Despite increasing job opportunities, rising prices are once again making it difficult to move, says Anat Arkin
The record number of jobs recently advertised in The TES makes this a good time for teachers to make a career move. But the uneven recovery of the housing market means many could find it difficult to get on their bikes and take jobs outside their own part of the country.
According to the Nationwide Building Society's latest monthly index, house prices nationally are now 10 per cent higher than a year ago. a 1.2 per cent jump in May suggests that the first post-election hike in interest rates did not slow down the recovery, though the effects of the latest rise are not yet known.
But these figures mask big regional variations. The Nationwide's regional breakdown for the first quarter of 1997 shows that in London, prices increased by about 20 per cent over the previous 12 months, bringing the average price of a semi-detached house to almost Pounds 122,000. Outside the south-east, price rises were much smaller, while in Scotland there was little change.
Pointing to the shortage of properties for sale in the south-east and the growth of average earnings in the area, the Nationwide's researchers predict that the north-south divide in property prices, which narrowed during the last recession, will continue to open up again over the next year or so.
Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Brunel University, believes this divide is one of a number of factors fuelling teacher shortages in the south-east.
"It must have an effect because with common rates of pay throughout the country clearly what teachers can do with their disposable income will vary greatly," he says.
"A teacher living in Newcastle may find that their salary is quite generous but somebody in London may find it hard to cope, and when you look at teacher shortages regionally, they begin to show up most rapidly in places like London."
Professor Smithers himself recently moved from Manchester to London and after originally planning to buy a detached house in affluent Richmond says he has had to change his ideas very quickly.
Derek Lawrence, a former teacher recruitment officer for the London borough of Bexley and now managing director of Start, a teacher employment agency, says house prices often become a problem for teachers in the capital when they are looking for their first promotion. That is when many decide to put down roots in an area and buy, rather than continue to rent, their home.
While the house-price boom is discouraging experienced teachers from applying for promotion in the capital, Mr Lawrence warns that newly-qualified teachers could eventually be affected as well.
"Over the past few years of recession, the accommodation situation for newly-qualified teachers in London has eased because people haven't been able to sell their houses so they've been renting them out instead. There have been plenty of three-bedroomed semis that young teachers have been prepared to share," he says.
The last time teacher shortages coincided with a house-price boom in London and the south-east, local authorities were able to offer generous recruitment incentives to teachers from other parts of the country. Most authorities have now allowed these incentives to dwindle away. A few, including Essex and Surrey, still offer teachers some help but expect schools to pick up all or some of the tab. But with so many other claims on their budgets, schools are unlikely to start offering the car loans and other deals used to lure teachers to London and the surrounding area in the 1980s.
The London allowance is no substitute for these incentives. In inner London it is currently worth Pounds 2,061, topped by a supplement of Pounds 822 which has remained unchanged for several years. In the outer boroughs, the allowance is Pounds 1,356; on the fringe it is Pounds 525.
Schools in inner London can also award classroom teachers up to three extra points on the pay spine - compared to two points elsewhere - to ease recruitment and retention difficulties. But this year's School Teachers' Review Body report found that few schools make use of these points. So - as yet - there is little on offer to tempt a teacher in Wales or the north to exchange a house worth about Pounds 50,000 for one costing more than double that sum in the capital.
Where property values are rising in comparison to neighbouring areas, successful schools may themselves be helping to price teachers out of the local housing market. Mick Ridge, a housing economist at Brunel University, says there are signs that people are moving into areas with good schools, which they identify from Office for Standards in Education reports and league tables.
"All this information is new over the last few years and therefore it is making this movement more stark," he says. "People are far more informed now about what they perceive are good schools and that is pushing property prices up."
Average prices of semi-detached houses in the first quarter of 1997
UK average Pounds 62,780 Scotland Pounds 61,764 North Pounds 49,341 North-west Pounds 57,320 Yorks Humberside Pounds 49,880 Northern Ireland Pounds 49,304 Wales Pounds 53,997 West Midlands Pounds 59,382 East Midlands Pounds 51, 845 East Anglia Pounds 63,365 South-west Pounds 74,774 Outer south-east Pounds 80,390 Outer metropolitan Pounds 95,347 Greater London Pounds 121,959 Source: Nationwide Building Society