AS THIS year's main teacher-recruitment season fails to draw to a close, there is a growing air of crisis. Rumours abound of unfillable posts, not only in areas such as inner London where there is a long-standing recruitment problem, but also in shire counties unused to serious shortages. But in the absence of any coherent attempt to collect information on recruitment locally or centrally, they remain just that - rumours.
The only barometer of staffing storms ahead is the number of advertisements appearing - and reappearing - in this newspaper without the lull that normally follows summer half term. Local authorities tell us they fear there are shortages but cannot quantify them. And the Department for Education and Employment limits its intelligence seeking to collecting singularly unhelpful figures on unfilled vacancies which will only emerge months after next January's school census, by which time a whole year and another recruitment season will have passed.
Meanwhile, without adequate monitoring of existing shortfalls, the Government is driving up demand for staff through its class size policies and Gordon Brown's Budget bonus for schools. It isthought that the extra money passed to secondary schools, squeezed in recent years to the point where class sizes rose and teacher non-contact time fell, may have funded as many as 4,000 extra vacancies. Primary heads are also spending on additional staff. And the supply of new teachers continues to fall far short even of the targets that took no account of this increased demand.
With two-thirds of the teaching profession now over 40 - and older teachers making up most of those who leave the profession before retirement age - the realisation that teacher shortages could ruin its reforms was clearly what finally persuaded the Government to pay graduates to train: a move showing more clearly than any other that even the Government thinks a recruitment crisis looms.
The last thing we need is teachers driven out by the stream of Government diktats and disillusioned by constant criticism of their efforts. "If we put in place a series of hoops people feel they cannot jump through we risk losing people doing a very good job," chief inspector Chris Woodhead said last week, albeit about childminders - and presumably while heading towards Damascus.