A crisis eased, not averted

So the crisis is waning. Teacher vacancies have dropped. Even in London, more empty posts are being filled. Perhaps normal service is about to resume. That, at first sight, is the message of this year's Secondary Heads AssociationTES survey which suggests that secondaries have more than 1,100 fewer vacancies than at the same time last year.

But a closer look at the figures is less comforting. If they have not yet reached the point of taking anything that breathes, heads are still unhappy with a fifth of the appointments they make. They have plugged the gaps by honing their survival skills in a recruitment contest which is not for the faint-hearted. They are jettisoning the normal short-listing and interviewing and are grabbing the first reasonably competent-sounding teacher they can find. Their search is absorbing ever-increasing hours which would be better spent on monitoring what is happening in their classrooms. While ministers ponder a campaign to combat teacher shortages in London, heads in the east of England consider nearly a third of this year's appointments unsatisfactory.

The Government has made some progress. Golden hellos and student bursaries for teachers in shortage subjects appear to be improving recruitment. The offer to pay off students' loans if they stay in teaching may prove even more successful.

Yet, despite their soothing public pronouncements, ministers know that teacher shortages remain their severest challenge as 160,000 teachers retire over the next decade or so and others simply decide they have had enough. Their strategy is based on the assumption that recruitment difficulties are here to stay. Schools of the future, they believe, will be very different from the present model. Teachers will run teams of non-teachers. Information technology will play a much greater part. Classroom assistants will have an enhanced role.

The reforms may ease teachers' burdens and boost their status. They will not, alone, ensure that schools are properly staffed. If the Government wants to attract and keep teachers it will have to trust them more and prescribe less. Ministers, too, need to be different in the future.

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