The Scottish Parent Teacher Council, which represents almost 2,000 local parent councils and associations, has urged Holyrood to take an urgent overview of what it describes as an “untenable situation”.
“Local authorities are finding it difficult to recruit teachers and school leaders, both on supply and permanent/contract. On the other hand … 70 per cent of new teachers are yet to find a permanent post,” Eileen Prior, executive director of the SPTC wrote in a letter to Michael Russell.
“It seems the two facts are contradictory and irreconcilable: from our perspective it appears that there is something fundamentally dysfunctional in our system.”
She said research from local authority and professional association contacts around Scotland had shown a shortage of supply teachers so acute schools have had to: bring back retired teachers, deploy headteachers and deputies as cover, and in some cases team teach or hold extended assembly-type activities.
Headteachers who are routinely covering teaching are unable to deal with minor parental queries or worries on an informal basis at the start of the school day, automatically escalating matters that would have been resolved easily, Ms Prior said. “This changes the dynamic of relationships and places everyone under greater time pressure.
“There is of course also a direct impact on the young people, who may experience disjointed teaching.”
In some areas, including the north east of Scotland, sending children home has so far been avoided “by a whisker”, she said, but some authorities see this as almost inevitable at some point as resources are so stretched.
“We are also aware there is an issue with recruitment of contract or permanent teachers in some subject areas. In addition, some local authorities are experiencing extreme difficulty, across all sectors and all subjects.”
Teachers of English, sciences and home economics are almost universally difficult to find, she added.
Potential remedies suggested in the letter include encouraging staff who are retiring to take up relief/supply contracts, contracting agency staff from Ireland and Canada, and shared headships.
A Scottish government spokesman said: “Every available source of information suggests employment prospects for newly qualified teachers are increasing and have been doing so since autumn 2010, when we took action to address supply. Teacher unemployment in Scotland is the lowest in the UK and the Scottish government has increased the number of student teacher places by 880 over the last three years.”