Efforts to ensure post-Covid learning recovery for Scottish pupils risk being derailed by an increasing reliance on temporary teachers, according to union bosses.
Statistics show the percentage of “year one” post-probationers occupying full-time, temporary posts in 2019-20 was the highest since 2006-07, with growth particularly sharp in the primary school sector. The figure was 42 per cent – up from 30% in the session before.
Scottish Government figures – which cover the employment status of post-induction scheme individuals in the following year’s teacher census – also show the percentage of those in full-time, permanent posts fell from 48% to 38% between 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Local authority representatives said the overall number of staff, including those on permanent contracts, was increasing “at this time” and stressed the census figures reflected the previously fixed-term nature of funding during pandemic recovery.
However, the statistics show a marked decline in full-time, permanent post-probationers – in both numeric and percentage terms – between 2017-18 and 2018-19. This has prompted union leaders to say the trend was heading in the wrong direction even before Covid took hold.
Widespread reports of teachers struggling to obtain stable work have already triggered a series of announcements aimed at boosting the availability of permanent positions.
The Government’s Covid education recovery strategy, published earlier this week, confirms a commitment to hire 3,500 additional teachers and 500 classroom assistants over the course of the current parliamentary term, with £50 million allocated in the 2021-22 school year. In addition, a further £145.5m per annum is being added permanently to the local government settlement from April 2022.
Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville told MSPs last week that she would be keeping an “exceptionally close eye” on how new money is spent and said there was “no reason” for “baselined” funds not to go on permanent contracts.
However, union bosses stressed the longer-term data underscored how cash, while welcome, may not by itself be sufficient to increase provision of permanent posts, particularly to teachers at the start of their careers.
They added that statutory changes to enshrine a requirement for smaller class sizes would be of vital importance.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary at the EIS, said the percentage of post-induction scheme individuals securing permanent, full-time posts had improved steadily until around 2016-17.
But he warned: “Even the best of recent years was below 60% and that figure has now dropped to 38%, even lower in primaries, increasing the risk of losing teachers to more secure employment and detracting from the attractiveness of teaching as a profession.
“Longer term, this instability undermines the potential of education recovery. Whilst we appreciate that the Scottish Government has now baselined some additional funding to local authorities in order to support more permanent posts, there is no mechanism for ensuring this target is realised, especially when councils continue, by and large, to staff schools based on pupil number formulas.”
He added: “A simple statutory change, such as cutting class sizes in P2 and P3 or S2/3, would ensure the creation of long-term permanent posts whilst also boosting support for pupils adversely impacted by the pandemic.”
Union figures have also emphasised that it is highly unlikely a newly qualified individual in a temporary post will be on a permanent contract.
A spokeswoman for Cosla, which represents local authorities, said: “To put it simply, the overall number of teachers – including those on permanent contracts – is actually increasing at this time.
“As you will find in any workforce, there are a number of temporary roles to cover, including maternity leave, sickness absence and career breaks. It is what a good flexible employer would do, and it ensures good use of public money, which is of paramount importance to local government. Scottish local government is a good employer.
“The demand Covid recovery has caused has led to an increase in temporary contracts and rightly the census figures demonstrate that at a time when the money available was only fixed term.
“We fully expect, now that recurring funding has been provided by government, that a large amount of these employees will move into permanent posts over time based on the needs of communities locally. It will of course take time to work through the system, as authorities follow the appropriate process for fair and open recruitment.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “While local authorities are responsible for the recruitment of their staff, we have taken action to support councils to recruit permanent teachers.
“Since the start of the pandemic we have provided £240m of additional investment, over two financial years, for the recruitment of additional education staff. This has supported the recruitment of over 2,200 additional teachers and over 500 support staff in the 2020/21 school year. This will ensure sustained employment of additional teachers, while meeting local needs and benefiting Scotland’s children.”