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Get a firm foothold on the ladder ladder

Frances Farrer looks at the state of the employment market for new teachers. The verdict on the job scene for this autumn's newly-placed newly qualified teachers is that the situation has been fairly tight but no worse than in recent years.

According to Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, about 12 per cent, or one in eight, of those seeking first teaching appointments are still unemployed after six months - discouraging for them, but perhaps not such a disastrous percentage.

For those whose smartened-up CVs and sharply-focused interview style got them into jobs, it is to be hoped they got the jobs they wanted. Some pundits recommend sticking firmly to your idea of what you want to do, others recommend flexibility and say be prepared to accept almost any job to get a foot on the ladder.

Inevitably, perhaps, geography still plays a part in the availability of vacancies. Mike Walker, assistant secretary for the National Employers' Organisation for Schoolteachers (part of the Local Government Management Board) says: "Most graduates know that whatever is being said about recovery, it's still tough in teaching. London and the south-east of England offer the best prospects because they still have the highest turnover. Yorkshire and Humberside in January 1994 were offering 55 vacancies between them - 0. 1 per cent of their teaching force."

Mike Walker believes that a bonus for those becoming teachers now is that "the age structure of the teaching profession is skewed towards the top end", which means good prospects for promotion as older teachers retire. He identifies subject teacher shortages in maths, sciences, modern languages, music and early years.

The role of local education authorities in the recruitment of teachers has been so much reduced by local management of schools that many LEA recruitment sections are down to one or two people and some have been abolished altogether. However, there are some authorities which still have pools (lists) of teachers they can call on for full-time or supply teaching posts.

Among them are two where full-time recruitment is reasonably buoyant: Suffolk and Tower Hamlets in east London. Suffolk made 196 newly qualified teacher (NQT) appointments this year and says it anticipates making a similar number of appointments next year.

The criteria upon which Suffolk shortlists teachers for pool interview are: how closely the skills of the applicant match with the needs of the schools; the quality of the applicant's references and application form; and (most important) the applicant's personal statement. This should summarise the applicant's approach to learning and teaching, educational philosophy and classroom management.

Tower Hamlets has made 45 new appointments this year and operates a pool which is soon to be for early years teachers only. It still has rising rolls. Tower Hamlets LEA staff go to many careers fairs, where they will help NQTs with application forms if required. Helen Bakaszynsky, a school support officer with Tower Hamlets, says of the applicants: "I was surprised last year where our teachers came from, the net seems to have spread much wider than before. "

With information on teaching posts becoming ever less centralised it is increasingly difficult to identify trends, but it seems possible that the South Thames Area Recruitment Team (START) is not unique. START, a group of teacher recruitment specialists formerly employed by nine authorities, has gone private and now represents five LEAs. It has a database containing teachers' CVs, and schools pay fees to be supplied with selected interviewees. START invites NQTs to join its database, emphasising that there is no fee to teachers.

One consistent source of free job-seeking advice for aspirant teachers is the information sheet produced by TASC, the Teaching as a Career unit, part of the Department for Education. Send for First Appointment: Teaching as a Career to TASC, 6th floor, Sanctuary Buildings, 20 Great Smith Street, London SWlP 3BT.

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