More qualified staff are working outside schools than in. Nicolas Barnard reports on a new strategy to tempt them back.
EX-TEACHERS are to be targeted in the latest attempt to ease the recruitment crisis.
With more qualified teachers now working outside schools than in them, the Teacher Training Agency is to contact those considering a return to the classroom with an offer to smooth their passage back into the profession.
Its soon-to-be-launched Keep In Touch service will keep potential returners up-to-date with developments in education, put them in contact with serving teachers so they can observe lessons and help to them find courses to brush up their skills.
The service will also be offered to teachers planning a career break so as to help them to return later. The innovations follow instructions from Education Secretary David Blunkett last month to make recruitment the agency's number one priority, after a five-yearly review concluded its remit was too wide.
But the agency was also warned that the pool of inactive teachers - or pit as it is known - may fall a long way short of the hoped-for response.
The pit contains more than 400,000 ex-teachers. But that includes those promoted out of schools such as council education officers, as well as the disillusioned who have switched career. It even contains chief inspector Chris Woodhead and schools minister Estelle Morris.
Recruitment analyst John Howson estimated the numbers who might might be prepared to return to teaching was no greater than 100,000 - and the older they were and the longer they had been out of teaching, the less likely they were to return.
The number of returners has declined steadily since the mid-1980s to around 11,000 in 1996, according to Government figures.
"It's going to be hard work to get many more people out of the pit, even assuming they are in the places where the vacancies are," Mr Howson said.
A hotline, similar to the agency's recruitment telephone line, has been set up and a termly newsletter will be produced, with articles on changes in the profession and initiatives like the new leadership college.
A comprehensive database of courses will help returners update their subject knowledge or teaching skills. Until now, the agency has only kept a list of the courses it funded itself, but many universities and local authorities run their own programmes.
The database and telephone service are being set up and run by EWA, the firm that runs the agency's existing hotline at Chelmsford in Essex. It has already begun contacting former teachers who have called the main recruitment line.
Mandy Norris, account director at EWA, said: "A lot of the calls are from people who have left the profession and lack confidence."
Martin Rowson, 16
Hot data, 20
Keep In Touch can be reached on 01245 454434. For general inquiries about becoming a teacher, phone: 01245 454454.