Fens and Midlands face biggest problem

5th September 1997 at 01:00
Three page report on a deepening crisis facing schools - an acute shortage of key personnel and a deterioration in the quality of candidates for vacant posts

The headline figure of just over a quarter of secondary schools (26.5 per cent) reporting difficulty in filling vacant posts may be alarming enough, but the survey reveals a regional picture which is even worse.

The two regions experiencing the biggest difficulties, are rural East Anglia (42.9 per cent) and the West Midlands conurbation (40.5 per cent), two contrasting parts of the country with very different profiles.

The contrast makes it difficult to draw general conclusions about recruitment trends. East Anglia appears to suffer particularly because large parts of it are relatively remote, with many schools apparently finding it hard to recruit young teachers because of the region's fenland image.

The West Midlands, on the other hand, seems to be part of a more general pattern of resistance to teaching in inner urban areas. A breakdown of the figures by local education authorities underlines this point, identifying cities as the biggest problem areas. It is not just urban decay, and the educational problems associated with it, however, that is deterring applicants. The high cost of living in the outer London boroughs - currently in the middle of a housing boom - is also causing recruitment difficulties (see table 1).

Modern languages is easily the subject area in most scarce supply, reflecting the increased marketability of linguists as the economy recovers and trends towards greater European and global integration continue. Also in short supply are suitable teachers in science subjects, mathematics and design technology (table 1).

Nationally, most secondary heads thought the recruitment situation this year was no worse than last. But almost a third (29.9 per cent) expected recruitment difficulties to intensify next year, compared with just one in 20 who thought things would improve. Nearly half (46.2 per cent) of heads in the North believed the situation would worsen, as did well over a third of heads in the South-east, East Anglia and inner London.

Another indication of the scale of the crisis facing schools is the number of applications per vacant post. Nationally, almost two-thirds of posts advertised attracted fewer than 15 applicants, with nearly one in five receiving three or fewer applicants. The regional breakdown shows East Anglia, the North, West Midlands and the high-cost South-east experiencing the biggest problems (table2) Asked why some posts were difficult to fill, four out of five heads cited "too few applicants", while half cited the "poor quality of applicants". In inner London, however, the quality of applicant was identified more frequently (86.4 per cent) than quantity (63.6 per cent). The East Midlands and South-west receive considerably more applications per post than other regions, indicating their popularity with teachers.

Nationally, just over a third of secondary schools (36.7 per cent) had unfilled vacancies when the survey was conducted in February and March. But in inner London vacancies rose to 68.8 per cent, raising further questions about the capital's ability to recruit quality applicants. City schools also had vacancies well above the national average (table 3).

Worryingly, heads in schools where there are vacancies indicated the situation is deteriorating, with almost a third (29.4 per cent) reporting an increase in unfilled posts since the previous term. Almost half said they had more temporarily filled posts than the term before. More than a third (37.4 per cent) cited retirement due to ill-health as the main cause.

The rise in vacancies comes despite evidence of widespread reductions in staffing to enable schools to stay within budget. More than one in three secondaries (36.7 per cent) have had to cut staffing this year. Next year, schools are prepared for the situation to worsen, with 43.6 per cent expecting to shed staff. This amounts to an average of one teacher per school both this year and next. This situation has not prevented schools being forced to reduce spending on books and equipment (down 52.2 per cent on last year), repairs and maintenance (down 85.2 per cent), and staff development (down 71.4 per cent).


% of difficult-to-fill posts

By region

East Anglia 42.9

East Midlands 22.2

Greater London 28.3

North 23.7

North-west 18.0

South-east 26.9

South-west 18.3

West Midlands 40.5

Wales 24.5

Yorkshire Humberside 25.2

By LEA type

Inner London 26.1

Outer London 29.7

Shire counties 26.2

Metropolitan boroughs 23.8

Cities 30.2

By subject

Modern Languages 25.3

Sciences 15.5

Mathematics 14.4 Design Tech 12.1 Music 6.4

RE 5.3

English 4.3

IT 4.1

SEN 1.8

Other 10.7

Total 99.9


Applicants per post advertised received by % of schools in region

3 or fewer 4-9 10-14 15-plus

East Anglia 30.0 22.9 18.6 28.6

East Midlands 16.7 21.2 6.8 55.3

Greater London 9.7 27.0 25.2 38.1

North 30.0 23.8 26.3 20.0

North-west 13.0 18.6 34.5 33.9

South-east 23.0 20.7 25.6 30.7

South-west 16.7 17.5 16.7 49.1

West Midlands 25.2 30.8 13.3 30.8

Wales 19.1 36.2 19.1 25.5

Yorkshire Humberside 14.8 23.5 23.5 38.3

By LEA type

Inner London 5.7 37.5 20.5 36.4

Outer London 12.3 20.3 28.3 39.1

Shire Counties 20.5 22.7 20.1 36.6

Metropolitan boroughs 21.1 23.3 23.3 32.2

Cities 14.2 27.4 30.1 28.3


% of schools with vacancies

By region

East Anglia 35.3

East Midlands 42.9

Greater London 42.5

North 29.6

North-west 40.0

South-east 38.5

South-west 41.2

West Midlands 37.2

Wales 26.1

Yorkshire Humberside 26.2

By LEA type

Inner London 68.8

Outer London 25.0

Shire counties 35.9

Met boroughs 31.1

Cities 43.2

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