Despite best efforts of the Government and the lure of the bright lights, financial considerations are still driving teachers from their jobs in the capital. Warwick Mansell reports
SCHOOLS in London are still finding it difficult to retain staff, with more than one teacher in seven leaving an inner-city primary school in the capital last year.
The figure is a slight improvement on 1997, but analysts say this is because of a clampdown on early retirement rather than London becoming more attractive.
The proportion of teachers leaving the capital's primary schools for those in other authorities remains easily the highest in the country, according to a survey by the Employers' Association for Local Government.
This showed primaries in inner London lost 15.2 per cent of their teachers in the 1998 calendar year, only a slight improvement on the 17.3 per cent loss of the year before. In the secondary sector, the rate was 10.6 per cent, against 14.4 per cent in 1997.
Most London schools are plugging the gaps which result when teachers leave; the vacancy rate for the capital's primary schools falling to 2.3 per cent last January. However the number of unfilled vacancies in 1998 and 1999 were almost twice the 186 recorded in 1997.
The study comes a week after a survey for the National Association of Head Teachers found schools across the country were finding it difficult to recruit senior staff, one in four being forced to re-advertise headship positions last year.
In London primary schools, 40 per cent of headships remained unfilled after being advertised twice, the survey by Education Data Surveys revealed.
Andy Inett, principal negotiating officer at the Employers' Association, said staff turnover rates in London were still below their 1980s highs, when the figure routinely exceeded 20 per cent.
He said: "I would not say that these figures represent a crisis, though there will be concerns in individual schools where turnover rates may be high."
Local authorities would be looking carefully at whether the Government's Green Paper pay reforms would have any impact in the capital, he added.
A National Union of Teacherspokeswoman said: "These figures are not a surprise. Given the cost of living in London, the top classroom salary just does not go anywhere. It is understandable that people are moving away, but inevitably this has a disruptive effect on children's education."
Teachers with maximum experience points are paid pound;25,434 in inner London.
The figures will frustrate ministers who have sought to attract teachers to the capital, where recruitment problems are traditionally most severe.
In July, schools minister Estelle Morris launched a website which traded on London's nightlife in a bid to attract young teachers from abroad. A University of North London survey that month revealed that a majority of London teachers who did not grow up in the city planned to leave within five years.
There are also fears that the extra infant teachers needed to reduce class sizes in crowded suburban schools in line with Government policy will be recruited at the expense of inner London.
Teacher turnover rates fell across the country last year, fuelled largely by new early retirement regulations which have drastically reduced the numbers ending their classroom careers between 50 and 60. The lowest rates were in Wales, where only six per cent of secondary teachers left their schools last year.