Supply Teachers (Shortage)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 24 September 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

2. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to address the shortage of supply teachers. (S4T-00457)

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I welcome Kezia Dugdale to her new role. It is the first time that we have met in the chamber, and I hope that we will have a positive exchange for the benefit of Scotland’s children and learners.

Some local authorities are experiencing challenges in relation to supply teachers. There are three issues. First, more new teachers are securing full-time contracts, so there are fewer available for supply. Secondly, the level of teacher unemployment in Scotland is lower than it has been since 2005. Thirdly, there is the impact of the 2011 pay agreement. We have taken steps to address all those issues. We have increased the number of student teachers by 300 in 2012 and by a further 370 in 2013, and I will continue to monitor the situation on an annual basis. The Educational Institute of Scotland is currently balloting its members on a pay offer that will improve pay for teachers who undertake supply work.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

Because I am, indeed, new to this role, before coming here today I looked over the other occasions on which the issue had come to the chamber. The cabinet secretary has constantly reminded us in the chamber that he is “monitoring” the situation and that it is “under regular review”. Can he, therefore, tell us which local authorities are facing shortages of supply and in what subjects? What specifically is he doing to help local authorities that are struggling to put teachers in front of classes full of children?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

It is a matter for each individual education authority to address the teacher supply issue. The freedom of information publication that the BBC used last week pointed to South Ayrshire Council’s difficulty in finding English teachers for my old school, Marr college. That is a problem for South Ayrshire Council to address through manpower planning of one sort or another. The job of Government is to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of teachers coming through but not an oversupply because, as the member will know if she has looked back on the issue, an issue that we have had to address again and again is the difficulty of teacher unemployment. We have tried to bring the supply of teachers into balance.

There will always be areas and subjects in which there is a difficulty in providing enough recruits. In the circumstances, we ensure that the recruitment process of universities is targeted to those shortage subjects. Indeed, there will be a further report on teacher workforce planning in December so that we can ensure that those subjects are being addressed.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer, but I am not sure that it will bring much comfort to those in Moray Council who describe the problems of getting supply teachers as “chaotic”. I encourage the cabinet secretary to look closely at what is happening in Moray at the moment.

The cabinet secretary mentioned the pay ballot that the EIS is currently undertaking. Will his offer to supply teachers stand if the EIS members reject the McCormac process in the ballot?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I remind the member that it is not my offer to supply teachers. The method of agreeing terms and conditions and salaries in the teaching workforce is tripartite. It is an agreement between the unions, local government employers and the Government. The offer was agreed by all three, and the changes that were made in 2011 were agreed by all three, including—this is an important point—the EIS, which accepted the change to the terms and conditions of supply teachers. There is now a new offer on the table, which I hope will be accepted. I am not going to try to influence the ballot by going into detail, but I think that, in the circumstances, the offer is the right one. It has been agreed by the parties and it is now up to the members of the union to decide whether they want to take it.

It is important that Moray Council and other councils undertake robust workforce planning, ensure that their workforce is available across the board and, where there are shortages, fill the positions. They must also ensure that they employ enough teachers. That is an extremely important issue. We have heard some siren voices in one or two local authorities talking about teacher numbers. We have a national agreement on teacher numbers with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. It is obvious that we need to have that number of teachers, and we should continue to have them.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary welcome the recent figures that show that teacher unemployment is at its lowest in eight years? What are the reasons for that?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I very much welcome the fact that the August claimant count figures were the lowest in education since that series of records began in 2005. There were difficulties with teacher unemployment from 2008 until 2010. As I have said previously in the chamber, I strongly believe that that was a result of artificially high and unsustainable teacher numbers in 2006-07. We took the difficult decision that we had to move on from that. We have made a shared commitment to local government to maintain teacher numbers in line with pupil numbers. Those actions have enabled us to rebalance teacher employment at a more sustainable level.

Members should remember that in Scotland we have a unique offer of probation in teaching that means that everyone who qualifies as a teacher is entitled to a year in the classroom as a probationer. We have more new teachers—that is, post-probationers—in employment: 75 per cent of post-probationary teachers were in permanent or temporary employment in publicly funded schools in September 2012, which was an increase from 66 per cent in 2011. There is always flexibility, because there always need to be teachers who are available to take up posts as they become available during the year.

Over the past 12 months, the number of teachers who claim jobseekers allowance has fallen by 29 per cent. It is much, much lower than the level in the rest of these islands. In August 2013, the figure for the number of jobseekers allowance claimants in education per 1,000 was 51.8 per cent in Northern Ireland, 15.1 per cent in Wales, 10.9 per cent in England and 4.7 per cent in Scotland. It is quite clear that we have focused strongly on ensuring that young teachers get into jobs, and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

In remote rural areas, the availability of supply teachers, particularly in specialist subjects, is a reasonable concern, particularly for continuity of learning and university entrance. Could more be done through distance and e-learning, videoconferencing and, where appropriate—I appreciate that this is not always possible—travel to another school?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I also welcome Mary Scanlon to her new role—there has been quite a reshuffle in the education ranks over the summer.

Mary Scanlon raises a good point. There is always the potential for imagination to be used in finding solutions to such difficulties. I have been to some schools in remote areas that depend on distance and e-learning to provide a range of subjects. It may not be the best or most permanent solution, but imagination is needed where difficulties are experienced, and I commend all education authorities, all schools and all headteachers who employ it.