THE latest plan to resolve chronic teacher shortages in rural areas is radical, but potentially unpopular.

The Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE) has not published any definitive course of action, but the suggestion is trainee teachers could be sent to rural areas to help fill vacancies as a matter of course.

As research has already shown, geography is a significant challenge in recruiting teachers, particularly to rural areas, because most are trained in central Scotland and will not consider posts elsewhere.


Teacher recruitment crisis: Scottish schools facing nearly 700 vacancies

Union leader Seamus Searson, who sits on the board, said these postings could be for up to two years and would be beneficial because of the wider responsibilities of working in a smaller school.

However, trainees in their probationary year can already benefit from an additional payment of up to £8,000 if they sign up to be posted anywhere in Scotland, but the scheme has not proved as successful as was hoped.

Aberdeenshire Council reported in February that the number of probationers agreeing to work anywhere was lower than in previous years, suggesting any form of future coercion would be problematic.

The council also has concerns about the impact on quality of plugging gaps with trainees. “Although probationers are a welcome resource, particularly if those from outwith the north-east can be encouraged to stay, it should be noted that relying on probationers does result in a relatively inexperienced staff mix, which can cause concerns among parents,” the same report said.


More than 1,000 teachers under 40 quit the profession

What is clear from the SBTE paper is just how much of an impact the staff shortages are having on schools.

Longhaven School in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, was mothballed in 2018 after adverts failed to attract staff and the five remaining pupils had to be placed elsewhere.

Argyll and Bute mothballed Minard Primary in Inveraray in October last year after being unable to recruit staff and the remaining three pupils were moved elsewhere.

The report also found an increasing challenge recruiting and retaining senior staff in rural settings, with some authorities, including Dumfries and Galloway, recruiting headteachers to run up to three schools at once.

And one potential solution - that of greater use of digital resources - has been problematic because rural schools also struggle with poor internet connection.