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Teacher numbers turn corner;Hot data;Briefing;School Management

The number of teachers is rising. Provisional figures for January 1999 show there are now more teachers in service than at any time since the early 1990s. The increase between January 1998 and January 1999 brings to an end a period when rising pupil rolls were not supported by increasing teacher numbers.

The number of full-time qualified teachers rose by 1,700 between 1998 and 1999. It just failed by 600 to return to the 1997 level that the Labour Government inherited from its predecessors.

On the other hand, the number of part-time teachers has reached record levels, up 1,700 on two years ago, and almost doubling since 1985.

The number of qualified occasional teachers is also rising, to more than 13,000. These are teachers who have a contract for less than one month, but were employed for the whole of the day on which the teacher count was conducted in January. Many of these are short-term supply teachers, and often include staff from Australia, New Zealand and other countries.

This number of occasional teachers suggests the supply teacher business might be worth more than pound;200 million a year in turnover. In parts of the country this work is still handled by local authorities or through school's own contacts, but elsewhere this is now a lucrative source of income for the private sector.

Creating posts for teachers in training or qualified teachers is preferable to using untrained instructors. The fact that their numbers rose by around 300 to 2,800, the highest since 1985, raises questions about exactly who is being placed in this category.

The proportion of full-time qualified teachers continues to fall. More than one in ten classrooms now contains a part-time, occasional or unqualified teacher for at least part of the week. Many of these are excellent practitioners who have chosen not to work full-time; others may be using part-time teaching as a route to a full-time post.

Finally there are those who have opted for the employment-based training route to Qualified Teacher Status. Perhaps the chief inspector can tell us in his next annual report whether these teachers are evenly spread or concentrated in particular schools and parts of the country.

Last December the Government announced it would set aside 600 places in 1999 from its teacher-training targets for maths and science teachers to be trained in schools using employment-based routes. To achieve this target would mean more than doubling the numbers on such a programme, from 500 teachers. As The TES of April 26 alone contained more than 200 entry-grade maths posts, or about one for every six PGCE maths students, by July there could be schools queuing up to join the programme.

John Howson is a fellow of Oxford Brookes University and runs an educational research company. E-mail:

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