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How many people return to teaching each year? This seems a simple question, but the answer hinges on what you mean by 'return'. The DFEE says that in 1998-99, 38.5 per cent of entrants were returners, and 61.5 per cent were new entrants. The number of full-time entrants was 32,600 teachers, so there were 12,500 returners. However, the returners include those switching to full-time from part-time teaching (around 4,900) plus a further 1,200 switching from full-time service in another sector, usually from further education. Thus only 5,400 returned to teaching from outside education.

Even this figure may be too high according to the Teachers Review Body. The STRB report suggests that only 2,170 full-time teaches returned from a break in service in September 1999. It estimated the number of new entrants in 1999 as 17,160, or about 3,000 less than the DFEE figure. Much of the difference can be accounted for by the 19,000 teachers (education's movers or switchers) who started a new post in a different school that September.

Whatever the figure, both the DFEE and the STRB seem to agree that the number of returners is in decline. In their 1998 report, the STRB identified 3,530 returners, suggesting a drop of one-third in just four years. The fact that most of the decline was in the primary sector should give planners, who cut the primary teacher training target for next year, a moment's pause for reflection.

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