NEW teachers are shunning the much maligned county of Essex, leaving its fast-expanding primary schools struggling to fill posts.
Applications from final-term trainees to join the county council's pool of candidates for jobs in September are down by almost a quarter on last year, at a time when primary school rolls have grown by well over 600.
Officials blame the county's "lager and Essex girl" image, and have drawn up a package of measures, including subsidised rents and mortgages as well as help with resettlement costs, to try to attract teachers.
Essex's image hasn't stopped other people moving there. The county's population is booming and there are more major housing developments planned in the county. John Parker, Essex's teacher-recruitment strategy manager, said the situation was "looking quite desperate".
"If they can't get sufficient permanent staff, schools will have to resort to supply. We don't recommend that and schools don't want to do it," he said.
Barely 300 people have applied to the county so far, compared to more than 400 last year. And when schools come to interview them, many have already found jobs elsewhere.
"Esex has an image problem that tends to run some people off," Mr Parker admitted. Schools were competing with London authorities which offered incentive points. "And we're competing with places like Sussex which are seen as more rural and idyllic."
But the people of Essex feel their county is much maligned. "It's a county of great diversity," Mr Parker said. "We go from the borders of London to the coast, with large county towns, new towns and small villages. It's a county of countryside, with lots to offer teachers."
Like the rest of the country, Essex is experiencing a vacancies boom. Like last week's TES - which contained a record number of job adverts - the county's internal jobs bulletin has just published its biggest-ever edition.
Essex's problems are compounded by a lack of teacher-training places in the county. It has only one higher education provider - Anglia Polytechnic University, in Chelmsford - and six small-scale school-centred initial- teacher training schemes.
"We've attended more than 20 university recruitment fairs but some were quite poorly attended," Mr Parker said. "There don't seem to be many people available."