Teaching by numbers

9th January 2009 at 00:00
John Howson tracked almost 20,000 secondary teaching vacancies last year. Here the recruitment analyst and professor of education at Oxford Brookes University looks at what might happen this year

Predicting the fate of the teaching job market is particularly hard this year as numbers of secondary pupils drop and the pound goes into freefall. The turmoil in the housing market makes moving all the more difficult and there is uncertainty everywhere.

Schools have a rough idea of their budgets for 2008-09, but the present economic climate makes accurate planning more of a challenge. Some schools that are particularly dependent upon the housing market may find smaller intakes than in the past, while others may receive more applications than they expect.

Then there are the private schools. In the recent past, the independent sector has taken a greater share of teachers as it has grown in size. Some private schools may be affected by the scale of the economic downturn while others, able to replace a loss in local pupils with new entrants from overseas attracted by the weak pound, may experience less upset in pupil numbers.

Essentially there are three job markets for teachers: leadership, for heads, deputies and assistant heads; middle management for heads of departments and others with Teaching and Learning Responsibility payments (TLRs); and the third for classroom teachers. This last market is further sub-divided between the market for newly qualified teachers and that for returners and others already in the profession seeking to change job, for whatever reason.

Although figures are often quoted for England and Wales as a whole, in reality, the job market, although it has some national characteristics, can differ markedly from region to region. There are also differences between subjects, with some always more prominent than others, despite the universality of the national curriculum. Although the pattern is still mainly for full-time permanent posts, there are temporary and maternity leave vacancies and a number of part-time posts, often around the two to three days a week duration.

The job market for primary teachers is complicated by local authority pools that disguise the overall size of the market and operate much earlier than the school-driven market for secondary teachers. As a result, this article focuses on the position in the secondary school job market.

During the 2007-08 school year Education Data Surveys tracked just under 20,000 teaching vacancies for secondary teachers, 1,000 more than two years previously, but about 500 less than in 2006-07. Although it is difficult to predict numbers for 2008-09, the overall total is likely to be fewer than last year.

As ever, there are a number of influences on the market. The two that are likely to dominate are an above average number of retirements of teachers, many of whom started their careers in the Seventies, and a continuing decline in the number of pupils in secondary schools.

Add in other factors, such as the continued growth in the number of academies and the turmoil in the housing market in many parts of the country, and the job scene in 2009 looks difficult to call compared with recent years.

However, there are likely to be some certainties within this potentially confusing market. The balance between different subjects is unlikely to alter much, except at the margins where the further introduction of separate sciences as an option at GCSE and the continued development of diplomas will have some small implications for the demand for teachers in these subjects.

Perhaps not surprisingly, English, maths and science topped the number of advertisements for teaching posts last year, accounting between them for about 40 per cent of the total of all main scale teaching posts.

The next group of subjects, each with about 5 per cent to 7 per cent of the total, included design and technology, IT, modern languages and PE. They were followed by a group of subjects with about 2 per cent to 3 per cent of the total. Among these were art and design, business studies, drama, geography, history, music, RE and special needs. Humanities and pastoral posts each made up about 2 per cent of the total.

Finally, there is a group of subjects that each accounted for slightly less than 1 per cent of the advertisements. These included health and social care, media studies and psychology. Other subjects such as citizenship, classics, communication, law and many of the directly vocational subjects formed only a tiny proportion of the posts advertised during the past year.

What is clear is that, apart from in London, where the recorded vacancies rose by about 100, the fall in posts advertised was felt across the whole of England, with every other government office region (GOR) being affected to some extent.

The largest declines were recorded in the South East and South West at more than 2 two per cent compared with about 1 to 1.5 per cent elsewhere. The North West had the smallest decline at only just over 1 per cent. This was despite the introduction of Teach First, the scheme that places high- flying graduates in challenging schools for two years, into the region. At its present size the programme does not seem to have yet had any impact on vacancies.

Of course, vacancies don't appear all at the same time. Some 60 per cent of all vacancies appeared in the four months between the start of March and the end of June last year, with a staggering 37 per cent appearing just in April and May, mostly in the four-week period between mid-April and the second week in May.

Those teachers in traditional shortage subjects, especially mathematics and the sciences, except biology, will undoubtedly find the task of job hunting the easiest this year, whereas teachers in subjects such as citizenship, history and art may face the greatest challenge, especially if they are looking in rural areas in the North of England most affected by falling school rolls.

The advice for anyone looking for a secondary mainscale teaching post in 2008-09 must be that although jobs will be relatively plentiful, it might make sense to start looking early and be prepared to accept there might not be the dream job in a wonderful school just down the road. But, candidates will need to weigh up what schools have to offer.

At the other extreme, taking a job with a less than ideal timetable, in a school with challenging circumstances and with a terrible commute can be a recipe for an unhappy time and even in extreme cases an early departure from the profession.

John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys at TSL Education Ltd. Next week he looks at middle management.


North East

2005-06: 650

2006-07: 683

2007-08: 605

North West

2005-06: 2,146

2006-07: 2,209

2007-08: 2,112

York amp; Humber

2005-06: 1,695

2006-07: 1,869

2007-08: 1,805


2005-06: 382

2006-07: 411

2007-08: 733

West Midlands

2005-06: 1,934

2006-07: 2,123

2007-08: 2,052

East Midlands

2005-06: 1,656

2006-07: 1,759

2007-08: 1,755

South West

2005-06: 1,819

2006-07: 2,000

2007-08: 1,852

South East

2005-06: 3,433

2006-07: 3,549

2007-08: 3,288


2005-06: 2,375

2006-07: 2,565

2007-08: 2,415


2005-06: 2,792

2006-07: 3,087

2007-08: 3,192


2006: 18,882

2007: 20,255

2008: 19,809

Source: Education Data Surveys.

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