, the Shetland Islands and the Orkney Islands will consider proposals including higher salaries for teachers willing to move north and more teacher training places at both the University of the Highlands and Islands and Aberdeen University.

The local authorities have invited first minister Nicola Sturgeon to the summit, who last month asked voters to make education the main issue by which her SNP administration should be judged.

In some cases the councils have already offered advance payments and free accommodation in an attempt to recruit new teachers.

Aberdeen City alone now has 19 secondary teacher vacancies, as well as seeking 36 primary and four additional support needs (ASN) teachers. It also has vacancies for headteachers at two secondaries and nine primaries.

Jenny Laing, leader of the city's council, said: "Many councils in the north and north-east of Scotland are experiencing higher than normal levels of teacher shortages – particularly at senior management levels.

"While not yet at crisis levels it is nevertheless a serious issue that we want to tackle now to protect the interests of pupils. We urge the Scottish government to work with us on finding a solution at a national level."

Angela Taylor, convener of Aberdeen's education committee, said: "While the vacancy levels are still moderately low if taken as a whole, in some in-demand subjects such as science, technology, engineering and maths, recruitment is taking a long time as the pool of applicants is often very low.

"The cost of living in the north and north-east of Scotland is a key factor and urgent action is needed if we are to target education resources for the benefit of school students rather than spend on advertising."

The six councils have recently spent a total of about £1 million on advertising the vacancies and have offered incentive schemes and housing support.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said the union backed the summit. "We are willing to engage constructively with councils to explore ways to improve processes for teacher recruitment and retention.

"Attracting teachers to some parts of the country ­– for example rural or remote areas or areas with a lack of affordable housing ­­– is an on-going challenge for a number of local authorities."

While pay and conditions for teachers will continue to be agreed nationally, it is open to local authorities to explore additional incentives or other means of attracting qualified teachers to come and work in their schools, he said.

One proposal is a national taskforce to draw up an action plan to tackle the shortage. Another is a north of Scotland weighting allowance for public sector workers, like that in London.


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