Lack of maths teachers adds up to trouble for Swinney

Parents at the education secretary’s local school have been asked to help to “support” maths pupils after it failed to find enough specialist staff to cover lessons.

Beverley Leslie, head teacher of Blairgowrie High School, in John Swinney’s Perthshire North constituency, wrote to parents warning of difficulties in finding qualified tutors and asking anyone with a maths-related degree to come forward, in what she admitted was a “highly unusual” request.

Opposition MSPs said that the move, coming only weeks before pupils sit vital exams, was a sign of “desperation” in Scottish education after substantial cuts to teacher numbers over the past decade.

After the appeal from Ms Leslie was reported in The Courier newspaper, Perth and Kinross council issued a clarification on her behalf, insisting that the school had been looking only for registered maths teachers who were not on the local authority’s supply teacher list, not for unqualified parents to teach or help in classrooms.

However, in the original request, seen by The Times, Ms Leslie said that there had been “little success” in recruiting for vacancies and that the situation in maths had been made worse by an absence. She asked for parents with maths qualifications to come forward, making no mention of a requirement for a teaching background.

She wrote: “Any parents with a maths or related degree who would be interested in supporting our pupils in the short term, please contact either myself or Mrs Hill. This is a highly unusual request, however, I am sure you will appreciate, given the current circumstances, we are looking at creative short-term measures.”

Official Scottish government figures show that despite a small rise last year, there are 3,700 fewer school-based teachers than there were in 2007. Mr Swinney recently launched a recruitment drive aimed at attracting more people, particularly in maths-based subjects, into teaching. He also has expanded the number of teacher training places at universities.

In her letter to parents four days ago, Ms Leslie said that a position in the music department was being readvertised and that an English teacher was working extra days to cover shortages.

She told parents: “I am sure you will appreciate the challenges that we are facing which, although not untypical in Scottish education at present, cut deeper when it is our school being affected.”

Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservative MSP for Perth and Kinross, said: “It really is a sign of desperation that the school is asking for parents to help oversee classes.”

In an update issued by the council on Ms Leslie’s behalf yesterday, she said: “I was not asking that any parents teach or provide support during class time. Rather, I am looking to source additional [General Teaching Council] registered maths teachers who are not currently on Perth and Kinross’s supply teacher register.”

She added that maths teachers from schools in the area had agreed to offer temporary cover.

A spokesman for Perth and Kinross council said: “Across the council area we are working hard to fill all vacant teaching posts and are continually looking at new ways to attract teachers to the area or to fill posts.”