Austerity hits the jobs market hard, but there are rays of hope

25th March 2011 at 00:00
Analysis - Though it seems gloomy out there, recruitment analyst John Howson finds there are opportunities - if you know where to look

These are anxious times for teachers. The total teaching force across England and Wales in both the maintained and independent sectors amounts to over half a million professionals. Factor in the lecturers employed in the 16-19 sector, whether in further education colleges or more specialist sixth-form college, and the number rises.

Even with the protection the Government has offered education budgets compared with those of many other areas of both central and local government, the sheer size of the education spend meant schools and colleges were unlikely to escape unscathed from the age of austerity sweeping through the public sector.

Ministers continue to repeat the mantra that school budgets have not been cut. But it's not that straightforward. For a range of reasons, secondary schools are likely to be cautious about their spending needs in the year ahead.

Schools that plan only from year to year are more likely to face problems with their staffing budgets. Those that have been aware of falling rolls for some years now, and have prudently built up reserves during good times, will naturally have less to worry about than those running deficit budgets. Local authorities may be less supportive than in the past as they wrestle with their own much more severe budget cuts.

So far, despite the noises about significant redundancies from some school leaders, it is too early to tell how severe the effects of changes to individual school budgets will be on the overall job market. The main recruitment season for September normally falls between Easter and mid- May.

But some trends can already be discerned by comparing the situation during January and February this year to the same period in 2010. Generally, this shows the market down by between a quarter and a third, with fewer first- time advertisements across all grades, from main-scale posts to headteachers. This means more competition for jobs, especially returners.

However, the picture isn't black and white. Teachers of certain subjects and age groups look as if they will fare better than others. Subjects chosen for the English Baccalaureate have tended to see some of the smallest decreases - with the exception of English itself - as secondary headteachers have already started taking steps to ensure pupils have the opportunity to study history and modern foreign languages at GCSE.

Primary teachers can take hope from the dramatic rise in the birth rate, which means that any downturn in the job market for teachers of the early years foundation stage should be short-lived, with most parts of the country likely to see a growth in jobs over the next few years.

Although no part of England and Wales has escaped the decline in advertised vacancies for teaching posts in secondary schools, the reduction has not been uniform across the country, accordaing to Education Data Surveys' analysis of advertisements from more than 100 different sources. Falls of more than 40 per cent were recorded in the East Midlands and the East of England (see box, right), while in London the decline in posts offered, despite the large presence of Teach First in the capital, was only 23 per cent.

In Wales, where the National Assembly allocates the spending for education, the reduction in advertised jobs has been only around 20 per cent, but that still means a loss of one in five new hires compared with January and February last year.

The effect on different subjects also varies by region. The decline in maths posts recorded so far this year has been mostly in the East Midlands, the North West and the West Midlands, and there have even been more advertisements for maths teachers from schools in the North East and the Yorkshire and Humber regions than during the same period last year. London and the South East regions still accounted for the largest number of maths posts - approaching a third of the overall total.

In English, the East of England region has seen the greatest decline. There have been more than 40 fewer advertisements this year compared to last. The area traditionally suffers from a shortage of English teachers. London and the South East accounted for only 20 per cent of these posts.

In PE, where the number of jobs on offer dropped by over half, London and the South East regions recorded some of the largest declines, although they still accounted for nearly a third of the reduced number of posts on offer.

Clearly, candidates who are prepared to be more flexible about where they work are likely to have more opportunities than those who are be tied to specific locations. At present, the market takes no account of the flexibility of job seekers. The problems that some mature entrants can face in finding a post may influence whether future career changers are willing to risk entering teaching through the traditional routes if there is no guarantee of a teaching post after training.

The picture for senior posts is very similar to that for classroom teachers, with fewer positions on offer. Part of this may be due to a fall in the number of teachers seeking retirement, which could itself be affected by changes to pension arrangements. The effect of the shift from the final-salary scheme to an average-salary pension won't be clear until negotiations on the outcome of the Hutton review are completed.

In the primary sector the position is much more difficult to determine because of the way posts are traditionally advertised. Although local arrangements such as "pools" may be on the way out, they still serve to disguise the true state of the job market. They are often also discriminatory to those returning to teaching after a break, as it is hard for them to be aware of closing dates and application procedures.

With the recent publication of the special educational needs green paper, it is too early to predict what job opportunities in this sector will look like. If schools are required to pay for the education of pupils on their rolls they may be more reluctant to see such pupils moved to more specialised institutions. But if parents are encouraged to set up schools for pupils with disabilities, there may be new opportunities for teachers wanting to work in this sector. In the short-term, as elsewhere, uncertainty may be the cause of any fall in job advertisements.

The jobs market may prove particularly tough for those returning to teaching after a career break or a period teaching overseas. They are often expensive, requiring salaries of main-scale 6 (an annual pound;31,552, outside London) or even upper pay scale 3, which can be double the cost of an NQT even including the latter's extra non-teaching time.

Whether anyone returning to teaching should be able to do so at a reduced salary has not yet been canvassed as widely as it was in the recession of the late 1980s - the last time that the number of teachers seeking jobs exceeded the supply for any length of time.

The professional associations resisted any change to the status quo at that time, but in a job market that clearly still favours recent trainees over experienced teachers who have taken a career break, schools not bound by the national pay and conditions document may take a different view. Particularly badly affected will be teachers whose partners are relocated by their own employers, so the family has to decide whether one person becomes a weekly commuter or the other risks quitting one teaching job to try to secure another.

Improvements to maternity provision mean many women may once again take maternity leave rather than resign and this may affect the type of jobs, although not the number, on offer. In theory, there should be significant jobs released through the above-average number of retirements, but these posts may be absorbed by schools, especially as teachers can be asked to teach anything regardless of their specialism, even without extra training. Faced with grim alternatives, many teachers would take a job teaching an unfamiliar subject, although it is a moot point whether heads and governors concerned about league tables might rather opt for redundancies.

Although it is too early in the year to predict whether the significant declines in posts on offer will continue through to the main recruiting season, there are teachers in some numbers still seeking a job for September. As the bulk of the 2011 PGCE students now enter the recruitment process as their main teaching placements come to an end, so the number of applications a school can expect to receive must increase.

Even if there is a flood of jobs from now until May, 2011 is likely to be remembered as the toughest job market for teachers since probably the early 1980s, and much harder than the recession of the early 1990s.

To look for a bright side, while reduced turnover in the market is bad for job-seekers, it is good for schools. Fewer posts need to be re-advertised, making staffing patterns more certain and helping reduce the costs of recruitment. A failed recruitment exercise can be an expensive business. Although the time spent on drawing up the job description and person specification isn't wasted, especially if it can be used again without revision, there is a financial cost to reading all the applications, shortlisting and then, if the process goes that far, the interview stage.

However, while this may be cheerful news for governors, it is unlikely to be much comfort to those now facing tougher competition at job interviews.

Finance and budget uncertainty ties schools' hands on staff costs

Across all the school sectors there is great uncertainty about the actual size of budgets - for a number of different reasons.
Firstly, conflating all specific grants into one early-intervention grant may adversely affect the budgets of schools which received significant sums through the former specific grant structure. Secondly, the cut in some sixth-form funding will affect schools with large sixth-forms. Thirdly, many schools have falling rolls, and fewer pupils means less cash. Finally, some schools will benefit from the first tranche of pupil premium cash distributed to pupils registered for free school meals, while others will not.
Even though there will be a pay freeze, school funding has not been up-rated for inflation, and schools with a young staff will still have to pay for the increments due in September.

In the coming months the absence of any extra cash for schools, apart from the pupil premium, is likely to affect the secondary sector significantly.

Funding for rising numbers in the primary sector has to be paid for somewhere, and a transfer of cash from secondary to primary in any new national funding formula is very likely, especially with the legislative cap of a maximum class size at key stage 1.

The Treasury could also be casting an anxious eye over the free-school policy, fearing it may be too successful with parents who might otherwise educate their children privately. Any transfer of pupils from the fee-paying sector to such "free" schools funded by taxpayers would require additional new funds or a redistribution of the existing cash used to fund the state sector.

Expensive building work and the costs of running oil-fired heating systems will make schools more cautious about spending extra money on staffing. Their caution will be increased if pension changes lift the amount that employers are required to contribute.

Fall and rise of student rolls

Primary schools in England are due to see their rolls increase over the next five years, helping some make a case for more teachers. The number of primary pupils is projected to rise from 3.9 million in 201011 to 4.2 million in 201415 - an increase of nearly 9 per cent.

Maintained secondary schools can expect to see numbers fall over the next three years, from three million to 2.95 million, but the rising numbers from primary schools should return rolls to similar levels by around 2016.

The shifts in the numbers of young people will vary wildly between areas. Secondary schools facing the biggest apparent falls will be in the Isle of Wight, where pupil numbers appear to nearly halve over the next six years, falling by 47 per cent.

However, there is an explanation for this which has nothing to do with birthrates on the island. The figures collected by the Department for Education exclude academies, and the Isle of Wight will have two new academies from this September. It is also switching from a middle-school system, which muddies figures further. Official secondary pupil projections for other authorities are also likely to be lower than the reality because of the academy factor.

Other authorities predicted significant, if not quite as dramatic, falls, including: St Helens (-21.7 per cent); Northumberland
(-13.8 per cent); Knowsley (-12.9 per cent); Lincolnshire (-12.1 per cent); Barnsley (-11.3 per cent); Torbay (-11.3 per cent); Sefton (-11.2 per cent); and Doncaster (-11 per cent).

In contrast, secondary schools in and around London can expect major increases over the coming years. The number of secondary pupils in Barking and Dagenham is due to rise by 27.5 per cent by 2016. Other authorities likely to see higher secondary numbers include Hackney (25 per cent); Barnet (24.3 per cent); Southwark (23.8 per cent); Rutland (21 per cent);
Hammersmith and Fulham (19.1 per cent); and Milton Keynes (19.1 per cent).

Michael Shaw

Related article: EBac subjects offer the best opportunities


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