Mutiny of a depleted army

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
The shortage of teachers in secondary schools has worsened sharply and is now clearly hitting learning. Timetables are being torn up as lessons, and even whole courses, are cancelled. Heads and deputies are stressed to breaking point and, as the union no-cover ballots show, many teachers too have simply had enough.

Secondary vacancies appear to have more than doubled in a term, but staff can pick and choose. So vacancies may be concentrating in tougher schools or more expensive areas. One in 25 schools replying to our survey reported seven or more vacancies. Some staffrooms are literally decimated; whole departments wiped out.

David Blunkett is right that talk of a general crisis will not help recruitment. But neither will carrying on regardless. It feels like a crisis to affected schools, and they believe the Government has contributed to it.

Ministers feel they have done well to increase teacher recruitment in an economic boom. But they only acted at the brink f disaster and after years of warning. Even now they pin their hopes on fresh troops and neglect the need to hang on to the ones already in the trenches.

More cash is promised to struggling schools but recruitment allowances of pound;5,000 ignore the extra pressure and workload - much of it Government-induced - that is driving teachers out. Such allowances, in any case, are of little use to schools with several vacancies. Paying allowances to fill seven jobs would add the price of two extra teachers and prompt "me too or I leave" ultimatums from existing staff.

A bad summer in prospect for pupils, then, which is clearly unwelcome to the Government in the run-up to the election. But Mr Blunkett's unbending response suggests he would rather slog it out with the unions than try to work out a solution with them.

With the Easter conferences coming along, no doubt he calculates that they, not the Government, will get much of the blame when children are sent home.

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