Plenty more fish in the sea?

20th July 2001 at 01:00
MANY headteachers will be looking more careworn than usual as they set off on their summer holiday this year. They won't be worried about whether they put all the plants in the bath and closed the kitchen window, but whether they will have a full complement of staff in September. In many parts of the country - especially the Home Counties and London - schools have been scrabbling to make one-minute-to-midnight appointments, and many have been disappointed.

As Carol Adams of the General Teaching Council points out, some schools have had to resort to video-link or telephone interviews with job applicants in Los Angeles and Sydney. Others have gone fishing in uncharted recruiting seas such as Russia and Bulgaria. Nevertheless, thousands of maths and science posts remain unfilled and primary vacancies have risen by 50 per cent. Desperate times indeed.

Both the Teacher Training Agency and the Government will say they have done what they can to avert a crisis. The TTA can point to its successful "Those who can, teach" advertising campaign. The Government can reel off a long list of recruitment strategies and financial incentives such as training salaries.

So what's gone wrong? It can be argued that this is an international problem rather than a peculiarly British dilemma. New York's teacher shortages are even more acute than London's, and for similar reasons: a buoyant economy has provided graduates with many other job opportunities that offer better pay, more status, superior working conditions and less difficult "clients".

Even so, it's now clear that the workload of teachers in England and Wales must be lightened. Intakes to primary training courses, which have been kept unrealistically low, will have to be increased. Teachers should be offered more help with high housing costs, and specialists in shortage subjects must be paid more.

The Government won't be keen to do any of these things, but the threat of four-day schooling in September - and the extra 15,000 secondary teachers needed over the next five years just to maintain present pupil-teacher ratios - should help to convince the heel-draggers.

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