Lucy Newton started looking for jobs in February last year, with a view to beginning work the following September. "I think that is quite early, but I was only looking at good or outstanding schools," she says. It was not the only limitation she placed on herself: as "a Northern girl at heart", brought up in Manchester and having taken her PGCE in York, she was keen to stay where she felt she belonged.
But despite the North of England's reputation as one of the most competitive markets, within weeks she had been offered a job, teaching secondary science at St Mary's College in Hull. On top of this, she received a pound;1,000 bonus at the start of the school year.
Ms Newton was one of the beneficiaries of Hull City Council's determination to attract quality teachers into the city, which also includes financial incentives for new heads of department and money for in-service training. And so far it seems to have worked out better than she could have ever predicted.
"I'm really loving it here and the money made things a little bit easier to settle in to a new place," she says.
Her experience may run counter to the received wisdom: that the aftermath of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s is a good time to sit tight and count your blessings, and a bad time to look for work.
But there are jobs around if you know where to look. Indeed, some schools and some areas are crying out for good teachers. The key is flexibility, in type of job, school, location and even subject, according to John Howson, director of recruitment analysts Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.
Professor Howson's research has found that the number of vacancies for classroom teachers in maintained secondary schools has fallen 10 per cent since January. But these figures disguise wide variations across the country. While vacancies are thin on the ground in North East England, for example, in neighbouring Yorkshire and the Humber they are holding up better than could be expected.
A further complicating factor is the likely changes in pupil numbers over the next few years. Forecasts produced by the Office for National Statistics suggest that the number of primary pupils will rise throughout the UK over the next five years, while the number of secondary pupils will decline in every region except London.
Again, the changes are far from uniform, with growth in primary pupils particularly strong in London, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the East of England.
Overall, it means there is likely to be an increased demand for primary teachers over the next few years, while London is bucking the trend with an increased demand in secondary as well. Longer term, those changes will filter through into increased secondary pupils across the UK.
But inevitably some job seekers will struggle. Now in his ninth year of teaching, John Maskie* returned to the UK last summer after teaching abroad for three years, including a spell in charge of primary French. He has noticed a stark difference between the job market now and when he left the UK three years ago.
"I am applying for teaching and head of department posts," he says. "Before, I was not only shortlisted for every job I applied for but I got every one, too. Now, I am not even getting shortlisted. Where has it all gone wrong?"
It is difficult not to take unsuccessful applications personally but it is important to remember that everyone is in the same boat. "It can be dispiriting," says Professor Howson, who advises job applicants on the TES online career clinic. "But you must not let that affect your applications or performance at interview."
The job-hunting experience varies widely between regions. Scotland has seen an acute shortage of jobs, despite the Scottish government's guarantee that all teaching graduates will be offered a position, while jobs are also hard to come by in Northern Ireland. In England, the North East is cementing its reputation as one of the hardest areas in which to find work. Education Data Surveys has recorded only 135 secondary school vacancies in the North East so far this year, compared with 237 over the same period last year.
Falling pupil numbers are making the secondary jobs market particularly competitive, says Mick Lyons, North East representative for teaching union the NASUWT.
"There aren't a lot of compulsory redundancies - it is usually resolved by people taking voluntary retirement, but schools aren't replacing them, so it's not as if new people are coming in," he says.
But South-West England, traditionally also a thin jobs market, has seen a smaller decline in advertised jobs than many other parts of the country (see box below). The declines in Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West have also been lower than in many other parts of the country.
Headteachers are experiencing a very different picture. Looming retirements and a shortage of senior staff willing to step up to the top job has created a shortage of heads. This means those who are willing to make the leap are in a position to command higher salaries, as revealed by the TES Pay Survey earlier this year.
The highest-earning secondary heads could expect to approach pound;150,000, while the average is pound;73,000. Among primary heads, although few can expect to get anywhere near the pound;155,000 taken home by the highest earner - which includes pound;85,000 for managing an on-site gym - the average was still pound;52,000.
This means that for the ambitious deputy or assistant head, now is a good time to make that step up. The eastern half of England, in particular, has seen a heavy demand for headteacher, deputy head and assistant head posts, according to The Key, an advice service for school leaders.
Leadership roles in cities such as Manchester and Birmingham are still popular with potential applicants, says Monica Wallace, HR director at Place Recruit, an educational consultancy and leadership recruitment service. But not all expressions of interest translate into applications.
For a post of assistant vice-principal in North Yorkshire, for example, about 50 people requested an information pack but only 15 ended up applying. "People are unwilling to relocate at the moment because of the housing market," says Ms Wallace. "It's a big ask for someone to sell a house and buy another one."
But a competitive job market is good news for schools in areas that are considered challenging, with the recession offering them the pick of the crop.
David Roche, a former head and now a National Challenge adviser working in North-West England, says some schools are still struggling to fill vacancies. "It is extremely difficult to recruit staff, particularly for the core departments of maths, English and, to some extent, science," he says.
"There are some staff who will think: `Why would I want to go to a school with poor results with pupils who most likely have challenging behaviour, when I could go to a leafy suburb?'."
However, for some teachers, the idea of working in a challenging school is a powerful incentive. "I am aware of staff starting out who are choosing to work in challenging schools on the basis that the work is more rewarding and that it would develop their skills better," says Mr Roche.
Many factors contribute to a school's success and they can struggle for many reasons other than poor teaching.
"It's not that the teachers in these schools aren't as good as teachers in other schools - I have seen some outstanding practice," he adds. "The problem is filling the vacancies when they arise."
A wider net of teachers would help such schools close the perceived gap with other schools, providing more appealing job opportunities in future.
"The wider the choice of teachers schools have, the more they can improve," says Professor Howson. "Schools are benefiting from this market in the way that teachers did a decade ago from a market that was very firmly in their favour. They could choose the school they wanted and name their price.
"Now the boot is on the other foot. If you are a challenging inner-city school, this is probably the best time in a generation for you in terms of the number of people applying for your vacancies."
It is also a good time to be a secondary maths or physics teacher. This is particularly so as the government offers the prospect of pound;9,000 bursaries towards the PGCE and pound;5,000 "golden hellos" on starting a permanent placement.
Physics teachers have especially good prospects for moving up the career ladder, according to Annette Smith, chief executive of the Association for Science Education. "What we tend to find is that secondary science teachers progress very fast," she says.
As well as teaching a shortage subject, the pool of physics specialists is shrinking as the population ages, she adds. As older teachers retire, younger teachers find their career outlook enhanced. "A secondary physics teacher will quickly find themselves being promoted to head of department," Ms Smith says.
The shortage of physics teachers has prompted some schools to recruit other science specialists to double up, perhaps asking a biology teacher to fill the gap. This is the same situation that faced citizenship teachers in the past, who found that RE specialists were taking all the citizenship jobs.
"This is known as a hidden vacancy," says Professor Howson. "RE teachers were appointed but then the school couldn't create a new post, so all these trained citizenship teachers weren't necessarily able to walk into jobs."
It makes sense to diversify in terms of the subjects that you are able to teach, so as to fit in to whichever relevant subject gap comes up.
Although school budgets have been largely protected from the effects of the global recession, the prospect of a financial squeeze in the future is a very real threat. The after-effects of the financial crisis may be one reason why few headteachers have taken up the "golden handcuffs" scheme designed to encourage new teachers to work in schools in challenging areas. The pound;10,000 bonus was launched by the Department for Children, Schools and Families to help schools recruit staff, but The TES reported last month that less than half of eligible schools had signed up to take part.
The need for the schools to fund half the cost themselves may have put them off, says Mr Roche. "For some schools that can be an issue," he says. "It doesn't sound a lot, but if you're in a tight budget situation, that can be a great deal."
Another option for job-seekers is to broaden the search to take in jobs outside the classroom. There are an increasing number of support and leadership roles away from the chalkface which could be a good career move for someone with classroom experience. School business manager is another viable option for teachers looking to spread their wings, says Ms Wallace, with the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services running tailored courses.
"There is a lot of focus now (on this role)," she says. "If there is a teacher who has been made redundant or can't find a role, there are training courses for people to move into that area. Somebody who has already got an understanding of education has a good starting point."
For heads and other senior management team members, consultancy work may also be a viable option. "[Experienced teachers] tend to have their own contacts and register with the Society of Education Consultants," adds Ms Wallace, but equally, teachers can contact organisations directly and be taken on as a consultant for existing projects.
Not everyone finds the transition from manager to adviser an easy one to make, but for those who do, the rewards can be considerable. "The difficulty for people moving from education to consultancy is that you do require a different skill set," says Ms Wallace. "Rather than being quite directive, consultancy is more facilitative. It's the client relationship skills. When you have a client, you have got to manage the relationship very effectively."
Job-seekers may think the situation is looking pretty bleak. And there is no getting away from the fact that in many areas it is a very competitive market out there. But while it may take longer than you had hoped, and involve more application forms than you anticipated, there are jobs available.
"I was sending out heaps of applications with limited success," writes one teacher on the TES forums. Eventually her luck changed. "Two interviews within a week . and the following week I was the only person interviewed at another school for the job of my dreams, for which I verbally accepted their offer."
As long as you know where to look, the jobs are out there.
*Name has been changed
Cash for class
While jobs may be hard to come by in some parts of the country, some local authorities are offering financial incentives to try to attract the right candidates.
Hull City Council last month launched a scheme to persuade teachers to head to the city, including packages of pound;4,000 for newly appointed heads of department in maths, English and science. Newly appointed teachers in maths, English and science will have the existing pound;1,000 incentive doubled to pound;2,000 while the city is also making extra cash available for CPD.
The move is part of the Hull Challenge initiative to improve educational attainment in the city, says Judith Harwood, head of learning, leisure and achievement at Hull City Council. She says impending retirements mean almost half the city's teachers will have to be replaced over the next 10 years, opening up promotion opportunities.