Council blunder over school boss shortages

Newbattle High is one of the schools searching for a new headteacher.
Newbattle High is one of the schools searching for a new headteacher.

An inqiury has been launched after Midlothian Council made a self-confessed blunder by revealing a head teacher shortage across the region.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by the Scottish Conservatives last week caused widespread concern after the local authority stated over 25 per cent of school head teacher posts were unfilled.

However, within days of announcing there were 12 current vacancies, the council quickly backtracked, maintaining instead there were only two places free.

A Midlothian Council spokesman said: “The information contained in the Freedom of Information response is not accurate and we are currently carrying out an internal investigation into how this has come about.

“We currently only have two permanent head teacher vacancies, one immediate and one required from August 2017. The vacancy for Woodburn Primary School is currently advertised, as is the one for Newbattle High School, where the head teacher retires in the summer.

“At Rosewell Primary, we have appointed a head teacher who starts in March.”

The original information released last week, based on data up to January 27, stated there were 12 vacancies among 40 primary and secondary schools across Midlothian.

The statement also revealed the head teacher position at Tynewater Primary School had been vacant since 2011 and at two schools, Cuiken Primary School and King’s Park Primary School, posts had been vacant since 2012.

Three schools, Cornbank St James Primary School, Rosewell Primary School and Woodburn Primary School, became vacant at the beginning of the year.

Midlothian Council previously stressed there were ‘acting up’ arrangements in place for those schools.

As the local authority made efforts to clarify the regional situation, Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Head teachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS), revealed head teacher posts attracted a “serious lack” of applicants.

“This is a problem around the country, not just in Midlothian,” he said.

“This has been the subject of several pieces of research which have pointed to a range of issues contributing to the lack of applications.

“These have included various pressures of the job, the isolation of the role and the lack of adequate salary differentials between the role of head and depute head teacher.”

He added: “In addition to these well-rehearsed points, the current staffing problems both in terms of teacher numbers and adequate support staff mean that school leaders are spending more and more time in class covering vacancies or absence or supporting individual pupils with additional needs.

“This is before they can get to their core role of leading learning and school improvement.”

Jim Glen, Midlothian EIS Local Association secretary, said the teachers’ trade union “hopes and expects the council are currently doing all in their powers to meet the challenge of successfully filling these current vacancies as soon as possible.”

A Scottish Government spokesman questioned the original council figures and said it had committed a “£88 million package of funding for Scotland’s local authorities to maintain pupil teacher ratios at 2015 levels in 2016-17 and secure places for all probationers who want them.”