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Aussie reinforcements fly into Manchester

"G'Day, mate" is about to replace "Ey oop, chuck" as the greeting of choice in Manchester staffrooms. Aussie teachers are forsaking the beach for the windswept charms of Britain's capital of rain.

As 23 arrivals from Sydney and Melbourne touched down at the city's airport, a clutch of anxious heads were waiting to whisk them away to under-staffed classrooms.

Manchester has just become the latest city to order in teachers in bulk from the Commonwealth, after its schools reported record vacancies last September.

The visitors, who have arrived on three-term contracts following a deal with recruitment agency Timeplan, illustrate that schools' recruitment difficulties are not confined to London.

Across the country, Timeplan revealed this week, it has placed nearly 400 Commonwealth teachers in schools under the scheme which brought the Aussies to Manchester.

An agency rival, Spring Education, has recruited 387 overseas professionals on long-term supply contracts to London schools since September.

The figures are just the latest measure of the current teacher shortfall, described as a "crisis" by unions, but only a "problem" by ministers.

Reading Council is offering families pound;50 a week to provide lodgings for teachers. It is also willing to pay pound;150 a month exenses to staff who have to travel more than 50 miles to work. The move comes after the authority found itself 40 teachers short in October, though the figure had been reduced to 14 by this week.

Although there have been no reports this term of any school being forced to adopt a four-day week to cope with shortages, St Mary's high in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, is to send home younger pupils one day every other week.

Meanwhile, the second largest teaching union has warned that it plans to step up its campaign of industrial action to stop teachers having to work longer hours to cover for absent colleagues.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said it would be balloting members across local authorities where the shortages were the most severe.

The executive of the largest union, the National Union of Teachers, which warned two weeks ago it would not allow teachers to be overburdened by covering for vacancies, was meeting last night to discuss what action to take.

Evidence emerged this week that the shortfall may be spreading to the independent sector. Dulwich College, south London, reported that applications for some posts had fallen by 50 per cent in two years - though there was no suggestion the vacancies were not being filled.

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