GRUELLING workloads, high levels of stress and low pay are among the factors threatening to impede trainee teachers from embarking on a career in the classroom, official research has revealed.

It comes as staff from headteachers to trainees have lifted the lid on the extraordinary challenges facing every tier of the profession.

A survey by the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, which attracted more than 700 responses, found the same reasons were preventing senior teachers from seeking promotion.

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One headteacher said he was even aware of teaching staff having left the classroom to work in supermarkets while others used their skills to take up opportunities overseas.

Worryingly, some of the would-be teachers told how their “appalling” experiences at the hands of disinterested lecturers and on placement in classrooms had made them re-think their career path.

One said veteran teachers had told them to “leave whilst you still can” while another suggested bullying was rife within the profession and staff rooms a “poisonous environment”.

The results were published after MSPs launched an inquiry into the crisis in recruitment currently facing many Scottish schools.

The full extent of the problem was revealed last year when it emerged there were 730 unfilled vacancies across 27 of Scotland’s 32 council areas.

The problem is particularly acute in rural areas and in some secondary subjects including maths, physics, chemistry, computing science and design technology.

One of the most concerning aspects of the Holyrood survey was the experience of more than two fifths of the 51 trainee teachers who responded saying they were already unsure whether they would consider teaching as a lifelong career.

Reasons given included the lack of time for planning, onerous tracking and assessment of pupils, long working hours, poor pay and lack of support.

Two fifths of those who responded also criticised the system of school placements with concerns over the attitude of school staff and even a case where a trainee claimed to have been mentored by a teacher who was still on probation.

One said: “We are told at university to basically keep our heads down and keep teachers sweet when we are on placement which is hard to do and some people have had really bad experiences.”

Another said: “We are fortunate that in Scotland, your teaching degree can be taken worldwide once you qualify and, quite frankly, there are better opportunities abroad.”

The survey also attracted 250 responses from primary and secondary teachers with many referring to the positive contribution they were making.

However, more than 65 per cent described morale as either “quite low”, “low” or “very low” with concerns about workload, a lack of time, unclear information about exams and the curriculum and poor pupil behaviour.

One said: “There’s an anger that pay, in real terms feels as if it is being cut.

“There’s a tremendous willingness to try to make things work for the sake of the children, but there’s also a feeling that we aren’t making progress.”

Another said: “All of this number crunching and box ticking leaves teachers feeling exhausted, demoralised and as if their professional judgement counts for nothing. It is little wonder that recruitment and retention of teachers is a big problem.”

The majority of responses mentioned a lack of supply teachers, with the job being seen as a “last resort” because of cuts to the salary.

Most responses also mentioned the reduction in the number of support staff with a large number of teachers suggesting this had an impact on both pupils with additional support needs and more widely on whole classes.

Teacher shortages had led one school using a 24-year-old qualified PE teacher to also deliver classes in business studies and home economics before she decided to leave and take up a job in Dubai.

The survey also heard from 74 headteachers who raised concerns about pay, workload and bureaucracy, prospects for promotion, pupil behaviour and morale.

One headteacher said: “I love my job, but feel that my profession was taken from me.”

Another said: “Many of us go out of our way to make sure that our children, our nieces and nephews do not enter the teaching profession.”

Of those considering leaving, the stresses of the job and long working hours were common reasons with one saying: “I can’t possibly sustain this level of work. I work in the school building approx 50 to 60 hours a week. School takes over my whole life.”

In relation to pay, one respondent said: “A teacher at the top of their profession is no longer earning enough to buy a modest flat let alone raise a family.”

Others referred to difficulties in retaining staff with one stating: “Many staff with financially secure partners are leaving and I know of a few who have opted to work in supermarkets instead.”

Many of the suggestions for improving recruitment and retention were related to making teaching more rewarding and more attractive as a job by reducing workload and improving pay.

As well as being asked about challenges, staff were also asked what kept them in the job with the most common replies being making a difference, colleagues and working with the pupils.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our deal with local authorities to maintain the pupil teacher ratio has halted a period of steady decline in teacher recruitment.

“While the school placements system relies on effective partnership working between the General Teaching Council for Scotland, universities and local authorities, we would expect appropriate support and guidance to be made available.”