THEteacher shortage is now the biggest concern in primaries, according to new research, writes Julie Henry.
And primary heads claim that the proposed overtime payments for staff who cover for absences or vacancies, will not solve shortages because their staff, unlike their secondary counterparts, have no free time.
The National Foundation for Educational Research found that tackling the staff shortage is now a priority in nearly half of schools, compared with less than a third in 1999.
Last week, the Government promised a review of working conditions and employers offered paid overtime in a bid to pacify unions who had embarked on industrial action by refusing to cover for absent colleagues.
But Chris Davis, spokesman for the National Primary Heads Association, which is meeting in Loughborough today, said: "Primary teachers are in class all day. We physically don't have the bodies to pay overtime to. Our problem is worse than in secondaries because we don't have a reservoir of people to cover.
Chris Hassall, head of Taylor Road primary, in Leicester, said one supply agency laughed at him when he phoned for a teacher to cover for sickness. "We may be forced to join two classes together and pay the teacher extra but this is no answer to the problems and obviously no good for the child," he said. Other schools are considering using direct grants from government to employ "floater" staff to cover where needed.
According to the NFER research, more than 80 per cent of schools had increased the number of non-teaching staff in an attempt to ease teachers' workload. The other major concerns among the 370 primary heads surveyed were budgets and inspections.
A spokeswoman for the Department forEducation and Employment said the announcement of pound;200 million to help recruit and retain teachers would help primaries.
She said the Government was working to cut workload, pointing out that the number of documents sent to primaries last term had been 40 per cent lower than the term before.