Scottish schools “exploiting probationer teachers to cover staff shortages”

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SCHOOLS are exploiting trainee teachers by using them to provide classroom cover for staff shortages – a senior education watchdog has claimed.

Probationary teachers – often fresh out of university and with limited teaching experience – have a year to train up before they can join the register as fully qualified professionals.

During this year their teaching hours should not exceed 18 a week – in comparison to the average 22.5 hours of contact time expected of fully trained teachers.

The shorter hours are intended to allow trainee teachers to improve their technique, get used to the job and complete further training.

 Under qualified teachers are used to tackle teacher shortages
Under qualified teachers are used to tackle teacher shortages

But now an education chief has now spoken out – saying he is aware of schools where newly trained teachers on probation are teaching longer hours to cover for senior staff shortages.

Ken Muir is the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) – the professional body for overseeing teaching standards in the country.

He said: “Sometimes, because of a shortage of teachers, probationers are being asked to cover a full timetable and that means they are not getting the mentoring time critical to their development.

“There is an arrangement between the Scottish Government and the councils to make sure that mentoring happens and it is fully funded and it should be happening.

“Because new teachers are keen to impress they are more likely to take on an additional burden, but that is not what should be happening.”

Higher drop out rates

Teachers often claim that making probationers work longer hours hinders their training and stresses them out – leading to high dropout rates.

There is also a concern that pupils will be taught by those who are not yet fully capable as teachers.

The non-teaching time of probationary teachers is supposed to be protected, and schools are supposed to be given extra cash for senior staff to act as mentors for them.

Seamus Searson general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) confirmed that the practice is damaging to pupils and teachers alike.

He said: “With the staff shortage situation it is very much the case that probationers are being dumped in at the deep end and asked to do things they are not supposed to be doing and they cannot say no.

“It is unfair that headteachers are putting probationers in that position because it means the experience is much more stressful and it could put them off a career in teaching.

“Because young teachers in this position don’t have time to prepare lessons properly or reflect on what they are doing they can just flounder and the pupils miss out.”

The fresh criticism comes amid ongoing teacher shortages.

Last year seven councils called for a taskforce to address what is being described by some as a “crisis”.

The government has also brought in specialist measures to address shortages in key subjects, such as maths, physics and computing.

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