House of the rising sun

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Property prices are dictating the pattern of teacher shortages in the UK, but is the Government's solution - the Starter Home Initiative - simply ducking the issue of pay? Jill Parkin reports

They tell you what the job is, they tell you how great the school is, but they don't tell you how much it costs to buy a house. Increasingly, that little fact is dictating the choice of job for public sector workers such as teachers. If you can get a three-bedroom semi in Salford for pound;68,000, why consider parts of Surrey where you will have to pay at least pound;170,000 for the same house?

The Government has clearly linked house price discrepancy with teacher shortages in its starter home initiative run by the Housing Corporation, the government agency that regulates housing associations.

The NUT, the biggest teacher union, believes the Government is trying to suggest that the teacher shortages are caused purely by expensive housing so that localised and relatively cheap sticking plasters, such as the starter home initiative, can be applied instead of substantial teacher salary increases. Tony Blair, the union believes, wants to portray teacher shortages as a South East problem.

As usual, the truth is somewhere between the two. The NUT's favourite example of low-cost housing with considerable teacher shortages is Derby but, as The TES discovered when we rang the local council, this is wrong. The authority there has no reported teacher vacancies at all and is concerned that a statistic several months old - from the peak turnover time of year - is still being used.

A three-bedroom semi in Derby can be had for as little as pound;40,000, with those in the smarter suburbs reaching a top whack of pound;85,000-pound;90,000.

Obviously there are many reasons for the teacher shortages but, equally obviously, housing cost is a big one. For example, in Kirklees, covering Huddersfield and Dewsbury, every vacancy has been filled, although some are temporary appointments that are likely to be made permanent.

The authority says that although job applications were down this year, headteachers are happy with the appointments they have made. And that typical three-bedroom semi? Anything from pound;55,000 to pound;80,000. When it's time to move on, big conurbations such as West Yorkshire also offer a greater choice of job within a commutable distance of home.

But for a young teacher tied to an area of high-cost housing, the recent pound;250 million starter home initiative is worth exploring. The money - unlike other housing association schemes - is for first-time buyers only. The scheme offers equity loans, interest-free loans and shared ownership deals to help key workers to buy housing near their jobs. Those in shortage subjects are likely to get priority, with the first house deals going through some time early next year.

Shared ownership is part-ownpart-rent. A teacher could buy a quarter or half share of a house and be able to buy further shares - at the going rate - from the association as time goes by.

An equity loan gives the teacher a lump sum towards the house, repayable at the same percentage on resale instead of in monthly payments.

The scheme, which includes new properties, will be managed by local housing associations (the jargon calls them "registered social landlords"), who will consult the employers.

THE FIRST BRICK IN THE WALL

The starter home initiative aims to help:

1,588 teachers in London

132 in Berkshire

85 in Buckinghamshire

87 in Oxfordshire

200 in Hampshire

142 in Kent

129 in Sussex

157 in Surrey

50 in Cambridgeshire

68 in Hertfordshire

19 in Bedford

98 in Essex

60 in parts of the South West.

Total 2,815.

For information about the initiative and other housing association schemes, try two government websites: www.housing.dtlr.gov.uk and www.housingcorp.gov.uk

Housing Corporation, tel 0207 393 2000. The corporation can direct you to your regional office for information about the SHI and other housing association schemes.

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