It all depends on your subject and where you look. Elaine Carlton reports on the job market.
Students set to finish their teacher training courses in July will spend the next few months confronting the harsh reality of the job market in a bid to secure a permanent position in the school of their choice. For many it will not be an easy task. "Vacancies are low and turnover is low and likely to reduce, " says Mike Walker of the National Employers Organisation for Teachers. "The Government is expecting an increase of 3.6 per cent in funding for schools but to finance their share of this, many local authorities will have to make an increase in the council tax which is higher than the rate of inflation, " he says.
Not only that, but plans by the Government to force employers to pay a share of the costs of teachers' early retirement for the first time, from next April, are set to reduce numbers of vacancies even further. The Secretary of State for Education has told the School Teachers' Review Body that the measure will cut current levels of premature retirements by about 75 per cent by 199798.
"The proposal will encourage schools to hang on to teachers with greying hair even though their salaries are more expensive than those of NQTs," says Ivor Widdison of the Council for Local Education Authorities.
Despite this prediction the recruitment forecast is not entirely gloomy across the country, depending on where students apply for jobs and in which subjects. In some areas, newly qualified teachers will find recruitment positively buoyant. Pupil numbers overall are set to rise by 0.8 per cent next year and the Secretary of State for Education has called for the number of teachers to rise in line, in a bid to control class sizes.
Pamela Robinson of Brunel University's centre for education and employment research says one of the determining factors in whether this year's graduates will get jobs is their location. "There is a major problem of supply for the country as a whole," she says. "There are excesses in some areas and deficits in others because there is no overall body controlling where people should apply for jobs."
The Teacher Training Agency is looking specifically at this problem and hoping to create a regional strategy for teacher supply and recruitment. Research by the TTA shows that schools in London and particularly those in inner London are finding it difficult to recruit teachers. Schools in rural areas are a much more popular destination for NQTs and existing teachers. Says Ms Robinson: "Schools in rural areas where there is a pleasant environment find it easier to recruit teachers." Even if you are applying for a job in one of the renowned shortage subjects there is no guarantee you will find it easy in the leafy suburbs.
"Students with a background in science, maths and technology are in demand and there are allegedly problems in finding RE, music and PE teachers, but this is not a consistent pattern across the country," she adds. "There could be an NQT with a physics degree who would find it impossible to get a job in a rural area, but if they applied in Moss Side would be snapped up immediately. "
A further problem with the recruitment of teachers to shortage subjects is that schools have become so downhearted about the prospect of finding a new recruit that instead of advertising they choose to suppress the vacancy, says John Howson, an adviser to the TTA on teacher supply: "Heads may not advertise because they think there's no one out there to fill the post." Instead they will ask existing teachers to fill the gap. His advice to this year's graduates is to start looking early in the year and to recognise which schools will be more popular among experienced teachers.
"NQTs must be prepared to recognise that a nice suburban school with a good rating in the league tables will be attractive to existing teachers."
"There are more jobs for NQTs in urban areas, particularly the inner London boroughs."
In Nottinghamshire and Lancashire the market is buoyant but demand for teaching jobs is high. Nottinghamshire is expecting to recruit at least as many as the 110 primary NQTs and the 90 secondary ones it accepted last year but it is a very popular authority and recruitment is very competitive.
In Lancashire a spokesman for the LEA revealed that in a good year as many as 400 NQTs have been recruited for schools in Lancaster and Blackburn: "We have no severe shortages as in other parts of the country but we do have some shortages in science, maths and modern languages at secondary level." He miserably admitted, however, that when it comes to deciding how many NQTs to take on this year, "It's all down to money".
The same picture is painted in some areas of Scotland, where recruitment has become extremely restricted. A dramatic reorganisation of local government in Scotland last April abolished the local education authority of Strathclyde, the largest in Europe, and replaced it with 12 smaller LEAs. Glasgow has been one of the worst hit areas by the change and its LEA has no plans to offer any permanent teaching posts.
Says George Gardner, deputy director of personnel at Glasgow LEA: "Many of the new councils are facing severe cuts in their budgets in the next year and nobody knows yet what each department will have to give up as a result. Many councils in Scotland, particularly Glasgow, are only able to offer a range of short and long-term temporary work rather than permanent positions."
The City of Glasgow is expecting about Pounds 20 million to be wiped off this year's education budget making its recruitment situation worse than last year's. Mr Gardner is now looking to fill posts in schools on the basis of redeployment of surplus staff from others.
In London, however, boroughs such as Tower Hamlets and Brent are fortunate to have a more positive outlook. Tower Hamlets LEA, which operates a primary pool, is hoping to place more recruits this year than last. "Last year we took 150 into the pool and 50 found jobs," says a spokeswoman. "This year I expect it could be more like 60 as there are more people changing jobs and the economic trend is better."
Brent is also operating a primary pool this year, but for the first time the authority is abandoning its secondary pool, due to lack of support from schools. A spokeswoman for Brent revealed that, more than ever, the authority is looking for value for money and interviews are becoming increasingly rigorous for NQTs. "Headteachers are now interested in behaviour management, their philosophy of teaching and where they have done their teaching practice, " she says.
"If the NQT has completed teaching practice in the Shire counties, the headteacher will be wondering whether this teacher will be as experienced and confident in the classroom, as those who have worked in inner-city schools. "