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Graduation daze

John Howson looks at the jobs market and offers ways of maximising career opportunities

Two years ago, schools were awash with jobs for new teachers. Last summer, many vacancies dried up because schools had no money. So what will the job prospects be like in September 2004? It's too early yet to be certain about job vacancy numbers, but there are four factors that will affect the market for first-time teaching jobs.

* School budgets. Schools don't control how much money they have to spend.

They depend on how generous the Government is and where they are in the pecking order for funds: schools compete with further education, early years education and universities for the same pot of state money. And over the past few years, much of the extra cash from the Department for Education and Skills has gone on buildings, computer equipment (ICT), and on bringing teaching salaries more into line with the graduate employment market.

* Falling rolls. In some parts of the country, pupil numbers in primary schools have been falling. They have probably now peaked nationally in the secondary sector too, and will decline over the next few years. Most four and even three-year-olds are in school, so the early years sector isn't growing either.

* More teaching assistants. September 2004 will see the introduction of phase two of the historic workload agreement implemented in England (the 24 tasks that teachers will no longer have to do). This may generate some additional teaching posts, but it's more likely to create a larger number of classroom assistants.

* More government money. The announcement on teachers' pay for 2004 and another on how the Government will allocate funds between different local authorities will be important for the jobs market. After this year's mess, there are schools already running deficit budgets, and if past experience is anything to go by there will be winners and losers in the way money is passed from the Government to local authorities, so some schools might still find themselves with less money next year than they need. More people are training to be teachers than at any time in the past decade, so there's no pressure to raise salaries by more than inflation.

Where does that leave you? For those fresh out of teacher training college this coming summer, the overall outlook is not as good as it was a few years ago, but it's not disastrous. Depending on where you live, you might not land your dream job immediately. But it's not all bad news, and there are a number of things you can do to maximise your chances:

* Keep in touch with the people you meet on teaching practice.

For many students, teaching practice schools sometimes offer jobs directly, or through the contacts that staff members have with other schools. If you're likely to find it difficult to travel to a new job (because of family commitments, for example), then keeping in touch with your TP school is a good idea.

* Don't rely on the supply market too heavily. The boom days for supply may be over. With more new teachers entering the labour market than for many years, and less money for continuing professional development (CPD), fewer supply teachers may be needed in the future. And some larger schools are finding it cheaper to employ "cover staff" directly and save on agency fees. It might be worth touting your CV to schools to offer cover services.

* Be optimistic - many teachers are about to retire. Job-hunting may not be that great next summer, but the problems are likely to be short-lived. Around one in three of the nation's teachers are looking forward to retirement before the end of the decade, so even if you don't land that perfect job next summer it should be there in a year or two.

John Howson is visiting professor at Oxford University and managing director or Education Data Surveys

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