Is there a recruitment crisis in Scotland?

Following reports of the recruitment and retention crisis in England, Julian Stanley asks if there is a problem in Scotland too

South of the border, the summer has been dominated with talk of the recruitment and retention crisis in education.

Both the trade and national media have been filled with speculation on the number of NQTs leaving the profession, the number of teachers retiring early and the lack of candidates applying to replace those that are leaving. Mixed with an increase in pupils thanks to a higher birth rate, this is leading, the headlines suggest, to an education crisis.

Even the research that Teacher Support Network commissioned with YouGov in July revealed that a third of all teachers in England and Wales plan to leave in the next five years. This includes teachers across all levels of experience – from NQT through to those who have been teaching for more than 20 years.

Of course, there are some that say it is not a crisis. "I don't believe there is a crisis," schools minister Nick Gibb reportedly said last month. "There's a challenge and we're managing the challenge." But as much as this "challenge" has dominated the headlines in England, what is happening in Scotland?

The Scottish media certainly do not seem to be as focused with recruitment and retention and elsewhere in the country. Even a cursory look at the Scottish press over recent months shows a preoccupation with Higher results and the difficulty of the new qualification. This is to be expected following the publication of exam results, but it again poses the question: does Scotland have a recruitment and retention problem?

The school census from 2014 does show a small drop in the number of teachers from 2013 to 2014: 51,078 to 50,814. The report also highlights that "the percentage of teachers from the probationer employment scheme in the following year has increased from 58 per cent in 2010 to 80 per cent in 2014".

Although, it is worth noting that there has been a one per cent increase from 2013 to 2014.
The census explains this decrease thus: "Teacher numbers decreased slightly this year, some of which is accounted for by the removal of some teachers counted in both early learning and childcare (ELC) and schools."

So perhaps there is no problem? Yet, last month, figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, found that there were 469 teaching posts still vacant across Scotland just before the start of the new academic year. Indeed, the Liberal Democrat's education spokesman warned at the time that schools could "be facing a recruitment crisis". He went on to say: "Since the SNP came into government the number of teachers has fallen by more than 4,200."

Similarly, last October, a poll of its members by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) suggested a shortfall in the recruitment of specialists, supply staff and headteachers.

"As it stands we are dealing with a situation where local authorities are finding it difficult to recruit teachers and school leaders, both on supply and permanent contracts," said Eileen Prior, the SPTC's executive director. She added: "From our perspective it appears there is something fundamentally dysfunctional in our manpower planning system."

If we accept the problem is UK-wide, what is responsible and more importantly what needs to be done? In response to the Scottish Liberal Democrats' findings, the NASUWT suggested that posts not being filled was "the result of budget cuts impacting on schools' ability to recruit more teachers, combined with the impact of adverse changes to teachers' conditions of service, increasing workloads and a 15 per cent cut in teachers' pay making teaching an increasingly unattractive career."

The research we commissioned with YouGov of 796 teachers had similar findings. Push factors influencing teachers' decision to leave include: excessive workloads, unreasonable demands from line managers, the rapid pace of organisational change, and behaviour.

Unfortunately, for us at Teacher Support Network, these negative influences quoted by the NASUWT and the YouGov research are all too familiar and feature regularly as topics of discussion on our helpline. They continue to go unaddressed, however, and perhaps that is why so many posts are available in Scotland and are seemingly remaining vacant.

The way to stem the tide of departures and to make this uniquely rewarding profession attractive once again is to change the culture in our schools.

We must move from the negative, fear-based environments that these surveys continue to suggest exist, to organisations that proactively engage with their teachers as highly competent professionals who deserve a high level of respect, support and professional development.

In short, at the start of another academic year, we must love our teachers or lose them forever.

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published: 24 August 2015