For flexibility, read fantasy

10th August 2001 at 01:00
The teachers' pay review body must wonder if it has strayed into an episode of Mission Impossible when it receives its instructions from the education secretary. It is expected to come up with pay and conditions which allow all schools to recruit, retain and motivate enough good staff to deliver a high-quality education service within the overall funding set by the Government.

Given that vacancy levels for specialist teachers doubled last year, it is clearly not succeeding in its mission. This year, heads in all areas rate recruitment as the worst ever. Meanwhile, a serious teacher revolt against spiralling workloads, exacerbated by staff shortages, has been bought off only temporarily with an official review of working hours and conditions.

As house prices soar way out of reach of many young teachers, other employers find they have to pay as much as 50 per cent more to recruit in high-cost areas. That suggests starting salaries of more than pound;25,000 for teachers in London if the minimum elsewhere is pound;17,000. At the other end of the scale, where almost a third are over 50, escalating property values make it easier for established teachers to contemplate retirement even earlier if they can buy smaller or cheaper (story, page 4).

In fantasy films, the apparently impossible is achieved by using weapons and gadgets of staggering power or ingenuity. The review body is expected to deploy "more flexibility" and allowances for "heavy levels of cover".

In the real world, saddened teachers are getting out of the profession they love to regain some balance in their professional and personal lives. There are just not enough people willing to put up with the pressures any longer for the rewards on offer. Giving heads more discretion on salaries only shifts the fundamental shortages to the schools least able to pay - a situation which will get worse when growing numbers of privatised schools recruit at any cost to avoid losing their contracts.

The review body once lectured schools on the importance of "outcomes" in education. It should now reflect on how far the failure to recruit, retain and motivate enough good teachers is the "outcome" of its recommendations or the impossible conditions it accepts from the Government.

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