Staff crisis hits elite schools

Survey finds a fifth of all new classroom appointments are unsatisfactory. Karen Thornton reports

SOME of the best-known private schools in Britain are struggling to find good teachers as staff shortages spread to the independent sector.

A survey of more than 800 schools by The TES and Secondary Heads Association also suggests that there are around 3,700 unfilled state secondary posts for teachers across England and Wales - down from 4,900 last year.

The Government figure for state-sector vacancies is significantly lower - 2,450 - but that count was carried out in January.

Elite schools such as Roedean, where termly fees for day pupils are pound;3,240; Stowe, alma mater of Virgin boss Richard Branson, and Cheltenham Ladies' College, where former Daily Express editor Rosie Boycott was educated, report fewer applicants.

The struggle to find teachers means heads in state schools are having to settle for people they think are not up to the job. They say nearly a fifth of teachers appointed this term were unsatisfactory.

Meanwhile, some schools have scrapped recruitment procedures such as interviews and are grabbing the first teacher they can find. One head said he was appointing "people you would not previously have looked at".

The survey findings are based on responses from 828 state and private secondaries at the end of last term. They pose serious questions for the Government which needs to recruit enough good teachers if it is to carry on its crusade to raise secondary standards.

The Department for Education and Skills is to launch a four-year study this autumn into how the public image of teaching is affecting recruitment.

Many state heads have been forced to appoint staff who are unqualified, who trained overseas and are therefore unfamiliar with the curriculum or are simply poor teachers. An estimated 3,261 teachers, nearly one for every school, are teaching English, maths, science or languages when they are not qualified to do so.

John Dunford, SHA's general secretary, said: "The headline figures for vacancies disguise the extent to which heads are relying on unqualified staff. Although heads have become more imaginative and resourceful in their recruitment strategies, they remain unhappy with the quality of applicants and have had to make far too many appointments which they regard as unsatisfactory."

One of the greatest headaches for schools is filling senior management posts such as head of department.

Problems are not restricted to London and the South-east. Vacancies may be highest in the capital (16.7 per cent of posts advertised unfilled), but the East and the North are also suffering (see map, page 7).

As top private schools are forced to re-advertise and rethink their recruitment strategies, one head warned that, for less well-known institutions, recruitment was a "time bomb".

Stephen Hirst, director of studies at 595-pupil Stowe, the mainly boys'

boarding school in Buckingham, said that both the quantity and quality of applicants were declining.

He said: "At the moment, it's not really affecting us - except we are aware we are right against the edge. Whereas we might have had 60 candidates 10 years ago of whom 10 were not worth calling, sometimes now it's only five or six applicants of which one or two might be OK."

However, private schools are faring much better than their state colleagues. Among the worst cases the survey found were:

* A Teesside sixth-form college which paid an agency pound;5,000 for an information technology network manager, and a pound;1,000 "hello" for a part-time languages teacher.

* A Humberside comprehensive in a challenging area which has appointed 13 unqualified graduates as instructors as it tries to cope with 51 vacancies in the space of three years.

* A Kent head who spent April to July filling 15 vacant posts out of a staff of 45.

* A West Midlands head and deputy who spend a third and a half, respectively, of their working week covering maths lessons.

* A south-coast secondary with fewer science and maths lessons and more design and technology and art to match its staff.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We are very aware of these issues, which is why we have introduced training bursaries and 'golden hellos' for shortage subjects."

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