Shortage, what shortage, ask mature applicants

13th March 1998 at 00:00
Mature NQTS who'd given up business careers to retrain as teachers bemoaned the lack of jobs. Are we giving trainees today false hope of secure job prospects?

Elaine Williams reports on the people who, believing the country to be in desperate need of teachers, gave up their business careers. They are now unemployed - and angry

Many people who gave up business careers to retrain as teachers after being told that schools were desperately short of staff are finding jobs almost impossible to find.

Teacher unions are receiving growing numbers of calls from out-of-work teachers wishing to drop down the pay scale to become more affordable to hard-up schools.

Mature entrants to teaching, and those who have taken career breaks, believe they are too high up the pay spine to obtain permanent work.

Brian Clegg, assistant secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, is sympathetic. He said: "They are up against newly qualified or agency teachers who are self-employed, will work for pound;80 a day and for whom the school doesn't have to pay pension or National Insurance contributions.

"But however little people are prepared to work for, there's always somebody prepared to work for less. It's a slippery slope.

"Teachers' pay is laid down by parliamentary regulation and qualified teachers have got to be paid on the qualified teachers' pay scale."

The number of full-time qualified teachers in schools fell by 3.02 per cent between 1989 and 1997, according to latest figures from the Department for Education and Employment. Between 1989 and 1996, the number of part-time qualified teachers in schools rose by 35.4 per cent while non-teaching assistants rose by 51.25 per cent.

Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Educational and Employment Research at Brunel University, which published research revealing teacher shortages last autumn, said he had received dozens of letters from mature entrants and returners complaining that his findings were misleading.

MPs have also fielded complaints from teachers who feel they have been wrongly encouraged to enter the profession. The TES has also received letters from mature entrants who are suffering great financial hardship.

One of these, Ann Jones, for 16 years a researcher with the former National Coal Board, retrained and qualified to teach physics seven years ago. She is still without permanent work. She said: "We are dipping into savings just to pay bills. I thought there were teacher shortages, especially in science, but I wouldn't advise anybody to retrain as a teacher."

MPs on the Education and Employment Select Committee expressed concerns about the plight of mature entrants in their report Teacher Recruitment - What can be Done. In its response a month ago, the Government made clear that mature teachers could be paid at the same rate as NQTs, and that giving points for experience was at the employer's discretion.

The Government has, however, said that from April education authorities will have the flexibility to pay the actual cost of staffing in schools rather than average costs as at present, which is seen as working against schools employing more experienced teachers.

However, without extra money to do this, LEAs are reluctant to change. Bradford, for example, estimates that the difference between paying average and actual costs amounts to an extra pound;1.5 million.

Until now, local authorities have recommended that mature entrants gain one increment for every three years of related experience in another job. So, someone who has spent 15 years in industry will start on point five, which many late entrants believe works against them.

Although, according to Professor Smithers, there are shortages in inner London, the West Midlands and East Anglia, there are few vacancies in the South-west or the North-west. Moreover, authorities particularly strapped for cash, such as West Yorkshire cannot fill their vacancies with permanent appointments.

Professor Smithers said: "I feel very strongly for these people. The Government encourages them to retrain, they are greeted with open arms by teacher-training institutions desperate to fill places and they make great financial sacrifices.

"But when it comes to applying for jobs they find themselves up against heads who don't fully understand that applicants don't have to be paid for experience and who in any case feel more confident with a 22-year-old."

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