Each year about 70 per cent of those who finish teacher training move straight into schools as teachers. Some take time to travel; others move into alternative employment, and a few take longer to find a teaching post.
What will the job scene be like for the new teacher in 1998?
The good news is that there will be more pupils. Government figures estimate an extra 21,000 nursery and primary pupils and 24,000 more secondary students in the school sector. However, these figures are affected partly by numbers staying on in school sixth forms, and the entry rate of under-fives.
For intending primary school teachers the bad news is that the school population is expected to peak in 1998. Numbers in nursery and primary schools may fall by more than a quarter of a million pupils in 10 years. Secondary school rolls, however, are not expected to peak until 2024.
If there are more pupils, what can prevent the need for more teachers? The main variable that has been used to measure the demand for teachers over time is the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR). This ratio measures the number of pupils per teacher; the higher the number the fewer teachers are being used to educate the same number of pupils.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the PTR improved as more teachers were employed relative to the number of pupils needing education. But in the 1990s the PTR has worsened.
The primary sector PTR moved from 22.2 in 1991 to 23.4 in 1997 and the secondary from 15.7 to 16.7. This has meant a rise in the number of pupils in many classes. The Department for Education and Employment has estimated that 29 per cent of key stage 1 and 37 per cent of key stage 2 pupils were in classes with 31 or more pupils in January 1997.
The new education Bill in the House of Commons seeks to prevent infant classes of more than 30 by law. This will clearly mean a need for more infant and early years teachers, although interestingly enough the Bill doesn't mention nursery classes in schools. The Government aims to pay for these extra teachers through the savings on the abolition of the former assisted places scheme.
The Government's plan to provide new teaching jobs and improve the PTR, at least in infant schools, depends on a tough pay settlement. A commitment to holding down public expenditure to the levels set by the last administration means that a pay rise below inflation has been called for by the DFEE in its evidence to the School Teachers' Review Body. Effectively the funding arrangements for schools don't allow for a more generous settlement and an extra for existing teachers would probably be at the cost of new jobs.
One other source of new posts also disappears in 1998 - the jobs created by those leaving the profession early. Changes in the pension rules are expected to cut the number of early retirements substantially in 1998 compared with the past few years.
New proposals for the future include the Teacher Training Agency's career entry profiles and the decision by the Government to introduce a period of induction for new teachers. These may affect the market for new teachers if headteachers decide that it is less trouble to employ experienced teachers rather than become involved in training. Much will depend on the funding for the schemes.
What is clear is that the demand for new teachers will not be uniform across the country. Some areas, especially London, are already experiencing a shortage of teachers, particularly in primary schools in some inner London boroughs. As school rolls are also rising fastest in these boroughs there will probably be a significant number of new posts despite the switching of some Government grants away from London.
Some authorities are now considering means of helping teachers to move to London but plans to devolve more funding to schools have hampered such central schemes since individual primary schools cannot usually afford this type of funding. The TTA is also helping the boroughs to promote the idea that teaching in London can be rewarding and need not cost a fortune. Its CD-Rom and video will be sent to all teacher training providers.
The reduction in infant classes of over 30 should also create posts in outer London where many boroughs have a large number of such classes. The large cities outside London should also benefit from this scheme.
The pattern of secondary posts is more difficult to guess at this stage of the year, but generally posts will be easier to find in London and the South-east than in the North where teachers seem to change jobs less frequently.
Although schools would like to have more maths, science, religious education and design and technology teachers, they have to have the posts vacant before they can advertise for a new teacher. Many vacancies in these areas may have been suppressed in past years.
Finally, teacher supply problems are not just a British matter. The New Zealand government has been advertising in The TES for trained staff and Australia, a source of many teachers in London schools, is facing the possibility of a shortage of teachers in the next few years.
John Howson is an expert in teaching supply matters and a visiting Fellow at Oxford Brookes University