Fewer pupils means fewer teachers

19th November 2004 at 00:00
Early retirement is the likely way to provide more jobs for today's new staff, says John Howson

Politicians and policy mandarins have two big problems to solve in education: they must create more places for pupils and address the teacher shortage. But which is the more serious? And which of the proposed solutions will win most votes in the general election expected next year?

The root of these problems is the falling school population. People are having fewer children and, since the millennium, rolls in primary schools across England and Wales have been falling - and will continue to for the rest of this decade. Secondary schools are now starting to experience the same phenomenon.

Of course, not all schools are affected to the same extent. There will also be differences across England and Wales. For example, the North East of England is likely to be much harder hit by falling rolls than either the South East or London because people are moving south for work.

It would be great to see falling rolls leading to smaller classes, and, if the Government kept up funding levels, that would be feasible. But schools are facing up to three other structural problems that will affect the demand for in the next 10 years.

First, teachers are getting older. More than half the present workforce is over 45, so large numbers of teachers will retire in the next decade.

Falling pupil numbers will mean that unless the Government continues to pay up, schools won't need as many teachers, despite there being fewer pupils, so some of those leaving won't need to be replaced. Then there is the gradual introduction of the new working arrangements. By September 2005, all teachers will have 10 per cent planning, preparation and assessment time during their working week. Newly qualified teachers will have additional non-contact time during their induction year.

The Government has recruited more trainee primary teachers over the past four years, despite falling rolls. Newly qualified teachers will be hoping for extra teaching posts to apply for in the spring, but the Government is refusing to fund "missing pupils" caused by falling rolls. With teachers'

starting salaries having risen by 25 per cent in the past six years, putting added pressure on school budgets, I am not convinced that schools can afford the extra staff.

With more teachers in the market than there are jobs, why doesn't Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, allow those teachers who are near retirement to leave early? A feasible scheme in which teachers willing to take early retirement could register their interest in leaving and be replaced by unemployed NQTs would help to prevent the wastage and hardship that is the result of producing too many primary teachers.

Add to the mix the results from the review of the 14 to 19 curriculum undertaken by Mike Tomlinson, former chief inspector of schools, and the future for teaching jobs gets more complicated. Any fundamental shake-up of 14 to 19 education will affect the demand for teachers. We have already seen that with some schools reducing the amount of language teaching at key stage 4, fewer students are applying to train as languages teachers. The realignment of schools and FE colleges is likely to have profound effects on the demand for school teachers and FE lecturing staff.

If politicians think they will win votes by creating more places for pupils than by dealing with the nitty-gritty of staffing, then the only place to teach will be in a popular school in which parent demand will prevent falling rolls. But this is a prospect that leaves most teachers and schools more vulnerable.

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