Councillors and officials agree Aberdeenshire boasts fantastic opportunity to teach by the beach

Aberdeenshire’s Education and Children’s Services Committee members recently discussed current teacher staffing levels in Aberdeenshire, and the actions to date, as well as endorse some innovative future developments to come.

The local authority continues to make every effort to retain probationary teachers and Head of Education Vincent Docherty highlighted some ongoing partnership work with the University of Aberdeen on this front. He said: “Research by the university has shown that many people come to study in the area but leave shortly after their probationary period. What they’ve found is that if we can retain people for an additional year then they are much more likely to stick around in the longer term.”

Mr Docherty is now prioritising work on developing a package scheme which would see student teachers offered a package likely to include additional support with the cost of living in exchange for committing to staying in the area for an extra year beyond their probationary period.

Councillors acknowledged staffing shortages in primary schools across Banff, Fraserburgh and Peterhead as well as challenges in recruiting for secondary school teachers across the board in subjects such as science, technical, maths and home economics.

The average pupil to teacher ratio has remained largely steady – 13.5 in September 2018 compared to 13.3 during 2017. In January 2019, across all of our 152 primary schools there were 37 primary teaching vacancies and across all 17 academies there were 22 vacancies, as well as eight vacant additional support for learning vacancies across the board.

In a bid to fill vacancies the Council is also continuing to use schemes that offer an alternative route into teaching in a bid to attract career changers. These include: the Distance Learning Initial Teaching Education (DLITE) option which supports workers to study while they continue in their existing employment as well as the Transition into Education Scheme for redundant oil and gas workers; the iSTEP route for those with a background in science, technology, engineering or maths; making it easier for experienced teachers from elsewhere to quality in Scotland; and a postgraduate option which provides financial support to study full-time to become a secondary school teacher in a rural area.
They’re also continuing to offer relocation incentives as well as working with recruitment agencies to attract candidates from farther afield, and are exploring the possibility of a mortgage support scheme.

In terms of other possibilities ahead, in addition to partnership working with the universities and considering opening up routes to those at college or lacking key entry requirements such as Higher Maths, and as well as addressing retention, the management team is continuing to explore ways to ‘grow your own’ by encouraging local people into the profession and is also looking at bursary schemes to financially support those seeking to gain a teaching qualification.

They are also very conscious of the need to continue to promote Aberdeenshire as a good place to live and teach.

Councillors welcomed the discussion and recognised the commitment and dedication of existing staff as well as the need to think creatively about how the local authority can best support them. They highlighted the cost of living in the North-east but equally underlined the opportunity we have in Aberdeenshire to promote the quality of life we have to offer here.

Vice Chair Councillor Mark Findlater who was chairing the meeting in Councillor Owen’s absence, acknowledged he himself had once chosen to stay in the area after retiring from the army. He explained: “The benefits of living in this area, like being able to work 10 minutes’ walk from a beach or mountain range, are such important assets to highlight to the talent we’re trying to attract. Aberdeenshire has such a lot to offer here on our doorstep and we’re continuing to look at how we can really showcase that.”

Councillors agreed the recommendations in the report which also highlights the need to consider other initiatives that could ease pressure on teacher numbers. This might include creativity around the structuring of school days and more schools offering an asymmetric week, the strategic review of the learning estate, use of virtual schooling or shared resources across secondary schools, a common timetable across secondaries to enable them to work more closely together and consideration of recruiting in primary and enabling the teachers to transition into secondary.

A number of schools already offer asymmetric weeks. This doesn’t necessarily mean closing school at lunchtime on a Friday, just that they may not have every day of the same length or they work their timetable differently taking account of core subjects as well as other learning opportunities for pupils.

At Fraserburgh Academy they are leading the way when it comes to innovative timetabling. Their approach to making the timetable more flexible received praise from inspectors early in 2018 who were keen to see how the school’s partnership with Skills Development Scotland was benefiting pupils.

Director of Education and Children’s Services, Laurence Findlay explained: “On Fridays, the school focuses learning on areas such as employability, religious and moral education, PE and personal and social education, as well as enabling students to enjoy energy and engineering classes at Aberdeen College. As part of this work they will often bring classes together to develop real-world skills, such as CV writing or preparing for job interviews, enjoying a more open space than a traditional classroom and having the opportunity to interact with a wider group of their peers.

“This more flexible, dynamic and nationally-recognised approach to timetabling is allowing for more creative learning opportunities which are benefitting pupils in numerous ways. We’re keen to support head teachers to explore these kind of opportunities to benefit both the learning experiences on offer to pupils as well as the teaching timetable.”

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