TEACHER shortages are hindering learning in the UK more than in almost any other developed country, according to headteachers surveyed in a new international report published this week.
Shortages held back nearly two-thirds of UK 15-year-olds, the survey said. Only in Germany and Greece were a higher proportion of students affected by a lack of staff.
Nearly one in 10 teachers in the UK left the profession in one year, according to latest figures, and more than half of teachers who quit blamed heavy workload.
Union leaders say the research sends a powerful message to the Government to take staff shortages seriously and bring in measures that address workload, salaries and pupil behaviour.
The research into 30 countries, Education Policy Analysis 2002, was conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Maths is suffering more in Britain than in any other country - British heads say nearly a third of teenagers is being hindered "to some extent" or "a lot" by teacher shortages in the subject.
The report shows that nearly one in 10 teachers in England left the profession in 1999-2000 - the highest reported rate - compared to just one in 50 Korean teachers in 2001.
The authors noted that whereas most American teachers said they left their teaching job because of poor salaries, more than half of teachers in England and Wales who quit in 2001 cited heavy workload as a reason, followed by pupil behaviour and government initiatives. Poor salaries were listed fourth and mentioned by one in four teachers.
Around one in four UK teachers was 50 or older in 2000, compared with one in five 10 years ago, which could lead to worse recruitment problems when they eventually retire.
But the UK primary population is expected to drop by more than 10 per cent by 2010 - so the overall demand for teachers is likely to fall.
John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, said:
"Now that the OECD and its member countries are taking the problem of teacher recruitment and retention seriously, the Government really has to sit up and take notice.
"It must be confident that the evidence is pointing to an impact on standards.
"It must also look at the factors given for teachers leaving and act on them. Workload is sometimes used by teachers as a metaphor for the overall pressure they are under. They can cope if other things are OK, but if pupil behaviour and salaries are bad then that acts as a trigger to leave."
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