Grimy stereotype puts jobseekers off

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

Grimethorpe has a problem with its image. Whenever the media wishes to focus on a northern industrial centre that has lost its mainstay industry, with poor housing, low expectations and kids wandering the streets at night, it swoops on this mining village; during the election campaign, Tony Dorney, the headteacher of Willowgarth High, Grimethorpe's secondary school, was much sought out by the Newsnight team.

Willowgarth High serves Cudworth, Brierley and Shafton as well as Grimethorpe, four ex-mining villages in Barnsley education authority. Barnsley as a whole has trouble recruiting teachers, but Willowgarth, in particular, is bedevilled by Grimethorpe's image, with falling rolls and a budgetary deficit. At a time when the economy is booming and teachers are in short supply, Dr Dorney has real difficulty in recruiting staff.

When the school advertised head of department posts in maths and science last year it received four and five applicants respectively. Dr Dorney puts this partly down to the fact that that the school was only able to offer Common Pay Scale plus three points when previously it had offered CPS + 4. "We were lucky enough to be able to appoint two good teachers," he says, "but it was a poor response. One would like to get 30 or 40 applicants for a head of department, but it's been a long time since we've had that."

Over the past two years Barnsley has been having problems recruiting teachers of English, according to Dr Dorney, and a recent second-in-English post at Willowgarth attracted only five applicants.

A recent head of history post attracted seven applicants and a modern foreign linguist post received only two.

On the other hand a mainscale science post attracted 70 applicants and the school has no difficulty attracting design and technology teachers, since there are local engineers once employed in heavy industry who have retrained as teachers in DT. Willowgarth also has an arrangement to take in information technology trainees from Sheffield Hallam University.

"Maybe if people are put off by the area we don't want them anyway," says Dr Dorney. "If you are afraid of being addressed as 'Eh up, Sir', or of straightforward kids who call a spade a spade, then the filtering-out process might have done us some favours. Generally speaking it's an orderly school, but you don't gain respect without earning it."

But falling rolls have reduced the school's intake from 960 to 860 in the past two years, and this year, despite having having lost 3.5 staff through early retirement, the school has an Pounds 80,000 deficit.

"We are not losing children because families are unhappy with the school, " says Dr Dorney. "It's just that there's no work and families are moving out of the area. I expected this migration to happen long ago when the colliery closed, but social cohesion kept people together until now."

Dr Dorney is sceptical of the Government's plan to introduce fast-track emergency traineeships to meet teacher shortages: "I don't think any of this stuff will help. When you vilify the profession and hold pay down, what do you expect? I'm all for improving standards but I don't think quick fixes work. "

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