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Agencies struggle to meet staff demand

A researcher says supply staff are in such high demand the Government must ease recruitment rules. Amanda Kelly reports.

ON a typical school day at least 4,000 supply teachers are working in London, new research shows.

And in January, when schools are plagued by flu epidemics and other illnesses, this number can jump to 6,000 or 10 per cent.

With schools in the capital finding it increasingly difficult to attract high-quality permanent staff, supply agencies are experiencing unprecedented demand.

A preliminary report into the role agencies play in teacher supply in London, carried out by Dr Merryn Hutchings of the University of North London's institute for policy studies in education, claims temporary staff now account for at least 7 per cent of the 60,000 teachers in the city's schools.

The last government estimate in 1999 put the number of supply teachers in London much lower at 1,530, although this figure did not include teachers with contracts of one month or more. Latest figures by market analysts Capital Strategies estimate that the total annual turnover of the country's 60 supply agencies has doubled in a year to around pound;20 million.

With these agencies facing a constant battle to keep up with demand, Dr Hutchings says the Government should relax current regulations relating to employing teachers from countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

She believes the maximum age at which teachers from Commonwealth countries can obtain working holiday visas should rise from 27 to 30, and visas should last for four years, rather than two.

The rules that state a school can employ overseas teachers for only four months should also be eased, along with limits on the amount of supply teaching that can be done by newly-qualified teachers without completing their induction.

Dr Hutchings, who is to present her findings at the British Educational Research Association conference in Cardiff today, said: "Agencies are falling over backwards to fill the recruitment gap but I was very struck by the way the Government could ease the supply situation by changing these things.

"However, agencies can only ever be sticking plaster and the fact that they are doing their job so well is disguising the extent of the current recruitment crisis."

BERA reports, 26

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