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Teaching posts are getting harder to find, says John Howson, but don't panic

More trainees and tighter budgets is a recipe for a challenging job applications round this year. It can be difficult for new teachers, as it was five years ago when the opposite scenario - not enough new staff - was a challenge for schools.

Determining the state of the jobs market is a mixture of science and intuition. Because of the complexity and size of the market, there is a tendency to either overshoot and produce too many teachers or undershoot and leave schools hunting for staff. This year, an abundance is more likely than shortages.

Don't despair - there will be jobs. They may not be your ideal teaching post in a school just down the road, but that was never available for everyone.

Posts are created by many factors. Some staff leave the profession on retirement, others change careers or move to another job within education; some take time out, on maternity leave or for a late gap year.

It was thought that schools would have some idea of their new two-year budgets - they run from September - earlier than in past years. However, with the delay in the announcement of the pay settlement from the end of October until early December, that is now less likely.

Pay is the key component of every school's budget - it accounts for around 60 per cent of expenditure - so seemingly small changes in salary levels can have significant effects, by either retaining existing staff or encouraging more departures when pay levels drop.

Although it is difficult to make precise predictions for this year, some likely trends are already apparent. Jobs in primary schools will remain relatively difficult to find. There are falling pupil numbers, the greater use of ancillary staff in line with the workforce agreement, plus a surplus of teachers from the past two years. They are either in temporary work or still looking for a teaching post. All these will make for a buyers'

market, where schools will be in control.

Headteachers and governors will be looking for the best added value from applicants, so the appearance of your CV will be really important. Those with experience of the early years may find themselves more in demand than key stage 2 teachers. Overall, we expect the Department for Education and Skills staffing survey carried out this month to reveal the lowest vacancy level for primary teachers in more than a decade.

The secondary sector is more difficult to predict. Pupil intakes will be down in some areas. Parts of the North East are likely to be most affected, whereas London and the South East still have broadly rising pupil numbers.

However, the buy-to-let phenomenon is causing some distortions locally, as houses that once might have been used for families with children are rented to young professionals or other childless groups.

Buoyant recruitment to teacher training, even where it has failed to meet government targets, means there are more trainees hunting for teaching posts this summer. Some of the jobs they would have filled are now taken by those on either the graduate training programme or the expanding teach first initiative.

Still, with retirement looming for the many secondary teachers who joined in the 1970s, there will be jobs this summer. As schools adjust to the healthier supply position, posts suppressed in the past - perhaps through the use of less well qualified staff - will start to appear as heads think it once again worth advertising.

Then there are the increasing number of posts in relatively new subjects such as psychology, media studies and law. It is in the humanities and languages - where curriculum changes may have reduced the number of posts - that trainees may struggle to find jobs.

The ability to be mobile could be important. Sadly, teaching is so market-orientated that career changers with roots in their local community do not get preferential treatment over potentially more mobile new graduates with no ties. It is the best, or cheapest, person for the job that schools are looking for every time.

John Howson is visiting profesor of education at Oxford Brookes university and a teacher recruitment market expert

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