ITALY: More than 60,000 new teachers have been recruited in a frantic attempt to plug the gaps before the start of the new school year. After 10 years of cutbacks, the influx will take overall teacher numbers back to the levels of the early nineties, with more than 800,000 teachers for around eight million pupils - one of the most favourable teacher:pupil ratios in Europe.
About half of the new staff are former supply teachers who have been given permanent posts. The rest were selected two years ago in a mega-exam which saw more than a million candidates competing for 30,000 posts. These teachers should have taken up their posts a year ago, but the operation was put on hold.
But if most pupils in state schools can now be sure they will have teachers from day one of the new year, the recruitment drive is causing serious problems for the private sector. Many of the new state teachers come from private schools, which now find themselves with a 20 per cent shortfall in staff. This is embarrassing for the new centre-right government of TV magnate Silvio Berlusconi, which has always given private education a prominent place in its education manifesto and has promised financial help for those parents choosing to send their children to a private school.
But the mass defection shows that, for all its problems, the state system with its permanent posts, smaller classes, and (slightly) higher salaries is still the preferred option for teachers.