A millennium exodus of temporary staff to visit their families Down Under may cause chaos in London classrooms. Chris Bunting reports.
PUPILS in London may be left without teachers this January as foreign supply staff return home to celebrate the millennium.
The capital is estimated to rely on expatriates for about a quarter of its temporary teaching cover - and one agency estimates that about half of them will be leaving over the New Year.
The teachers are expected to stay away longer than usual to avoid expensive flights in the first days of January, creating severe shortages in the last two weeks of this term and the first two weeks of next. Many will prefer to spend their time drinking Australian bubbly and taking part in the millennium festivities.
John Howson, an independent recruitment analyst, said the supply market in London was already stretched, with foreign teachers providing a disproportionate number of those prepared to do short-term supply work.
"All we need is a flu bug and you have got the spectre of children being sent home from some schools," he said.
Graham Lane, chairman of education for Newham, London, said supply staff made up 50 per cent of the workforce in some inner-city schools.
"In that kind of school the problems could be quite serious," he said. "We have a lot of very good teachers from these countries. We get some good people because they want the freedom of shortterm contracts and this is an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of that."
John Dunn, marketing manager for Select education, said 50 per cent of his teachers were from abroad, and half of them would be returning home over Christmas. His company was pulling in British supply teachers from regional offices to help to cover the shortages.
Ray Mercer, a director of Capstan teacher supply agency, said: "It is going to be the dark freezing January days, when a lot of regular class teachers phone in sick, that are going to present the worst problems.
"We are telling schools that, if they have planned absences, to give us as much notice as possible."
Mr Mercer estimated that foreign teachers, mainly from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, filled about 2,000 vacancies a day in London.
Sally Webster, spokeswoman for Timeplan, said her agency relied on foreign teachers for about 40 per cent of its workforce in the South and Midlands.
The company had sent a special taskforce to Australia to help cover the anticipated shortage. "About 100 teachers at this stage have committed to jobs in January, so as far as we know we are covered for all our long-term placements," she said.
She said the very high cost of flights in early January was also likely to help persuade some expatriates, who had been planning to return home, to stay put.