New regulations which should make it easier to employ teachers from overseas have been welcomed by London boroughs and many schools hit by the recruitment crisis.
Teaching of maths and science nationally, and of any age and subject in Greater London, is now officially classed as a shortage occupation for immigration purposes by the Department for Education and Employment.
Employers no longer have to prove that there are no suitable local candidates before recruiting from non-European Union countries, cutting the process time by at least four weeks. Teachers from overseas no longer need two years' postgraduate experience, but must be qualified at home. Work permits have been extended from four to five years.
However, overseas teachers on work permits are still required to train for qualified teacher status after four terms of teaching in the UK, if not before.
The Association of London Government has been lobbying the Government since July to relax work permit regulations for teachers. A spokesman said the process of approving work permits used to take up to three or four months but had been dropping in response to the shortage, and now took one to two weeks.
However, it was only part of a solution to teacher shortages. "Recruitment of overseas teachers is helping to ease the situation in a number of London authorities. But a lot more needs to be done to ensure that students are encouraged to enter the profession and existing teachers are retained," he said.
Councils in the Greater London area have elcomed the changes, although they are too new for many to have used them - or even heard about them - as yet. Olive Forsyth of the NUT believed most schools would take advantage of the regulations.
"There just aren't enough teachers being produced in this country," she said.
Mick Hunt, Head of Riverside Community College in Leicester, has had difficulty filling four maths posts at his school since May last year and was highly impressed with the calibre of two agency-recruited Canadian teachers.
But Mr Hunt said he would be reluctant to spend money on overseas travel for recruitment purposes unless he was guaranteed a result.
Croydon Council, which recently went on a recruitment drive to Australia for supply teachers with Timeplan, also welcomed the changes. A spokesperson said: "Overall it's viewed that the relaxing of work permit regulations is a positive move that will make life administratively a lot easier. Like all councils, we are considering various recruitment options to fill the gaps."
However, Timeplan Education Director Chris King said the changes would not ease the immediate shortage of supply teachers because recruitment agencies could not apply for work permits. Timeplan can only employ overseas workers who are already eligible to work in the UK through ancestry ties, or working holiday visas.
He said: "The changes made to the regulations reflect that teaching skills are an international resource. If schools bypass agencies to recruit directly from overseas they will be responsible for police, employment and identity checks, and will have to fund applicant meetings."
* Why teachers need sabbaticals. Friday, p29.