DURING the 2001 general election campaign, the Government promised to deliver 10,000 extra teachers by the end of the current Parliament. But judging by figures released last month by the Department for Education and Skills, that target has already been exceeded - three years early.
The figures show that the number of "regular" teachers rose by 13,700 between January 2001 and January 2003. However, on closer scrutiny, a different story emerges.
In the 12 months up to January 2003, the number of full-time teachers declined. The fall may only be small - fewer than 1,000 out of 370,000 - but these teachers are the backbone of the profession and account for 88 per cent of all "teaching" staff in state-funded schools. This means the number of full-time teachers has only risen by around 4,000 since Labour came to power in 1997.
By contrast, the growth of the part-time teaching force has been rapid. It has increased by just under 4,000 (full-time equivalents) within the past two years.
The increase in the number of overseas-trained teachers and instructors has been even more dramatic. There are now 11,000 of these "teachers" who do not have qualified teacher status in England. This is the highest level ever recorded.
The number of students training "on the job" has also increased substantially. In January, there were just over 4,000 of these trainees, compared with just 1,300 two years ago.
A key question is whether January 2003 will mark a high point for teacher numbers. Declining primary rolls have already resulted in a fall of nearly 4,000 teachers in this sector over the past two years. Schools'
well-documented budget difficulties will put a further brake on teacher employment.
Unless the Government can stem the threat of redundancies, next year might even see the first decline in "headline" teacher numbers since 1998.
John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and a director of Education Data Surveys.