Supply and demand

27th April 2007 at 01:00
Too many new teachers chasing too few jobs. Nick Morrison looks at the dilemmas and the options they face in a shrinking market.

Jobs applied for: 250-plus

Interviews: 13

Offers: 0

It's now almost a year since Louise Foy finished her teacher training course, but so far supply work is all she's had to keep her going, and her job application tally, laid bare above, makes depressing reading.

"I miss teaching lessons I have planned and delivering them the way I want to," she says. "I enjoy the variety of supply, but you don't get to know the children and you don't get to know the school."

And the signs are that she is far from alone. While the number of people entering initial teacher training in England has increased rapidly, the number of job vacancies has plunged. The result is that there are more teachers chasing fewer jobs.

"I was under no illusions that it would be hard to get a job, but I never knew it would be this hard," says Louise, 28, from Leigh in Lancashire.

"Universities don't prepare you for what it will be like to look at a pile of 200 rejection letters."

The Government says there are vacancies if teachers are prepared to be flexible, but family reasons make it difficult for Louise, who studied at Liverpool Hope University, to move to another region. She says one school told her it capped the number of application letters it sends out at 300 to save on postage. Others reported about 80 to 150 candidates applying for each teaching post.

The Department for Education and Skills says it works closely with the Training and Development Agency for Schools to monitor teacher supply and demand, and that it aims to avoid over-supply. However, John Howson, visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University and TES Magazine columnist, says its projections for demand are too cumbersome to accurately predict need. He says the consequences of falling short - children sent home because there are not enough teachers - means there is a tendency to overshoot the target.

Government projections also try to smooth out peaks and troughs to avoid sharp fluctuations in funding for training institutions, but the result is a time lag between demand and supply. "The people who lose out are inevitably the trainees," says Professor Howson.

The introduction of planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time in 2005 was expected to lead to increased demand for teachers, but many primary schools hired extra teaching assistants instead. "There is a real problem and it is getting worse," he says.

Jenny Oates, a 23-year-old from the Wirral who qualified last year as a primary teacher from Liverpool Hope, has had seven interviews so far. Her fear now is she will soon be facing competition from this year's graduates.

"Supply work comes and goes and there are weeks when there is nothing. You can't survive on that forever. There are too many people coming through - everyone is trying to get a job and there just aren't enough around."

Beatrice (not her real name) has been unable to find a secondary modern languages post in London since graduating last summer. Although she has had regular supply work, unless she starts her NQT year by January, she will lose her qualified teacher status. Then her only option will be to work as an unqualified teacher.

"I always wanted to teach but it's scary knowing that unless I find something soon, all that training will have been for nothing," says the 27-year-old.

Louise spent pound;13,000 on going back to university for her teaching degree, but next year she turns 30 and is getting married. Another year of supply and claiming Job Seeker's Allowance in the holidays may be too much to bear. "I know if I do something else, I'm not going to have job satisfaction, but I don't want to be unemployed," she says. "I don't regret it, but if they keep on bumping out students there are going to be more and more unemployed teachers."

`I dream of being a teacher'

Bianca Barnett received a pound;6,000 bursary to take a School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) early years course, finishing last summer.

But none of her 30 applications and seven interviews have led to a job offer.

Cornwall, her home county, has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country, but she is reluctant to leave.

"I grew up here, so did my husband, and all our friends and family are here. There is no way we want to move away," says Bianca, 27 (pictured), from Truro.

She left a job as an education welfare officer to become a teacher, but admits there are days she wonders if it was the right decision and questions the effort put into training teachers when there is already an over supply.

"I'd dreamed of being a teacher and my heart won't be in anything else, but if I don't get something by September I will contemplate leaving. I'm not sure I could do another year of supply. It has affected my self-confidence and financially we're a lot worse off.

"There are times when I deeply regret it and feel I have made a big mistake. There used to be a shortage of teachers but there isn't any more.

Universities are still churning out people when there are no jobs for them to go to."

The facts

More than 30,000 people will start teacher training this September, yet the number of pupils is falling and is predicted to drop even further.

Eleven years ago, there were 4.46 million primary pupils in England. Last year there were 4.15 million. Secondary numbers fell to 3.31 million from their peak of 3.32 million in 2004. But the number of trainee teachers has increased from 29,000 in initial teacher training in 2001 - 13,000 primary and 16,000 secondary - to 34,400 in 2004, made up of 16,500 primary and 18,000 secondary.

Initial teacher training numbers have been gradually declining - to 32,600 last year, with 31,300 places available this September.

Although vacancy rates are only a snapshot of the number of empty posts at any one time, they indicate the difficulty facing teachers looking for permanent work.

In primary schools, there were 0.4 vacancies per 100 teachers in January 2006, compared with 1.2 in 2001. In secondaries, there were 0.7 vacancies per 100 in 2006 and 1.4 in 2001. In the North-west and South-west there were just 0.3 vacancies per 100 teachers, while in London there were 1.2.

Funding for schools relates to pupil numbers, so heads have to look carefully at how many teachers they employ.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at the University of Buckingham, says: "I'm not sure schools were fully aware of the extent to which their income would be affected."

The overall picture is marked by wide regional differences: the North-west, North-east and South-west are all particularly competitive, while turnover and therefore vacancy rates are higher in London. For secondary teachers, there is an additional division by subject: a surplus of history teachers, but a shortage in maths.

The shift towards recruiting more mature trainees - about a third are over 30 - means that they are more likely to be settled with families and mortgages and less likely to want to move to get a job.

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