The number of teachers quitting the professional register has surged by nearly one-quarter to reach a five-year high, fuelling fears of an exodus driven by the widespread use of temporary contracts.

Figures from the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) show 4,302 individuals allowed their registration to lapse in 2020. This is up from 3,448 in 2019 and 3,027 the year before.

Release of the statistics, which were obtained by The Herald under Freedom of Information legislation, follows disruption to education in the wake of Covid-19 and comes amid reports that many qualified individuals face a prolonged struggle to secure permanent work.

ANALYSIS: Temporary teacher fears - 'Number quitting must be probed'

Government and GTCS officials stressed that the number of registrants and full-time equivalent teachers had been increasing steadily.

But Beatrice Wishart, of the Liberal Democrats, said educators had been treated with “a disrespect verging on contempt”. She added: “So many people train to become teachers because they are passionate about helping youngsters, only to find themselves marooned on short-term contracts with no ability to plan for the future. No wonder we are seeing teachers quitting.

“The Scottish Government needs to guarantee a permanent job for every qualified teacher, end the shoddy treatment of the teaching profession by ministers and distant education authorities, and launch a comprehensive review of workloads and career opportunities.”

HeraldScotland: Beatrice Wishart (pictured with Willie Rennie, who recently announced he would be stepping down as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader) is concerned about the impact of temporary contracts on teacher retention.Beatrice Wishart (pictured with Willie Rennie, who recently announced he would be stepping down as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader) is concerned about the impact of temporary contracts on teacher retention.

Dr Jehan Al-Azzawi, a primary teacher based in Falkirk, told The Herald she would not be surprised if there was a link between lapsed registrations and workforce casualisation.

“Like many thousands of teachers across Scotland, I worked incredibly hard to provide a quality education through the pandemic,” she said. “Our workload quadrupled, but we persevered because we wanted to provide our learners with the best possible education that we could. I am now effectively unemployed despite being successful at the generic interview stage.”

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She added: “I’m very proud of my successes this past year and all my learners’  achievements, but pride and good feelings won’t pay the bills. Ultimately, I think teachers leave the profession because they feel perennially overworked and undervalued.”

Eleanor Figures, another primary teacher, said: “Many teachers have not managed to secure permanent contracts in the last few years, and with the added strain of teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic and stress piling on, it is no surprise that Covid-19 might have been the final straw for some teachers to leave the profession.

“I am in a position where I have not managed to secure permanency and have only been offered temporary contracts. After having applied for over 50 jobs this year throughout Scotland, and having eight interviews, I am not sure if I can keep doing this every year.”

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Larry Flanagan, general secretary at the EIS union, said: “Scotland clearly needs every available teacher to be deployed in our classrooms. This apparent rise in the numbers deregistering from the GTCS is worrying, therefore, and should be investigated, but the EIS is aware also of many new and recently qualified teachers desperately seeking permanent posts, and employing this cohort should be a priority for both national and local government.”

One union source suggested older supply teachers deciding to drop off the official record because of pandemic-related health fears was another possible factor that could explain the latest figures.

It comes after local authorities were accused of using probationers as cost-cutting “cannon fodder” to fill vacancies, displacing fully qualified colleagues and driving them to quit.

The Herald also revealed in April that more than 2,600 individuals – 1,101 primary and 1,506 secondary teachers – had unregistered after being added to the GTCS database since January 1, 2016. Critics said the loss of so many in a relatively short period of time pointed to serious underlying issues around retention and job security. The statistics were accompanied by an EIS warning that more than 500 newly-qualified teachers from the 2020 graduation group had come off the register.

HeraldScotland: EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said the GTCS registration statistics were cause for concern.EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said the GTCS registration statistics were cause for concern.

A GTCS spokeswoman said: “There are many reasons why teachers may leave the register, including retirement. The number of registrants on the register has steadily increased to the current figure of 77,659. The recruitment and retention of teachers is a complex issue which requires targeted and co-ordinated action.

“GTC Scotland is involved in work to help recruit and retain more teachers. This includes working with universities providing initial teacher education to develop new and innovative routes into the profession, as well as ensuring support for those within the early career phase.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said that “fewer people on the register doesn’t mean fewer people are teaching”.

ANALYSIS: 'Teacher recruitment system desperately needs overhauled’

She added: “The most recent official statistics confirmed the total number of full-time equivalent teachers has risen to its highest figure since 2008. Primary teacher numbers are at their highest level since 1980.

"Since the start of the pandemic we have committed over £200 million of funding to support the recruitment of additional teachers and support staff to aid education recovery.

“As part of our commitment to supporting the recruitment of 3,500 additional teachers and classroom assistants, funding will be provided to local authorities to increase teacher numbers by 1,000 and classroom assistants by 500 within the first 100 days of this parliamentary term.”