Tired of London? Well I'm not surprised...

26th January 2001 at 00:00
HIS is the worst teacher shortage for 10 years. But while much of the talk is about recruitment, in London at least, concerns over keeping existing staff are even greater.

We still attract newly qualified teachers to the capital only to lose them as soon as they decide to buy a house.

When London chief education officers met schools minister Estelle Morris last September we told her this and argued strongly for a regional retention strategy, supported by central government intervention.

Since then the Government has set up a Teacher Recruitment and Retention Unit, the Teacher Training Agency has made it easier for inner-city schools to use the graduate teacher programme and we have been promised cheap mortgages for some 3,000 teachers.

More recently, Ms Morris used her set-piece speech to the North of England conference to announce money for "golden handcuffs" for staff at the 500 secondaries with the lowest scores in the GCSE league table.

All this is welcome but it is not enough. Take the golden handcuffs: this cash was already allocated to the 500 schools from the Standards Fund for school improvement; it was not just going to be used for staff retention. Indeed, golden handcuffs may not be the best use of the cash. Recruitment of teachers is not a major issue in all 500 schools and is a bigger problem in many other schools.

The new unit will also be hampered because it does not have a budget. Housing is such a key issue that an initiative is needed on the scale of that introduced by Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health. He has appointed an accommodation tsar for London's health service with a big enogh budget to make a real impact.

I would welcome a change to the law to give equal recognition to teaching qualifications awarded in Australia and New Zealand (as we do with nationals from the European Union).

But in the long term we must make London an attractive place to teach in, where staff can afford a home.

Reports predicting an increase of a third in London weighting for teachers suggest that ministers realise this. But they must provide the cash to pay for this. If they do not, then higher pay for teachers will have to come from existing school budgets - hardly the best way to improve schools' attractiveness to potential teachers.

This term began with the National Union of Teachers threatening industrial action unless local authorities facing the worst teacher shortages put every school in their area on a 4-day week. Legal advice indicates LEAs do not have that power.

While not wishing to turn the clock back to the days before local management of schools, there is one power that I would much rather have in education authorities, which I believe would largely avert the need for short-time working. This is the power, as a last resort, to move a supply teacher from one school to another when the latter is facing a staffing crisis.

There is a need for someone to prioritise the needs of schools. The LEA is ideally placed to act in the interests of the community as a whole, rather than any individual school. Surely a little more power for LEAs is a price worth paying to prevent any child being deprived of a full-time education?

Christine Whatford is director of education in Hammersmith and Fulham

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