Head teachers from across Moray lined-up before councillors yesterday to lay bare the region’s staffing crisis.
Each of the area’s secondary schools was represented as they gathered in the chamber to shine a light on day-to-day experiences in the classroom.
What was revealed was students undertaking entire courses without access to specialist staff – but persevering to achieve success regardless of the challenges they faced.
Other pupils have watched as a revolving door of supply teachers have stood before them in classrooms.
Teachers, meanwhile, have faced filling all manner of unfamiliar roles, while senior managers have been forced to abandon leadership roles to return to the classroom.
All the while, schools have struggled to recruit permanent staff.
Neil Johnston, head teacher at Buckie High School, said: “It’s an ever-changing landscape. Many of us are in the position of trying to fill gaps.
“When I look back there are some subjects that don’t have specialist teachers for up to 50%, and in some cases 100%, of the school year.
“There were a group of pupils learning Spanish who didn’t have a specialist teacher at the school.
“It’s actually amazing that they did as well as they did. That was down to the hard work of other staff and a Spanish teacher at Lossiemouth High who kindly marked work.”
Janice Simpson, head teacher of Lossiemouth High School, said: “When I took over in August last year there was a significant overspend and I was charged with saving a significant amount of money.
“Our English department has only two full-time members of staff at the moment instead of five, due to maternity leave, long-term sickness and an inability to recruit.
“By the end of the year there was significant underspend there as a result.
“I would have liked to have used that money for the benefit of pupils who had suffered by not having a teacher there.
“Due to the council’s financial position, however, significant savings had to be made and that money was taken away.”
Figures released by Moray Council showed the authority had 30 vacancies at the start of the current academic year – the lowest for three years.
However, problems remain with the recruitment of primary school head teachers, including the Cullen Primary post, which has been advertised three times.
Severe problems also remain with finding home economics, science and technical teachers in particular for the region’s secondary school.
Links have been set up between different secondary schools and Moray College UHI in order to pool resources in order for students to be able to access subjects not available locally to them.
However, Patricia Goodbrand, head teacher at Speyside High School, warned that arrangements can be difficult to set up.
She added: “We are probably the most rural secondary school and we work hard to ensure our young people have the same opportunities as everyone else in Moray – but that clearly comes at a cost for transport or the time of staff.”
Hugh McCulloch, head teacher at Elgin High School, explained he had “healthy interest” in current vacancies advertised but stressed it was important to continue promoting Moray as a destination to teach.
He added: “The problem for us and Elgin Academy is the increasing roll. That is a significant challenge.
“Making sure people want to come to teach in Moray is everyone’s responsibility. There are opportunities there and we need to make sure they are being encouraged.”
During yesterday’s meeting of the council’s children and young people’s committee, several councillors described staffing concerns as the “elephant in the room” when assessing performances in classrooms.
Graham Jarvis, the authority’s acting director of education and social care, explained recruitment issues were a national problem, though felt more strongly in the north – but stressed Moray remained an attractive place to work for many.
He added: “If you live in Falkirk then you can work in five different councils within a 40-minute drive from your house. We’re competing against all those different areas.
“We’ve tried offering them more money, we’ve tried offering them a free house for a period and we’ve tried other things too but we are still struggling – as are Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen City and Argyll and Bute.
“If there was an easy answer then we wouldn’t have a staffing problem. If anybody has any ideas then we are all ears.”