Demands of a scanty supply

10th May 1996 at 01:00
Schools who want to net the right staff from a dwindling pool will have to sell themselves as good employers, warns Terry Mahoney

There is a time bomb ticking away in schools: a national crisis in teacher recruitment primed to go off between now and the end of the century.

The Teacher Training Agency, the organisation charged with addressing this problem, plans to spend Pounds 1.6 million on a recruitment drive aimed to avert the shortages that are expected, especially in certain specialist secondary subjects. But applications for secondary teacher training courses are already down 12 per cent on last year, a situation that is even worse than it seems since last year's figures were 10 per cent down on the previous year. The Government, furthermore, recognises training numbers need to increase by a third to meet the expected demand.

By the beginning of last month 15,145 applications had been made for places on secondary teacher training courses, compared with 17,174 by the same time last year. Not all applicants prove willing or suitable, and in any case the Government target is to increase training numbers from 20,000 to 30,000.

The position in science and maths is particularly bad. Applications for physics were down 37 per cent and maths 28 per cent. A third fewer applications for design and technology courses have been received, with no guarantee that even if they complete their training all the course members will be available to teach.

A quarter of those achieving qualified teacher status do not take up employment as teachers. As the wider labour market becomes even more favourable for graduates, according to the Association for Graduate Recruiters, the position could become even worse, particularly as a career in teaching does not seem to be particularly attractive to new graduates any longer.

A recent TTA survey of undergraduates found "only 17 per cent thought teaching was a profession likely to offer the opportunity for good career development". Graduate employment outside teaching increasingly offers a higher initial starting salary than teaching, even if the additional year's training is discounted, and earning potential thereafter is considerably higher. Whereas in 1974 teachers' average pay relative to other non-manual employees was 37 per cent higher, it is now just 2 per cent higher. And cuts have meant teaching does not even offer the compensation of greater job security any longer.

Pay may not be the only motivator. But the Institute for Employment Studies found that a 1 per cent fall in relative teacher starting salaries led to a drop of some 4 per cent in the supply of graduates into teaching. Even those for whom teaching is a vocation have to pay the mortgage, though the tendency to offer newly qualified teachers temporary contracts means some are unable to secure a mortgage.

So heads and governors should start to plan for fewer teachers in key subjects, a situation which may become self-replicating if fewer or poorer teachers in key subjects leads to fewer A-level and degree-level candidates feeding through into teaching in those very same shortage subjects.

Add to this various demographic factors: teaching is now becoming an ageing profession (nearly 50 per cent of teachers are aged between 40 and 49; two-thirds are over 40). There is an increase in early retirements (in 1994-95 21,254 teachers started to draw a pension, of whom only 5,814 were over 60). Only one in six primary teachers and one in nine secondary teachers continue working to retirement age.

The National Association of Head Teachers reports schools find it increasingly difficult to recruit heads and deputies. John Howson's research from Oxford Brookes University shows the turnover of secondary heads - at 8 per cent - to be the highest for six years, while for primary heads the rate is 9 per cent, the highest for five years.

For both phases, about one in six posts had to be re-advertised. Some authorities are reporting problems in securing heads for small primary schools (the lot of a teaching head is not a happy one) and special schools. In 1994-95 1,039 heads and deputies received infirmity pensions, a rise of 9 per cent over the previous year.

Teaching is increasingly becoming a job for women, with important implications. For example, a lack of male role models may be linked to underachievement among boys.

Initial teacher training schemes attracted 71 per cent female entrants in 1995. In 1994, 82 per cent of all nursery and primary teachers, and 51 per cent of all secondary teachers were female; 96 per cent of permanent part-time teachers in primary schools, and 87 per cent in secondary schools, are women. And many of those inactive teachers who will have to be recruited to make up the shortfall in newly qualified staff will be women returning to teaching after a career break.

Meanwhile, a steady rise in pupil numbers is expected between now and the end of the century and beyond. The rise will be around 6 per cent, with regional variations.

The Government, the TTA and local authorities will all need to take strategic action to offset these predictable shortages. But individual governing bodies and schools can play their part. Now is the time to sell your school as a good employer, invest in staff development and secure your own future. Here are a few ideas which may help: * The National Commission on Education's research found that intending teachers sought the opportunity for creative input, variety of work, intellectual challenge and job security. If your school genuinely offers these, emphasise them in recruitment details to help counteract the negative image that surrounds teaching at the moment.

* Working conditions are important. The poor physical environment of many schools is having a detrimental effect on recruitment. Are you able to make improvements?

* Undergraduates are concerned about poor career prospects. Are you able to say anything about career progression?

* Emphasise your commitment to support in induction year, and to professional development.

* Grow your own senior staff. Is your professional development programme achieving what it is supposed to in the eyes of the staff it is aimed at? A recent TTA survey revealed that while 87 per cent of heads said all five days were used for professional development, only 37 per cent of teachers concurred. And, although 63 per cent of heads reported a link between appraisal and professional development, only 12 per cent of teachers echo the point. And only 26 per cent of teachers thought their professional development had a great deal of impact on classroom practice.

* Consider using recruitment and retention points - currently only 2 per cent of teachers receive them.

* Give what assistance you can to applicants about local housing, even if it's only advice and information. Some LEAs are able to offer more help in this area.

Now is the time to grasp the nettle - to think creatively in order to secure a quality supply of teachers. The time bomb is still ticking.

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