A STARK warning has been issued that schools could close as the teaching crisis deepens.
Parents have been warned that headteachers are at the point of considering partial closures to deal with ongoing staffing problems.
That would mean children being turned away on a particular day because there is no-one to lead their lessons.
In a letter to all schools in the area, Moray Council’s head of schools and curriculum development, Vivienne Cross, stated: "You will, I am sure, be aware of the ongoing challenges we face in recruiting staff, particularly teachers.
"Headteachers have tried a variety of different options to cover classes, including using Support for Learning teachers as well as promoted staff (where available) and themselves to ensure that classes have a teacher.
"Headteachers are working tirelessly to ensure that a full service provision is available, however the situation has become so grave that a number of schools are at the point where they have to consider partial closure – eg. a year group or class may be asked not to attend on a specific day(s)."
The prevalence of illness in the winter months would only exacerbate the problem, parents heard.
The staffing issue has blighted Moray’s 46 primaries and eight secondaries for more than four years.
In 2013, there were 167 vacancies advertised and that rose steadily to 263 in 2016. By the end of October 2017, 293 vacancies had already been advertised. although that number includes readvertised posts because of a lack of suitable candidates.
The local authority has led numerous drives to encourage people into the profession, such as supporting candidates in partnership with both the Universities of Aberdeen and the Highlands and Islands.
Housing initiatives have been put in place to attract existing or probationary teachers, while corporate director Laurence Findlay raised Moray’s problems in recruiting and retaining staff at Holyrood.
An update on the situation, which tells of a growing crisis in filling promoted posts, will be given at a meeting of the local authority’s Children and Young People’s Services committee on Wednesday.
A report to go before elected members states: "There is a high risk that if sufficient numbers of teachers cannot be recruited schools will have to send pupils home for part of the day or for whole days.
"If Moray Council cannot recruit primary head teachers then there are severe risks to the continuity of the service we provide.
"Secondary schools may have to reduce the number and choice of courses they provide.
"At present we have seven primary head teachers who are all on 23 month secondments. These acting head teachers have agreed to this as there were insufficient applicants applying for these posts when they were advertised. There is a risk that at the end of the 23 months these colleagues will return to their substantive posts and leave an even greater number of vacancies."
Extra pressure will come next year when the length of the primary school day for P1-3s increases to 25 hours per week.
Moray’s Councillors will be asked to consider further initiatives to encourage people to the area.
These include "temporarily discontinuing education at certain locations and transporting pupils and staff to alternative locations" so most effective use can be made of teaching staff.
A look at the long term viability of the school estate is also an option, as it the formation of ‘cluster head teachers’.
‘Golden hellos’ could be considered to bring teachers to the area, while recruiting staff from overseas is a further option.
In her letter to all parents, Mrs Cross wrote: "We collectively continue to promote Moray as a place to live and work in and through social media, schools showcase their school, pupils, learning as well as the local areas. If you know of any primary teachers who would be willing to come and work in Moray or be added to our supply list, please contact Educationandsocialcare@moray.gov.uk or call (01343 563374).
"I thank you for your forbearance at this understandably challenging time and particularly through the winter months when flu viruses and sickness bugs appear to be more prevalent."
More on this story in this week's Northern Scot print edition