Teacher vacancies fell by 5 per cent this January compared with the record levels of January 1998. That year, the figure was affected by the overhang from the stampede for early retirement. The fall this year was slightly greater in the primary and nursery sector than in secondary schools.
The proportion of vacancies overall is still low at only 0.7 per cent of the total teaching force, which despite a slight fall in numbers is still at a seven-year high.
However, it is well below the 1.8 per cent national vacancy rate of 1990. But class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios are also less generous than they were then.
The pattern of vacancies is a familiar one, with the highest vacancy rates being in London and the South-east, and the lowest in the north and east of England and in the South-west.
Most of the reduction in primary teacher vacancies was in London, where the decline from 2.5 per cent to 2.2 per cent marked the largest fall in England.
Despite the falls, in January 1999, there were still 544 vacancies for primary teachers in London and 1,319 such vacancies overall. The level of vacancies would suggest that there is still a need to train more primary teachers willing and able to work in the capital, and particularly in the inner London pay area, where vacancy rates were still more than 3 per cent, or one teacher short for every 30 classrooms.
In secondary schools, the position in London and the South-east is worsening, but not so much as to offset the improvements elsewhere. However, this year London accounted for more than one-third of all secondary vacancies for the first time. Together with the South-east, the two regions accounted for more than half of the secondary vacancies ,compared with 44 per cent in 1998.
Maths and science vacancies again rose. Together they accounted for about one-third of all the secondary vacancies, up from 27 per cent in 1998.
With the numbers of students in these subjects completing training this summer the lowest for more than a decade, this situation is unlikely to improve much before 2001.
The gap between vacancy levels in primary and secondary schools has narrowed, albeit slightly. London, and to a lesser extent the South-east, remain the main problem areas. These are also the regions with the highest levels of occasional and supply teachers. Solving the teacher-supply challenge remains an important issue for the Government.
John Howson is a fellow of Oxford Brookes University and runs aneducational research company.E-mail: email@example.com