Editorial: A forecast to heed

5th September 1997 at 01:00
According to the lore of the sea, "Long foretold, long lastShort notice, soon + past". For the unbarnacled, this means that a storm clearly heralded by a + steadily falling glass (barometer) is likely to be a prolonged affair.A sudden + squall, on the other hand, promises only temporary discomfort aboard a + well-found vessel.A teacher recruitment crisis has been repeatedly and + authoritatively forecast - if the impending peak of secondary pupil numbers + coincides with a revival in the economy, and, therefore, in more attractive + jobs for graduates.In the event, this is exactly what is happening. What's + more, reports from a number of weather stations indicate that the current + depression in recruitment has been made even more profound by the state of + teacher morale.The TESBrunel staffing survey (pages 10-12) is only the latest + indication of the way the wind is blowing. The School Teachers' Review Body, in+ its last annual assessment of recruitment, retention and motivation, remarked+ on the "increasing academic and social demands" on schools. It confirmed the + low spirits revealed in an earlier TES survey. "Everywhere we went we were told+ that teachers felt oppressed by excessive and ill-informed media criticism + which ignored the progress made in raising standards," the review body reported+ in February.Little wonder, then, that graduates are not queuing up to join the+ profession. Certainly, they receive little encouragement from their own + teachers to do so. University fees which will push students even further into + debt if they are to gain a teaching qualification also threaten to deter entry + to teacher training courses. Deteriorating working conditions and reduced job + security, meanwhile, have further blackened teachers' prospects, particularl y + in secondary schools where cuts and subject specialist shortages are sharpest. + Review body surveys suggest that secondary teachers are working longer hours + and teaching more and larger classes. Though spending on books, teaching + materials, in-service training and maintenance of their classrooms is falling, + they are still expected to produce better exam results year-on-year. This + year's early retirement dbcle sent a further wave of consternation sweeping + across the country. The resulting rush for the exit by the most experienced + staff has produced a hiatus in the supply of up-and-coming teachers able and + willing to accept greater accountability, leadership and management + responsibilities. As a result, this week's National Association of Head + Teachers' report (page 5) underlines, 1,000 schools start the new academic year+ without a permanent headteacher. As David Hart observes, this is hardly + calculated to achieve the Government's school improvement targets.The latest + research by Alan Smithers and his team also confirms once again that it is in + the inner-city schools and authorities - whose performance causes so much + concern - that the quality and quantity of teacher recruits is most wanting. + This position could be made even worse if high-profile government moves to + reduce class sizes in overcrowded suburban primary schools suck even more + teachers out of the inner cities.Whatever the truth behind the claims about the+ numbers of incompetent teachers, there is no sign of 15,000 competent ones + jostling to replace them where they are needed. Nor is the 75 per cent cut in + spending on professional development in the schools surveyed by Smithers + calculated to improve matters.Spending cuts are widely expected to get worse, + resulting in the loss of even more experienced (and therefore expensive) staff.+ If this is indeed the outlook - and schools have yet to see the colour of the + extra billion pounds promised by David Blunkett - it can only add to the long + foretold recruitment shortfall now emerging. The House of Commons education + select committee - advised by Professor Smithers no less - now proposes to + enquire into this as a matter of urgency.Urgency is indeed what is called for + if the haemorrhage of talent is to be reversed. Warm words from the Government + about enhancing teacher status need to be turned into practical and moral + support for school and professional improvement - as well as salaries, + conditions and public status calculated to attract the most able and + enthusiastic graduates. Recruitment is not yet wholly in crisis, though there + are some severe local problems. But, as ancient mariners say, "When at sea with+ a falling glassSoundly sleeps the careless ass".

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