ENGLAND's new chief inspector this week praised dramatic improvements in the quality of teaching - but warned that recruitment problems are endangering those hard-won gains.
Delivering his first "state of the nation" report on standards, Mike Tomlinson said the latest figures on teaching quality were tremendous, and a testament to the hard work of teachers and heads.
Only one in 20 lessons inspected in 19992000 was judged unsatisfactory as against one in five in 1994-5. The proportion of teaching judged "good" or better had risen over the same period, from 40 to 60 per cent.
Most strikingly, more than 40 per cent of primary and special schools inspected in 1999-2000 had no unsatisfactory teaching at all. In secondaries, the figure was 12 per cent.
The report highlights steady improvements in exam performance across all age groups and better support for pupils' social and personal development. It said more schools were offering good extra-curricular activities. And there was "encouraging improvement" in leadership: nine out of 10 schools are now led satisfactorily or better.
But Mr Tomlinson told reporters at the Office for Standards in Education's London headquarters that these gains could be undermined by the increasing reliance on temporary staff.
His report related to 1999-2000, before there was widespread talk of a recruitment "crisis". Now, he said many secondary heads were finding it increasingly difficult to find staff.
Too many secondary lessons were being taught by non-specialists. And schools serving disadvantaged communities had three times more temporary teachers than the most affluent areas. The problem was not confined to London, said Mr Tomlinson.
Perhaps most damningly, his report says that the Government's own list of school vacancies, which ministers have repeatedly used to downplay the recruitment problem, underestimated the scale of it.
"The vacancy rate ... does not, on its own, describe the nature of the difficulties secondary schools may have in filling vacancies," the report says. "The real progress made by schools in recent years is at risk unless current trends are reversed and gaps filled with well-qualified specialists."
For the first time in recent years, there was a rise in poor bhaviour in secondaries. Although good behaviour still far outweighed bad, it was unsatisfactory at one in 12 schools.
Teacher shortages could be part of this problem, said Mr Tomlinson. A high proportion of unsatisfactory lessons was taught by supply staff and disruption could result.
Mr Tomlinson repeated concerns voiced by his predecessor, Chris Woodhead, about writing standards in primary schools, particularly among boys. And like Mr Woodhead, he said progress in the early years of secondary was still too slow. Also, the gap between the best and worst secondaries was growing.
Mr Tomlinson revisited concerns about buildings and equipment. More than one in 10 primaries and more than a quarter of secondaries had unsatisfactory accommodation. Nearly a quarter of secondaries had inadequate learning resources.
Returning to a favourite theme of Mr Woodhead's, Mr Tomlinson said this partly arose from unequal funding in different areas. Per-pupil funding varied in primaries from pound;1,400-pound;2,600, and from pound;1,700-pound;3,000 in secondaries - a difference he found hard to understand.
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THE REPORT AT A GLANCE...
* Teaching good or better in 73 per cent of primaries, 75 per cent of secondaries.
* Proportion of 11-year-olds reaching level 4 in English up from 57 to 75 per cent between 1996 and 2000; up from 54 to 72 per cent in maths.
* Percentage of GCSE pupils achieving five or more A*-C grades up from 41.2 to 47.4 per cent between 1995-2000
* Average points score for students taking two or more A-levels up from 15.9 to 18.2 between 1995 and 2000.
* A quarter of small sixth - forms (100 or fewer students) provided an unsatisfactory range of learning opportunities.
* 238 schools were taken out of special measures in 1999-2000; 230 were put in.
* In schools where 5 per cent or less of pupils get free meals, 3 per cent of lessons are taught by temporary staff. Where more than half get free meals, the figure is 10 per cent.
* Only 6 per cent of lessons taught by supply teachers in secondaries are good, against 22 per cent for a permanent teacher with a year or more's experience or 13 per cent for student teachers.
* Non-specialists often teach maths and geography in years 7 and 8. Information and communications technology is taught "largely" by non-specialists. Many of the best ICT teachers were recruited to run the National Grid for Learning.