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Few charms to woo staff

All 55 schools in Reading have staff shortages and it is hindering raising standards, reports Warwick Mansell.

FURTHER evidence of the scale of teacher shortages in the South-east emerged this week after inspectors reported that every school in one local authority was having serious trouble finding staff.

All 55 schools in Reading, Berkshire, were suffering from the town's drawbacks for potential recruits, Office for Standards in Education inspectors reported. Accommodation costs were high, there were well-paid alternative jobs for teachers, the transport was poor and there was no cost-of-living allowance.

Most schools inspected said these difficulties were hampering their efforts to raise standards. Many tried to mask problems with temporary appointments, said inspectors.

Yet improvement was particularly crucial in Reading, as too many schools are underachieving.

Headteachers said the council had been right to raise the strategic importance of recruitment in its education development plan, and inspectors highlighted chief executive Joyce Markham's initiative to work on the problem with other authorities. However, this scheme also had been hindered by the authority's own inabilit to hire a recruitment strategy manager.

Overall, inspectors found that Labour-controlled Reading was recovering from the "bleak" inheritance it received from Berkshire County Council when it became a unitary authority in 1998.

The authority - described as well-led - was helping its schools improve exam results at faster-than-average rates, albeit from levels below national averages. It actively intervened in the management of a quarter of its schools and replaced 80 per cent of staff in a school in special measures.

Although strengths outweighed weaknesses, inspectors said payroll and financial support services were unsatisfactory, funding for repairs and maintenance was insufficient and its sixth-forms - with three out of eight having fewer than 80 pupils - were uneconomic.

READING: STRENGTHS

* Quality of leadership by senior officers.

* Support for weaker primaries.

* Monitoring and challenge for primary schools.

* Early-years provision.

* Management of school places.

* National Grid for Learning.

WEAKNESSES

* Performance data and target-setting.

* Challenging under-performing secondaries.

* Support for child protection.


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