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Q What are my chances of returning full-time to teaching? I have been away from the classroom for five years while my partner has been working abroad and I have been bringing up our children.

A The general answer is probably not very good. A more specific one will depend upon factors such as where you live and want to work and what you are prepared to teach.

As this column has made clear on many occasions, the job market for teachers is more competitive than it was five years ago. Recent figures for the General Teaching Council show only around 21,000 of the teachers who qualified in 2006 were in service in March 2007. This includes over 2,500 who registered as supply teachers and may not be working the full week. As the number eligible was over 34,000 - and only around 1,000 are working in teaching establish-ments where registration is not required, such as further education colleges and private schools - that means a sizeable pool may still be looking for teaching posts.

Once you add in the new cohort of 2007, who qualify as teachers this summer, then - set against a background of falling pupil numbers across much of the country - it doesn't take much imagination to picture a job market that isn't going to become any easier. For schools, it is a buyers'

market and anything out of the ordinary on your CV is going to be a challenge to overcome.

With the bad news out of the way, what can I advise? Local contacts might help - the school your children attend is worth cultivating as the head may know the local job scene and can help with networking.

Volunteer work, either as a teaching assistant or in other school-based jobs, can also aid you in getting back into the workplace. It will also keep you in the know about what is happening.

Some primary schools employ teachers as assistants who can switch into becoming a supply teacher if necessary. It saves the school money on agency fees, and provides a guaranteed income, albeit at a lower rate than as a classroom teacher. You may need to cast your net as wide as possible, remembering that you are a multi-skilled professional who can easily switch into many other jobs that require your people skills, let alone your know-ledge and experience

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