A chance to enjoy teaching again?

Why have so many private schools escaped a staffing crisis? One head thinks he knows the answer. Karen Thornton, Amanda Kelly and Warwick Mansell report.

HEADTEACHER Peter Lacey has done well out of the recruitment crisis, but he's not celebrating. He pays experienced teachers around pound;2,000 less than the state sector, yet his small, private cathedral school receives two unsolicited job applications a week. Two recent recruits took "significant" pay cuts to join him at The King's School, Gloucester.

"I regularly receive requests for employment from the maintained sector, without a job being advertised, often for a lower salary. They want to come into an environment where they feel they might be treated as professionals and enjoy teaching again," he said.

Unlike other schools in Gloucester, his co-educational school, which charges termly boarding fees of up to pound;4,560, has no unfilled vacancies. "I don't have that problem at all and I pay teachers less," said Mr Lacey, who does not pay the pound;2,000 threshold award. The salary scale at King's has been behind the state sector for the past four or five years.

He has no problem getting teachers to take games teams at the weekend or to lead field trips to the Scottish mountains.

"Doing these things means they get a better response from the kids," said Mr Lacey, head of the school since 1992. "But these things have been pushed out in the maintained sector and it's crazy. The whole relationship between pupil and teacher has been eroded.

"We are in an age where if it can't be measured, it's not valued by the Government. That's not good for society or for education. I feel I have built the best team of teachers. It's a joy to come to school. And it's the joy that's gone out of schools that stuns me."

While some in the private sector agree recruitment is "surprisingly buoyant", others say the crisis in the maintained sector is having some impact on them..

Maureen Dalbertanson, head of St Margaret's school, Exeter, said it was difficult for the private sector to keep up with new threshold payments and recruitment allowances on offer in state schools.

"Some teachers who previously applied to independent schools are finding that they can earn more money in the state sector, particularly at head of department and senior levels," she said.

"Although we have managed to fill all posts, we are nevertheless finding many fewer people applying."

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