A forecast to heed

According to the lore of the sea, "Long foretold, long lastShort notice, soon past". For the unbarnacled, this means that a storm clearly heralded by a steadily falling glass (barometer) is likely to be a prolonged affair. A sudden squall, on the other hand, promises only temporary discomfort aboard a well-found vessel.

A teacher recruitment crisis has been repeatedly and authoritatively forecast - if the impending peak of secondary pupil numbers coincides with a revival in the economy, and, therefore, in more attractive jobs for graduates.

In the event, this is exactly what is happening. What's more, reports from a number of weather stations indicate that the current depression in recruitment has been made even more profound by the state of teacher morale.

The TESBrunel staffing survey (pages 10-12) is only the latest indication of the way the wind is blowing. The School Teachers' Review Body, in its last annual assessment of recruitment, retention and motivation, remarked on the "increasing academic and social demands" on schools. It confirmed the low spirits revealed in an earlier TES survey. "Everywhere we went we were told that teachers felt oppressed by excessive and ill-informed media criticism which ignored the progress made in raising standards," the review body reported in February.

Little wonder, then, that graduates are not queuing up to join the profession. Certainly, they receive little encouragement from their own teachers to do so. University fees which will push students even further into debt if they are to gain a teaching qualification also threaten to deter entry to teacher training courses.

Deteriorating working conditions and reduced job security, meanwhile, have further blackened teachers' prospects, particularly in secondary schools where cuts and subject specialist shortages are sharpest. Review body surveys suggest that secondary teachers are working longer hours and teaching more and larger classes. Though spending on books, teaching materials, in-service training and maintenance of their classrooms is falling, they are still expected to produce better exam results year-on-year.

This year's early retirement debacle sent a further wave of consternation sweeping across the country. The resulting rush for the exit by the most experienced staff has produced a hiatus in the supply of up-and-coming teachers able and willing to accept greater accountability, leadership and management responsibilities. As a result, this week's National Association of Head Teachers' report (page 5) underlines, 1,000 schools start the new academic year without a permanent headteacher. As David Hart observes, this is hardly calculated to achieve the Government's school improvement targets.

The latest research by Alan Smithers and his team also confirms once again that it is in the inner-city schools and authorities - whose performance causes so much concern - that the quality and quantity of teacher recruits is most wanting. This position could be made even worse if high-profile government moves to reduce class sizes in overcrowded suburban primary schools suck even more teachers out of the inner cities.

Whatever the truth behind the claims about the numbers of incompetent teachers, there is no sign of 15,000 competent ones jostling to replace them where they are needed. Nor is the 75 per cent cut in spending on professional development in the schools surveyed by Smithers calculated to improve matters.

Spending cuts are widely expected to get worse, resulting in the loss of even more experienced (and therefore expensive) staff. If this is indeed the outlook - and schools have yet to see the colour of the extra billion pounds promised by David Blunkett - it can only add to the long foretold recruitment shortfall now emerging. The House of Commons education select committee - advised by Professor Smithers no less - now proposes to enquire into this as a matter of urgency.

Urgency is indeed what is called for if the haemorrhage of talent is to be reversed. Warm words from the Government about enhancing teacher status need to be turned into practical and moral support for school and professional improvement - as well as salaries, conditions and public status calculated to attract the most able and enthusiastic graduates. Recruitment is not yet wholly in crisis, though there are some severe local problems. But, as ancient mariners say, "When at sea with a falling glassSoundly sleeps the careless ass".

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