Probationer Teachers (Preference Waiver Scheme)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 16 November 2023.

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Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

3. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to increase the number of probationer teachers choosing the preference waiver scheme. (S6O-02730)

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

The preference waiver payment is an important component of the teacher induction scheme that provides a financial incentive for probationer teachers to consider undertaking their probation year anywhere in Scotland. Information that is provided to prospective probationer teachers clearly outlines all the options that are available to them, including the benefits of opting for the preference waiver programme. In addition, the strategic board for teacher education, which is made up of a range of key education stakeholders, is looking at the recruitment and retention of teachers, which includes considering issues that relate to the early phase of a teacher’s career.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

Figures that were released last month show that only 6.8 per cent of probationers opted to choose the preference waiver scheme. Furthermore, local authorities across Scotland received 657 fewer probationer teachers than they had requested, and rural areas were particularly affected.

It is clear that the situation is unsustainable. What action is the cabinet secretary taking to improve the preference waiver scheme and its uptake, so that more probationers opt to take up the offer next year?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I should probably declare an interest, as I benefited from the preference waiver payment back in 2009, when I went to Moray as a probationer teacher.

The waiver payment is set at £6,000 for primary and £8,000 for secondary. As I said in my initial response, it very much encourages teachers to consider going anywhere. We know that there are teacher recruitment challenges in parts of Scotland, and the preference waiver scheme helps to address those.

However, the member is right that there seems to have been a shift in the willingness of some of our student teachers to tick the box and go anywhere. That is problematic, because the scheme is not as popular as it once was. A few weeks ago, I held a round-table session on the issue with a number of probationers, and I heard from them a reticence to move around the country that perhaps did not exist before the pandemic.

Such challenges do not arise just in the education system—I know that they exist in the national health service and in justice, so the situation is not unique to education.

In response to another member, I set out some of the action that I am taking. The strategic board for teacher education will work with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, Education Scotland and the Scottish Council of Deans of Education to look at—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, cabinet secretary—I have to move on to supplementary questions.

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

How will the Scottish Government continue to promote the teaching profession as a rewarding and valued career, particularly in rural communities such as mine—Perthshire South and Kinross-shire?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

We value our teachers highly. Through the recent historic 14 per cent pay deal, teachers in our classrooms are the highest paid in the United Kingdom. We are also supporting councils with the additional £145 million that I mentioned in response to Mr Rennie.

As part of investing in our schools under the programme for government, we have a commitment to support our teaching profession by working with our partners on a joint campaign to promote teaching. As I said, the preference waiver payment, which Mr Balfour mentioned, is a really important part of that, as it gives probationer teachers financial incentives to consider undertaking their probation year in remote and rural areas, where the need is greatest.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Katy Clark has a brief supplementary question.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

Probationary teachers often do not feel sufficiently incentivised to move to other parts of Scotland to teach, and they are also put off by precarious contracts. Does the Scottish Government intend to set out in guidance that local authorities should seek to eliminate the use of zero-hours and fixed-term contracts, given that we know that continuity of teaching is very much in pupils’ interests, too?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Please answer briefly, cabinet secretary.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I go back to the point that about 80 per cent of our jobs in teaching are permanent posts. On the member’s question about fixed-term contracts, some of those contracts arise when people go on maternity leave, so we should be mindful of that. Ultimately, local authorities are the employers, but I am committed, through the work with the strategic board for teacher education and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, to seeing what more we might be able to do to improve the situation.