THE RECRUITMENT crisis is starting to ease, the Government claimed this week as it published new figures showing a slight fall in teacher vacancies.
The total number of empty posts fell by 134 to 2,458 at the beginning of the year, according to statistics from the Department for Education and Employment.
London and the South-east continue to suffer the most severe staff shortages. But even these problems seem to be less acute.
London now has 944 vacancies - equal to 1.9 per cent of the teaching force. The South-east has 427 unfilled vacancies, or 0.8 per cent.
Yorkshire and the North-east, meanwhile, appear the most popular places to work with a total of 145 vacancies between them - fewer than the East (306), West Midlands (239) and the North-west (170).
Across the country, vacancies in nursery and primary schools fell from January 1998 to January 1999 by 72 to 1,319 and in secondaries by 43 to 925. In special schools they dropped 19 to 214.
There is further good news regarding maths specialists, says the Government, with the number of people applying to train in the subject rising by 27 per cent compared with last year. There was a 17 per cent increase in science applications.
School standards minister Estelle Morris said the vacancy statistics were the first accurate figure on the extent of teacher shortages.
"Fewer than 1 per cent of places are vacant and the number has fallen a little over the last year," she said. "There are early signs that the Government's 'golden hello' initiatives to increase the number of maths and science teachers are having an effect.
"I am not complacent but it looks like we could be beginning to turn the corner on teacher shortages with rises in the numbers applying to train as maths and science teachers and an increase in applications to PGCE of 3 per cent since this time last year."
But the Government's optimism may be short-lived. In five weeks since Easter, 1,041 secondary maths jobs at all grades were advertised in The TES.
"The marginal improvement cannot conceal the crisis which the Government is facing in teacher recruitment, particularly in mathematics, physical sciences, modern languages and technology," said John Dunford, who is general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association.
"In the short term, the Government must extend the 'golden hello' scheme to all these subjects."