Situations vacant

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
The rise in pupil numbers doesn't necessarily mean a demand for more teachers. John Howson examines recruitment trends.

What chances do schools have of filling any vacancies that might arise this year? The market for teachers can be looked at either in terms of new entrants, middle managers and heads and deputies or in terms of trends in primary, secondary and special schools, regional variations and specialist posts.

There will be more pupils in school in September 1998 than in 1997 (see graph above) but Department for Education and Employment projections suggest that the national primary-school population will peak this year and then gradually decline. Secondary pupil numbers should continue to rise until around 2004 but much will depend on whether 16-year-olds choose to study in schools or in further education.

The rise in numbers does not automatically mean that there will be a demand for more teachers. This depends on funding. Throughout most of the 1990s funding has not kept pace with the rise in pupil numbers, resulting in a rise in class sizes.

How far this trend will continue in 1998 probably depends on the teachers' pay settlement. Any increase above the level funded by the Government means a loss of teaching posts if schools cannot meet the increase either by cutting elsewhere or raiding reserves.

The big increase in demand in 1998 will be for early-years' teachers to start the process of reducing class sizes in infant schools. There are not likely to be enough of these teachers in training to meet extra demand.

The shortage is likely to be greatest for those with under-fives experience, as courses have come under such pressure that they may have suffered disproportional cuts in the recent reductions in primary-teacher-training targets.

Nationally, there should be no shortage of primary teachers. However, as many training institutions have favoured mature entrants, graduating students are not always willing to move or work long distances from where they trained.

This can cause problems in areas such as London where a significant number of the primary training places are in south-west London but the largest number of vacancies in the past few years has been in boroughs in the north-east of the city.

London and the South-east accounted for 60 per cent of all primary vacancies recorded by the DFEE in January 1997 whereas the north-east of England had only 3 per cent of the vacancies.

Little is still known about the academic backgrounds of those training to be primary teachers but schools will probably find it easier to appoint staff capable of working on children's literacy than numeracy.

As secondary budgets have been hit harder than primary budgets in the past few years (see table above) the shortfall in recruitment to secondary teacher training courses has not produced the staffing crisis that might have been expected.

The DFEE actually reported fewer vacancies in secondary schools than in primary schools in January 1997. As with the primary sector, a high proportion of these vacancies were in London and the South-east.

Any slowing down in the number of retirements following the changes to the pension arrangements is likely to cut the demand for secondary teachers. Nevertheless, there will still be areas of serious shortage, not least in food and nutrition and other areas of technology where the number of specialist teachers currently being trained is well below demand of schools.

Schools could also absorb more physicists and mathematics teachers but possible vacancies here may be being hidden as other teachers are pressed into service to teach these subjects.

Heads will, however, experience difficulty in appointing staff to middle management posts. The mid-1980s was a time when training targets were at an all-time low as a result of declining school populations. Even these targets were not always being met. For instance, only 866 students started training as maths teachers in 1985 compared with nearly l,900 in l995. It is likely that only 500 or so of the original 866 are still teaching in 1998.

It is this small band and the similarly small numbers who trained in 1984 and 1986 that schools will now be looking to for department leadership. It is likely that some schools will need to appoint those with less teaching experience but with other skills they have brought in from industry and commerce.

The situation is little better in other subjects. In technology, for instance, total recruitment during the five-year period between 1983 and 1988 was less than the target total for 1996.

In time, this shortfall will affect the size of the cohorts of teachers seeking senior posts. However, for 1998 the main problem will be overhang from the pension changes. In secondary schools, there is still likely to be a good supply of candidates for deputy-head posts, helped by the fact that there has been a 25 per cent reduction in such posts during the past five years.

However, the appointment of so many new deputies in the past two years may mean the number of candidates offering themselves for headship will continue to fall. This problem may be exacerbated if deputies decide to complete the new National Professional Qualification for Headship before applying for posts as heads.

In the primary sector, the problem of appointing new heads and deputies is already more serious than in the secondary sector. Between September l995 and August 1997, nearly one in four primary schools looking to appoint a new head failed to make an appointment when they first advertised the post. This is despite the continuing loss of posts due to school closures and amalgamations.

By considering the effects of such variables as location, subject or other special knowledge needed for the post, the degree of seniority and any other requirements, heads can start to predict the likelihood of making an appointment. They should certainly think carefully about the wording of their adverts and what the school can offer candidates.

However strapped the budget is, asking applicants for stamped addressed envelopes can be a false economy, as can not participating in initial teacher-training partnerships. Some of the best new entrants to teaching find their first teaching jobs in the schools at which they undertake school experience.

The revamped employment-based routes can offer some schools an alternative way to fill a vacancy if an appropriately qualified person is available and interested in training via that route. The requirement that everyone who undertakes such training is a graduate by the time they apply for qualified teacher status preserves the status of a "graduate" profession for teachers. In extremis, non-graduates can still be employed for short periods as instructors.

Finally, with the introduction by the Teacher Training Agency of career entry profiles and the proposals for a period of induction outlined in the Education Bill, the role of the supply agencies may come under scrutiny once more.

At present, some newly qualified teachers are registering with these agencies as a means of experiencing a range of schools before settling down and also because, sometimes, they can earn more money that way. What is certain is that in the future schools that can offer appealing packages including staff development routes will increasingly attract both a bigger and better field of candidates.

John Howson runs Education Data Surveys and is a visiting fellow of Oxford Brookes University

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