MORAY is facing an unprecedented shortage of headteachers, with vacancies existing in almost a quarter of the area’s primary schools and job adverts sometimes attracting no candidates at all.
The situation is causing a major problem, according to education and social care director Laurence Findlay, with positions being advertised for up to a fourth time.
And in a first for larger primary schools in Moray, councillors have already agreed to share Hopeman’s headteacher with Burghead Primary School if that vacancy can not be filled.
Elsewhere, the Cullen and Dallas headteacher positions are being advertised for a first time, while it is the second occasion Elgin’s West End Primary and the shared Knockando/Inveravon posts have gone to the public. The Kinloss Primary headship has been advertised for a third time, and it is a fourth attempt for Aberlour.
Together with long-term headteacher vacancies at Mortlach Primary School in Dufftown, and an acting headship post to fill at Milne’s in Fochabers, 10 primaries are currently affected from a total of 46.
"It’s basically a quarter of our schools," Mr Findlay told The Northern Scot this week.
"In general we are getting zero to three applicants, but sometimes it is people who are not GTCS (General Teaching Council for Scotland) registered and sometimes it is people who are just taking a punt. It’s a big concern."
Mr Findlay believed a number of factors are contributing to the problem,
"This is the worst we have had it in terms of all at the same time," he said of the number of current vacancies.
"I would say that for headteachers, the job has become very big. There are huge staffing issues, so many headteachers are also teaching headteachers. They are also having to give up a lot of their free time and weekends.
"They have never been more accountable in terms of inspections and dealing with all of society’s ills and challenging situations.
"For some reason, it is being seen as too big and unattractive for some people, which is a shame, because we rely on these people to keep schools running."
In addition to the head posts, Mr Findlay said there are five depute head positions that currently lie empty,
"And these are all vital positions in helping headteachers run our schools," he said.
The headteacher shortage is running alongside a continuing teacher shortage in Moray. There are currently approximately 30 primary and secondary teaching vacancies in the area, although Mr Findlay admitted that number could increase with teachers either leaving or retiring at the end of the school year in July.
Mr Findlay said the problem is mirrored across Scotland, but is a particular concern in the north and north-east.
"There are a number of factors," he said.
"We have had the teaching shortage for two or three years, but I would say the headteacher shortage has been for the past year or so.
"One exacerbating problem is that we have a lot of small rural schools, and we may have a headteacher who wants to move from there to one of the larger schools."
Mr Findlay said the council runs a leadership course which could theoretically prepare teaching staff for a headteacher position, although he stressed this was for professional development and there is no pressure on participants to apply for headships after completing it.
However, he also said that the Scottish Government is looking to make it mandatory for headteachers to possess an additional qualification.
"And that might put even more people off," he said. "They might think ‘when am I going to do that’?"
To help address the teacher shortage, the council’s education department recently sent home a letter with pupils, signed by Mr Findlay, which appealed for parents to spread the word about the need for more staff.
From that, Mr Findlay said around 160 responses were received, and from those, he said around 10 people look to have the required qualifications and would be able to teach in Moray.
"The headteacher vacancies are a big problem, and the general (teaching) vacancies could be up again in August," Mr Findlay admitted.
"Teaching at present is not seen as an attractive career, for whatever reason. There’s been so many changes with the Curriculum For Excellence and Getting It Right for Every Child, and so on. Teachers are in the public spotlight like never before and salaries have not increased at a pace that the job merits. It’s almost like the perfect storm."
Because there are job opportunities all over Scotland, Mr Findlay also said it can be troublesome attracting teachers north.
"Another problem is that young teachers are very keen to remain in the central belt," he added.
While Mr Findlay said the council is "considering" pairing the headteacher for the 172-pupil Hopeman primary with Burghead, which has around 110 students, he said the preference would be to have separate teachers for larger schools.
However, he said paired heads have worked well in some smaller rural schools in Moray for a number of years.
"We haven’t had to consider it yet in any of the larger schools," he said.
Mr Findlay also praised a project by West End Primary in Elgin, in which pupils, staff and parents have produced a video that promotes the school and makes an appeal to find a new headteacher.
"I also want to praise West End School for having done what they have done on YouTube. I think it’s superb. It’s a real show of parent and people power, and I would encourage schools to be innovative. I think it can mean more when it comes from the pupils and parents, and I would be encouraging them to do that sort of thing," he said.
Mr Findlay said he and other council representatives recently met with Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney to highlight school staffing concerns in Moray. He said Mr Swinney listened to what they had to say, and he is currently compiling data which will be sent to Mr Swinney.
"Anyone who is considering being a headteacher, I would encourage them to get in touch with our department and we will do whatever we can to support them," he continued. "For me it has to be about growing our own."
A broader, national debate will also be key, Mr Findlay said.
"The job has grown hugely, and it is a very different job from when I took a job at Forres Academy 10 years ago," he said.
"Some things need to be revisited, things like jobsizing and current salaries. At present, some primary school deputes at larger schools are on larger salaries than headteachers at some of the smaller ones.
"Some people might be wondering ‘why would I make that shift for a lot more hassle?"
Moray Council is doing everything within its power, Mr Findlay said.
"I would stress that we are doing everything that we can as a local authority to make the job attractive and to encourage people to apply, and it is not just a Moray problem, but I would say that given where we are geographically that makes it more difficult for us."