THE large number of qualified teachers who have successfully completed a probationary year but are then unable to secure a full-time permanent appointment amounts to a scandalous waste of talent and training.

Acknowledging the waste, the Scottish Government reduced the number of postgraduate training places and diverted the funds to local authorities to enable them to employ more teachers. As we report today, this has proved inadequate, providing nothing more substantial than false hope for the majority of probationer teachers. A new survey by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) shows that, while more teachers who have completed their year's probation are securing full-time jobs, they are increasingly likely to be offered temporary contracts instead of permanent posts. This year 34% have been offered fixed-term contracts, a significant jump from the 25% in this position last year.

This is a worrying trend, the implications of which are overshadowing two welcome statistics: the drop in teacher unemployment from 16% to 12% and the slight rise in full-time, permanent positions from 20% to 25%.

The teaching unions are right to point to dangers in the casualisation of the profession. Teaching is a vocation as well as a profession and teachers know they cannot expect to command a high salary unless they reach the top ranks. One of the compensations for the limited opportunity to advance is stability of employment. If, instead, teachers are faced with periods of unemployment between short-term contracts they are bound to take their abilities elsewhere and the brightest new graduates will be less likely to consider teaching. That, in turn, raises the prospect of a shortage of trained teachers in a few years' time when the large proportion of baby-boomer generation teachers reaching retirement age coincides with the increase in the birth rate arriving in the classroom.

The Education Secretary, Michael Russell, allowed local authorities to borrow the up-front costs of teachers' early retirement to enable them to take on new teachers. This also had the important consequence of reducing costs by replacing higher-paid teachers at the end of their careers with those starting out who have still to work their way up the pay ladder.

Replacing permanent staff with those on temporary contracts subverts the spirit of that initiative and is a disappointing approach to fulfilling agreements on teacher numbers. Councils faced with highly unpalatable budget decisions are understandably tempted by short-term contracts that will produce immediate savings on holiday pay and other entitlements. The short-term financial advantage, however, must be balanced with continuity and consistency in the classroom.