When economy booms, recruitment falls

5th September 1997 at 01:00
Teaching is still a profession people choose when more glamorous alternatives + dry up. This is the depressing conclusion to be drawn from patterns of + recruitment to initial teacher training courses over the past 20 years.Apart + from the odd surge in applications after the introduction of bursary schemes + and the like, the general trend is for recruitment to teaching to mirror + unemployment among graduates: when the economy picks up,as it has recently, + applications fall, and poor-quality candidates have a better chance of getting + accepted for training.Between 1983 and 1996, targets for recruitment to + secondary training has been met in only three years - 1983, 1991 and 1992 - all+ years of economic recession and high graduate unemployment. Recruitment to + primary courses, however, has tended to exceed targets.When the Brunel + University snapshot was taken in July (week 39), applications for all the + shortage subjects - maths, science, technology and modern languages - were + down. For maths PGCE, applicatio ns were down by 18.8 per cent compared with + 1996, and 39.8 per cent lower than in 1994; for technology, the figures were + 28.2 per cent and 56.9 per cent respectively.Disturbingly, applications for + subjects that have not previously had any trouble attracting applicants, such + as English, were also down by week 39, with geography the most affected. Only + PE was expected to recruit to target.By August 16, the most recent date for + which figures are available, this pattern appeared to be hardening (see last + week's TES, page 3).Since the end of the recession in 1993, intakes as a + percentage of Government recruitment targets have fallen away year by year. In + English, for instance, applications have fallen from 108 per cent of the target+ in 1993 to 98 per cent last year and 77 per cent this year. This is thought to+ be a result of the rapid growth of the mass media industry.Headteachers' + comments in the survey show that they are worried by the idea that training + institutions are being forced to compromise on the quality of recruits in order+ to keep their numbers up and their financial viability intact. "The general + quality of application forms in terms of presentation and content is poor ... I+ am sure that the target numbers in teacher training establishments for + recruitment has had a disastrous effect on the quality of newly qualified + teachers," said one Liverpool head. Others commented on how the battered and + unfashionable image of the profession was putting young people off: "The + profession generally is demoralised and feels totally undervalued. + Sixth-formers are adamant they will not enter teaching. Trainee teachers are + telling us they are looking for jobs in the independent sector only - 'it's + less stress and better funded'," said the head of a comprehensive in Gwynedd. + Another comprehens ive head in Sandwell echoed this: "There are definite + signals of fewer post-16 students going into teaching, for reasons they see as + far too much pressure, paperwork and demands. Current teachers are persuading + students not to go into teaching." Another head in Lancashire commented on the + discouraging effect of teachers over 50 who are "burnt- out and disillusioned".+ The recruitment figures for 1997, though not yet complete, suggest that the + situation is going to be worse than ever (see table below). The intake as a + percentage of the target for 1997 is actually worse than it looks, because + last December the Government dramatically slashed the targets (by 28 per cent + for maths and 21 per cent for sciences).The rationale for this was that the + (bitterly resented) restrictions on early retirements would mean that fewer + teachers would leave the profession, so fewer NQTs would be needed. But many + were surprised by the savagery of the cuts.Another continuing trend is for + aspiring teachers to opt for the one-year,post-graduate course rather than the + four-year BEd. In 1996-97, 85 per cent of secondary trainees were doing the + PGCE; primary trainees are also increasingly choosing the postgraduate + route.The recruitment of teachers should be closely tied to demographic + predictions about pupil numbers, which can be forecast with some accuracy for + about four years ahead. In secondary schools, numbers are set to rise by 11 per+ cent by 2004, providing another migraine for recruitment planners. In primary + schools, where there is less of a recruitment problem,pupil numbers are set to + stabilise at around 4. 5 million until 2002, after which they will + decline.Meanwhile, staff have been leaking out of the teaching force through + illness, early retirement and the enforced redundancy of senior teachers who + have become too expensive. Redundancies have more than doubled since 1989, and + retirements due to illness have increased by a massive 45 per cent over the + same period. This year, retirements are predicted to jump again, placing yet + more strain on the creaking supply system.Josephine Gardiner

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