Commenting on Supply Teacher Shortages in Dundee

The reported shortage of supply teachers in Dundee is putting additional pressure on Headteachers and their staff in our schools to cover classes when colleagues are absent.

The current supply shortage is a result of a very unfortunate combination of factors which have served both to increase the demand for 'supply teachers' and at the same time restrict the supply.

Firstly that the age profile of teacher until recently was skewed towards those approaching retirement. Their replacement with recently qualified younger staff in a profession where women are more numerous has meant that there has been a concurrent increase in the number of staff on maternity leave in any given school year. This year I understand that there are more than 45 teachers in Dundee on maternity leave, all of whom need replacement.

Secondly, there has been a rise in the number of rising five year old children in our city entering Primary School each year; about 300 extra children per year equating to 18 additional classes alll needing a teacher.

Thirdly, one of the SNP's most damaging cuts in education was to reduce the national rate of pay for short term supply teaching. This initially restricted the daily rate of pay for up to five days supply teaching to the lowest rung of the salary scale. For experienced supply teachers, this made short term supply work much less attractive so understandably some supply teachers withdrew from the supply list or became selective; avoiding taking short term supply work at the lower rate of pay.

This has put a strain on teachers and management teams in schools as they cover classes. When this repeatedly happens this takes them away from other roles and tasks that they would be otherwise undertaking. In secondary schools the internal 'please take' cover may be by a teacher who is not qualified in the subject taught. While this cover is satisfactory, if not ideal, for an occasional lesson, this it is not a satisfactory longer term solution for pupils in a class preparing for SQA examinations.

After several years of difficulties securing supply teachers throughout Scotland, the Scottish Government has finally agreed to establish a national task force to look into and come up with some solutions that increase the pool of supply teachers. The sooner this group report, the better.

In the meanwhile, we are exploiting the goodwill of our school teachers and understandably this is wearing thin. Parents I am sure will be anxious that the education of their child does not suffer as a result of these shortages.