World set to scrap over teachers;Hot data;Briefing;Document of the week

26th March 1999 at 00:00
It seems the UK is not alone in worrying about the age of its teachers. Across Europe, and in the USA and the Commonwealth countries, many teachers will be coming up for retirement in the next decade.

An ideal age profile for the teaching force would be 30 per cent under 30; 25 per cent between 31 and 40; 25 per cent between 41 and 50 and 20 per cent over 50. This allows for some movement in and out of the profession among the different age groups.

Only Portugal and Austria appear to have even half the desired number of under-30s in teaching. Germany and Denmark seem to be seriously short of young teachers, even allowing for the fact that their students graduate later than those in many other countries.

Replacing older teachers as they retire is going to be a challenge for many developed countries. Many London schools already rely heavily on teachers from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and now Canada, for temporary staffing. These are usually young teachers travelling for a couple of years before settling down at home. As teacher shortages emerge in these countries, governments may be less willing to ignore this exodus.

Europe has been suggested as a source of potential teachers for this country. If unemployment stays high on the Continent graduates may be willing to come and teach here, but we might also expect to have to train them as well, since their own countries will probably be fully stretched training enough replacement teachers for their own schools.

All these measures assume that the UK can continue to be a net importer of teachers. As pressure on teacher supply grows in other countries we may see efforts to entice UK-trained teachers abroad. Already many teachers trained in Britain are working in international schools throughout the world. The increase in adverts for jobs in such schools has been obvious in The TES over the past few years.

So far only New Zealand has advertised for teachers, though New York has already been recruiting in Austria.

The competition for teachers is likely to become global during the next decade. Although not yet top of the Government's agenda, teacher supply is an issue that is not likely to go away.

John Howson is a fellow of Oxford Brooks University and runs an education research company. E-mail:

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