By a Scottish secondary school history teacher

The Education Secretary surely raised the eyebrows of many side-lined teachers when she praised the news that probationer numbers will go up by over 500 to 3,617 in 2021/22.

Shirley-Anne Somerville was at pains to frame the increase as “really positive” while pointing out that “local authorities are responsible for the recruitment…of their staff”.

Yet the very fact that so many are being recruited and trained is the reason that too many fully-qualified teachers are still searching for secure work. How does the current recruitment system fall short?

First, certain subjects are persistently over-recruited at PGDE level. The latest data from the Scottish Government shows that 63 History candidates were recruited against a target of 58 places for 2020/21. This means that since 2016/17, History PGDE recruitment stands at 120.4%. PE (108.2%), Modern Studies (104.8%) and Geography (104.2%) are similarly affected.

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Secondly, high PGDE intakes create a surplus of probationers, enabling cashstrapped councils to use the Teacher Induction Scheme to lower their costs. Probationers earn £27,498 with 80% of this cost being met by the Scottish Government if they are requested to fill a vacancy within a local authority.

If a probationer is requested where there is no staffing gap, they are fully funded. If any probationers remain unallocated after local authority requests are fulfilled, they are offered to councils with the Government again meeting 100% of the costs. Each scenario represents a substantial saving compared to hiring a fullyqualified teacher, whose salary would be at least £32,994 and met solely by the local authority. This incentivises councils to withhold vacancies from fullyqualified applicants in order to bid for subsidised probationers.

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.

In the February of my own probation year, a permanent post in my school was advertised but withdrawn without explanation. Eventually, the local authority acknowledged that the post was pulled to create the staffing vacancy necessary for their successful probationer bid that March. Accounts from peers illustrate other forms of “bed blocking”: schools being allocated probationers in the same subject across successive years; staff on fixed-term contracts being replaced by probationers; experienced, retired staff being replaced by probationers; jobs advertised in the spring being withdrawn after the allocation of a probationer; even interviews being arranged then cancelled after a probationer has been provided.

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Thirdly, there is a clear link between over-recruitment and diminished employment prospects. In September 2017, 57% of all post-probationers were in full-time permanent posts. Twelve per cent were in the “other” category, which includes those on supply, unemployed, teaching outwith the public sector or had left teaching entirely. Yet for history post-probationers, the figures were 44% and 17% respectively.

Teacher recruitment desperately needs an overhaul that both recognises the issues of the current system and ensures sustainable training and hiring practices.

This article was written by a secondary teacher of history who asked not to be named