Aberdeenshire Council chiefs are facing a race against time to fill vacant teaching posts and ensure they do not lose vital extra funding from the Scottish Government.
The full of extent of the staffing crisis in Aberdeenshire’s schools will be spelled out to councillors this week – 100 jobs in primaries unfilled and another 57 in secondaries.
Other councils – including neighbouring Aberdeen City and Moray – are also struggling to recruit and retain teachers, partly due to the high cost of living in the region.
But education bosses still have to meet an expected government target for the area of a 13-5 ratio of pupils-teachers by September to ensure that Aberdeenshire’s share of a £10million funding pot will not be clawed back.
The local authority’s education director, Maria Walker, said the number of vacancies “inevitably puts a strain on the teaching workforce”.
In a report for Thursday’s meeting of the council’s education committee she says: “It is proposed to recruit more permanent teachers than known vacancies at this time.
“This will provide flexibility to deal with new vacancies as they arise.”
The new staff would be held on retainer by the council rather than assigned schools and would be deployed across Aberdeenshire to deal with absences until permanent posts became available.
Previously, the authority has drafted in teachers from Canada and Ireland to bolster numbers in its north-east schools.
Fraserburgh Councillor Charles Buchan – a former secondary school teacher – is worried by the vacancies.
He said last night: “The position this year, looking forward, is going to be worse than before.
“Not only will we need to continue our efforts, which were quite successful, but we’ve got to be more imaginative.
“A hundred primary teachers is a huge number – that’s more than two teachers per school – and that causes huge pressures on the remaining staffs.
Likewise, if there’s 57 in the secondary schools, that’s an average of four vacancies per school.”
North Kincardine councillor Alison Evison, who is also a former teacher, added that there was a “determination” to fill the posts.
“There is a clear determination across the board in Aberdeenshire to deliver on teacher numbers,” she said.
“There is, however, also a real difficulty with teacher recruitment, as the high living costs and lack of affordable housing in our area mean that many teachers would rather settle elsewhere.
“The current level of vacancies does, of course, bring challenges to those already working in our schools, and we should not underestimate the stress that this can cause, particularly at this time of rapid curriculum change.”
And Isobel Davidson, the chairwoman of the education committee, wants prospective teachers to know that the north-east is open for business.
She said: “We’re still open to anyone who wants to come to work in Aberdeenshire. We’re hoping to get a good number of probationers, and Aberdeen’s university now has a number of additional teacher training places.
“We know that having these places locally means that we’ll have more people staying, but that’s longer-term – it does take time.”
The Scottish Government has already said it will provide £41million in extra funding to be shared among councils.
Failure to meet pupil-teacher ratio targets, however, could mean some of this money being clawed back from individual authorities.
Aberdeenshire Council will submit a census on its updated teacher numbers to the Scottish Government on September 16.