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Pay what market demands, say MPs

Select committee says schools with staff shortages should be allowed to outbid the rest. Jon Slater reports

Schools should drop their opposition to market forces and embrace higher pay in areas with recruitment difficulties, MPs have said.

Teachers' pay must be made more flexible to respond to local staff shortages and and ensure teaching remains attractive in areas with high house prices, the influential education select committee said this week.

Its report, Secondary education: teacher recruitment and retention, called for a new grade of highly-paid "superteachers" who would help raise standards and solve teacher shortages in challenging schools.

Teaching should no longer be seen as a job for life and more entrants should do on-the-job training which has a lower drop-out rate than traditional university courses, it said.

Barry Sheerman, the Labour chair of the committee, said: "Markets do work.

If we have got shortages, why shouldn't we be able to pay extra money to get teachers?"

But Chris Keates, acting general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, criticised the idea of varying pay locally. "The committee's proposals are depressing and amount to old ideas recycled. Pay flexibility encourages schools to poach staff and leads to schools in difficult circumstances or with budgetary problems being disadvantaged still further."

Despite hearing that more than a third of teachers are considering leaving the profession within five years, MPs found there is no national recruitment problem. Instead schools are grappling with shortages in particular subjects, such as maths, and areas, especially parts of the South-east.

But the committee said that with half the profession now over the age of 45, schools could soon face more widespread problems.

It gave cautious approval to government measures to boost recruitment, such as training salaries and golden hellos for new recruits in shortage subjects.

The report, published on Tuesday, follows a study presented to the British Educational Research Association conference by Professor Stephen Gorard of York university, which found golden hellos and training salaries had failed to attract people into the profession.

Professor Gorard backed MPs' finding that there was no national staffing crisis and criticised experts and the media for exaggerating the problem.

Commonly-used indicators such as vacancy rates, and numbers leaving the profession were unreliable, he said.

A separate study presented to Bera by Patrick Barmby and Robert Coe of Durham university found that vacancy rates have declined sharply in both primary and secondary schools since 2001.

This year, only 0.5 per cent of teaching posts in English nurseries and primary schools were vacant, compared with 1.2 per cent three years ago.

"Determinants of teaching as a career" by Beng Huat See and "Teacher demand: crisis what crisis?" by Beng Huat See, Stephen Gorard and Patrick White are available from"Secondary education: teacher recruitment and retention" is available from "Recruiting and retaining teachers: findings from recent studies" is available from

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