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Mixed fortunes in a complex market

Frances Rafferty reports on the job prospects for newly qualified teachers. If the bulging pages of recent appointments sections in The TES are anything to go by, there are plenty of jobs to be had, but as ever those who are the most flexible and mobile have the best chance of finding their first job in teaching.

The local authorities are not anticipating redundancies at the same level as previous years and according to David Whitbread, education secretary of the Association of County Councils, "It isn't easy at the moment, but if applicants stick at it they should find work. In the longer term, prospects should improve".

The market, according to analysts is complex. John Howson, senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes, says: "There are a number of conflicting things happening at present. The demographic trend is pushing up numbers at the bottom end, therefore you would expect more jobs in primary schools. However, the financial squeeze on school funding appears to be greatest at the primary end.

"Overall, the age profile of the profession suggests people are leaving and there should be a reasonable turnover, but at the same time we are seeing local authorities being less inclined to offer early retirement."

Increasingly, new entrants will find themselves on temporary contracts which are being used more and more by schools in both the state and private sectors. The latest report of the School Teachers Review Body notes that vacancies have been low but says it is the Education Secretary's wish to see an increase in teacher numbers, to match the increase in pupils, for 199697 of 5,500. It says: "However, this will be at a time when there are indications, from the Association of Graduate Recruiters and elsewhere, that employment prospects for graduates are generally improving. This is a factor which we keep in mind when reaching our judgements on pay."

And indeed the review body this year recommended a higher pay increase at the lower end of the pay scale to improve the salaries of new entrants. It recommended that a newly qualified entrant with a second-class honours degree should be paid Pounds 14,001. The Government accepted this, but has phased the award.

The present funding arrangements do favour newly-qualified and cheaper teachers, and surveys have indicated a trend towards schools filling vacancies with less-experienced applicants. But there is limited scope for this.

Pamela Robinson, of Brunel University's Centre for Education and Employment Research, says: "Our survey showed the pressure on school budgets was leading to schools taking on lower paid staff, but particularly in primary schools where there is less flexibility in the budget there is less scope.

"There is a lot of variation between the regions in vacancies, but also variation within regions. Schools in London and the South-east will have more vacancies, but this has to be balanced with more expensive accommodation and living costs. The metropolitan areas will have more opportunities for new entrants, but even here, for example in south Manchester or other leafy suburbs, you can't get a job for love nor money."

Certain subjects are very much in demand. A good mathematics or science graduate can be expected to be snapped up and a newly-qualified teacher of languages, business studies or technology can expect better prospects than an English graduate or geographer.

The Teacher Training Agency, concerned about subject shortages, last year launched the Priority Subject Recruitment Scheme. This allows providers of initial teacher training to bid for funds to provide incentives to recruit into shortage areas.

The opportunities for working in overseas schools are increasing. Learning in the English medium has great currency in most parts of the world from Argentina to Mongolia.

The private sector can be better paid than state schools, but the turnover is slower and of late has been hit by redundancies as schools have closed or been forced to merge. But John Morris, general secretary of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools, says: "Independent schools are always on the look-out for good, young teachers to join them. Some teacher training institutions have been discouraging and misleading about the private sector, but there are first-class opportunities to teach in challenging and excellent posts."

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