Local authorities have historically reported varying degrees of difficulty in engaging supply teachers. As Mr Henry knows, the degree of difficulty varies geographically across Scotland and across the range of secondary subjects and fluctuates throughout the year. The Scottish negotiating committee for teachers has undertaken three surveys over the past 18 months to establish the level of difficulty and any reasons for it. The surveys have identified a number of possible issues, which include the changes to the salary scale and the fact that teacher unemployment is lower in Scotland than it is anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The Scottish Government is working with partners through the SNCT to identify and implement solutions.
The cabinet secretary refers to historical problems, but in recent years the problem has been exacerbated by the salaries that are on offer to supply teachers. The problems exist across Scotland and are not confined to specific geographic areas. Councils and teachers know that there is a problem; indeed, teachers are refusing to work on the current salaries that are on offer. Will the Scottish Government therefore provide extra funding to councils to ensure that the present failing arrangement is scrapped and a fairer and more attractive scheme is introduced?
I accept Mr Henry’s point that further progress is needed, but there is a complex series of issues. Mr Henry is aware that the payment for supply teachers was agreed as part of the tripartite agreement two years ago, which was accepted by the trade unions. All three parties to the agreement accepted those changes.
Teacher unemployment is at its lowest level for a very long time and is the lowest in these islands. Mr Henry shakes his head as if to say that that does not matter, but of course it matters because, for a long time, we have been trying to drive down teacher unemployment. We have succeeded in doing so, but sometimes that creates a problem in some areas.
A third issue is that, in the present on-going discussions, there is a discussion about supply. However, the local authorities have to prove themselves willing to come to the table along with others to ensure that the issue is solved. If Mr Henry has any influence with any local authority education leader—I believe that he does—I hope that he will influence that leader or leaders to ensure that they come to the table to be genuine in the discussions, along with the Government and the unions. We can then get a resolution of the issue. It is important that we try to make progress on the issue. There is a complex series of reasons and the situation is not the same everywhere. We are trying to ensure that solutions are found.