Desperately seeking 10,000 teachers

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
Clare Dean, Warwick Mansell and Karen Thornton report on the results of a TESSHA survey into staff shortages.

TEACHER vacancies have more than doubled since September, a TESSecondary Heads Association survey has revealed. It suggests there could be nearly 10,000 permanent jobs unfilled in secondary schools in England and Wales.

Supply agencies admit they are unable to provide cover for at least 20,000 teacher days a week, and headteachers warned of increasing numbers of exclusions as pupils' behaviour deteriorates.

Standards of teaching are falling, sickness levels are rising and parents are complaining about inconsistency of teaching and children's lack of progress, said heads.

Their comments came as industrial action by unions, in protest at escalating workloads, due to shortages, threatened to send pupils home from 1,000 schools.

Education Secretary David Blunkett this week acknowledged the problem facing the nation's schools in an interview with The TES (see page 5), but he refused to call it a crisis.

"The word crisis is the kind of word you use when you have foot and mouth disease destroying an industry," he said. "It is not a word that you use when you want to resolve a problem by recruiting or bringing back more professionals. There is a problem, but it is something we acknowledge and take on."

A survey by the Department for Education and Employment of 1,453 schools in England suggests that 0.5 per cent of the primary and 0.8 per cent of secondary posts were vacant last month, an increase in secondaries of 14 per cent on last year's DFEEsurvey. Advertisements in The TES today re at least 50 per cent above the expected levels for this time of the year.

Evidence collected by The TES and SHA from almost a quarter of secondaries in England and Wales discloses there were 2,410 vacancies for permanent teachers last month.

If this represents the position in all 3,800 secondaries, it would mean 9,969 unfilled posts. A similar TESSHA survey last September concluded 4,000 posts were unfilled.

Difficulties continue to be concentrated in London and the South-east, but the situation seems to be getting worse in the Midlands and the North-east. One in 25 of the secondaries which replied to the survey had seven or more vacancies. Three schools had 13.

John Dunford, general secretary of SHA, said: "Emergency measures are required to help schools and supply teacher agencies to bring more qualified teachers into the classroom.

Recruitment analyst John Howson was shocked at the findings. "This means many key stage 3 pupils are being taught in large classes by teachers who are not properly qualified."

The TESSHA survey reveals that heads are often taking several classes themselves to fill gaps. Few heads are willing to admit to sending pupils home. But four had done so without attracting media attention. Others said they were now close to it.

Bill Gould, head of the 1,100-pupil Hellesdon high school in Norwich, which sent a year group home for the morning before half-term, said: "There have been a number of occasions where there has not been a single member of staff not in front of a class. You just need a child to have an accident and you have no reserves at all."


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