Shortage is nation's blight

7th February 2003 at 00:00
The National Union of Teachers has quoted The TES several times recently in its fusilade of advertisements criticising the workload agreement. It naturally seeks to use the eminence of The TES to support its case. Now we return the compliment, in response to the pay review body's proposal for an annual increase of just 2.9 per cent for a profession from which one in three plans to depart in the next five years.

The Schoolmaster, the archaic title by which the NUT journal was once known, said it all in January 1900: "If there be a dearth of teachers, the nation suffering from it will have itself alone to blame; and the only way to swell the ranks of the certificated will be to offer a better 'Queen's shilling', a fuller ration, a safer berth, a higher public estimation and a larger pension at the end."

If that view seems a trifle dated for a "modernising" government, then it should hark the words of David Miliband, the fresh-faced schools minister, who said last week that "pay is the most visible and acceptable sign of recognition". Another one for the NUT campaign perhaps.

An inflation-only award fails teachers and fails the country. It will do nothing to attract or keep the graduates needed in schools facing a tidal wave of early retirement. Latest government figures show a quarter of the teachers trained between 1996 and 2000 were lost from schools by 2001.

Charles Clarke's suggestion that teachers' pay be restrained to fund the army of paraprofessionals drafted in to fill recruitment gaps and provide support for the extra work created by successive governments, was particularly ill-judged. Additional responsibilities for managing staff result in a rise in any other profession, not a penalty.

Heads will have mixed emotions. A small pay rise may help balance budgets.

But it does nothing to fill their vacancies with well-qualified staff. And as the chief inspector noted again this week, these shortages are already contributing to rising indiscipline and poorer teaching.

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