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8th June 2001 at 01:00
Desperate to fill teacher vacancies, education authorities are pulling out all the stops, reports Susannah Kirkman

From subsidised housing and overseas recruitment to advertisements on supermarket till receipts, local education authorities are resorting to increasingly desperate measures to attract teachers.

"Things are going to get worse before they get any better," predicts John Mitchell, education spokesman for Oxfordshire, where secondary and middle schools report having to appoint unqualified staff to plug gaps in subject areas such as English, ICT, RE, maths and design technology.

A recent survey revealed that almost half of the ICT teachers and a third of RE teachers in Oxfordshire's secondary and middle schools were unqualified. Some schools have even had to abandon GCSE courses or reduce time allocations for subjects.

In Buckinghamshire, another area where high house prices deter teachers, there are currently 120 permanent vacancies that schools have been unable to fill. The authority is hoping to recruit up to 50 teachers in Vancouver with the help of Timeplan, the teacher supply agency. Buckinghamshire has negotiated a special deal which will allow schools to offer permanent posts to suitable Canadian recruits at the end of their first year, without paying an extra fee.

The authority has also managed to attract 50 local applicants for the Graduate Training Programme (see Briefing, TES, May 18) after a vigorous advertising campaign aimed at mature entrants, as well as potential supply teachers and returners. Buckinghamshire believes adverts on Safeway till receipts may prove to be a cheap and effective method of local recruitment.

Oxfordshire has several pilot schemes to entice back former teachers. In Banbury, returners can do only two or three hours' teaching a week, with no preparation or evening work.

Oxfordshire is also nurturing links with higher education institutions. It has turned its internship scheme, where PGCE students at Oxford University's Department of Education are trained in Oxfordshire schools, into a recruitment vehicle. This year, the programme has been extended to Oxford Brookes University and Westminster College, and 36 students in shortage subjects received offers of a guaranteed job by February half-term.

The successful applicants have also received incentives such as two extra months' pay; many will start work at their new schools in July and will be paid during the summer holiday. Unfortunately, the only maths recruit to the scheme eventually accepted a job in a London school which was able to offer an even better deal.

But heads hope the programme will help to stem the exodus of promising teachers to the private sector. "The iterns are the cr me de la cr me," says Richard Graydon, head of Chipping Norton secondary school. "They are often snapped up by private schools who can appoint before Christmas as they don't have to wait on next year's budget."

Oxfordshire and Buck-inghamshire are considering subsidised housing. Using money from the Starter Home Initiative Scheme, Buckinghamshire hopes to offer interest-free loans of up to pound;25,000 to help with housing. The county is in talks with Sainsbury over providing 20 affordable flats for teachers at a supermarket development in High Wycombe.

"Some of our biggest recruitment problems are in the south of the county, where there is nothing under pound;150,000," says Alan Mander, head of education resources in Buckinghamshire.

In Oxfordshire, where the average price of a flat is pound;95,000, the county council is considering rent subsidies. An annual subsidy of pound;3,000 would mean that a teacher could rent a two-bedroom flat from Cherwell District Council in Banbury for pound;60 a week.

John Mitchell says one of the main reasons teachers are leaving jobs in Oxford is high housing costs. The LEA is also looking at finding new posts for teachers at the end of temporary contracts. The main challenge for the LEAs is to encourage heads to co-ordinate recruitment strategies and pool any government funding they have received.

Oxfordshire heads would like to be able to offer higher salaries, childcare and subsidised housing. But as Richard Graydon of Chipping Norton school says, recruitment is often all about timing. He has just lost a science teacher and will struggle to find a well-qualified person for September now.


THE Teacher Training Agency and the Government have both announced new funding for teacher recruitment. The TTA has pledged an extra pound;1 million to pay for 19 more recruitment strategy managers. Ninety-seven local education authorities will have RSMs, whose role includes co-ordinating new initiatives, organising placements for returners and professional development. There will also be three specialist RSMs to help headteachers in areas of exceptional recruitment difficulty.

The Government announced pound;200m for teacher recruitment and retention in the Budget. In 2001-02, pound;35m of this will go to the 58 LEAs with "the highest vacancy rates" in January 2000. They are mainly in London, the East and the South-east. While Buckinghamshire has received money, Oxfordshire has not, because its vacancy rate was below the 0.5 per cent cut-off point.

The money is targeted at secondary schools, which should use it for housing subsidies, support for childcare and "wider family care", travel costs, recruitment campaigns or extra salary payments.

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