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Testing times for job seekers

There may be few teaching posts up for grabs this autumn, but the longer-term prospects look bright, says John Howson

The autumn is generally a quiet time for teaching vacancies. Most schools are fully staffed before the new school year starts and few teachers choose to move jobs at Christmas. Nevertheless, some posts do get advertised as teachers reach retirement age, leave to raise a family or are promoted.

Last autumn term, for example, there were 200 main scale science and 190 maths posts advertised in The TES. This compares with nearly 1,000 science posts and a similar number of maths posts advertised during the summer term of 1999.

Many of these autumn term vacancies will go to those newly qualified teachers who are still job hunting. These are often good students who have been used to coming second at a string of interviews, either because they have been pipped at the post by a more experienced teacher or because they don't quite meet the school's needs. They may have the wrong combination of subjects, have taught in a different type of school or have simply been beaten by a better candidate on the day.

For those NQTs looking for posts, the usual rules apply. The more specific the job you are looking for, the more challenging the job search. This is especially true for teachers seeking posts in a particular location.

Figures published by the Government for January (see map) showed that vacancies for teachers were starting to fall after two years of steep rises. There were relatively few vacancies in the North East or North West regions.

This situation is unlikely to be very different this year. Indeed, with some schools still running down their cash reserves, jobs in secondary schools may be even harder to find than last year. However, the picture can be quite different in London where, in January 1999, more than half of all teaching vacancies arose. NQTs may be wise to consider the benefits of starting their teaching career in London.

Among the different subject areas, the humanities, particularly geography, are likely to have the smallest number of vacancies. In January 1999, the DFEE survey identified only 11 vacancies for geography teachers in England, compared with 155 maths vacancies and 78 for English teachers.

Teachers still looking for jobs will need to ask what other strings they may have to their bows. ICT skills and a willingness to offer a second subject may be helpful.

During the autumn term, final year undergraduates on teaching courses start looking at job adverts to get a feel for what schools are seeking. It is not too early for PGCE students to start doing the same thing.

When it comes to making an application, search for the school's website on the Internet. Look also for its latest OFSTED report ( Details of its test or exam results can also be found on the DFEE website ( Armed with this information, applicants can make better informed judgements about where to apply than teachers could in the past. They no longer need to rely simply on a school's advert.

Information technology affects the job search in other ways too. The TES jobs section can already be found in searchable form on the Internet (, as well as in the paper itself. Over the next few years, hard-pressed students struggling to juggle lesson preparation and completing job applications will be able to post their CVs with a matchmaker who will send their details to schools offering the type of vacancy the student is seeking.

It is still too early to predict the shape of the job market next summer. Details will only become clear after both the local government funding settlement and the teachers' pay review has been agreed. But, as ever, the tension will be between creating jobs to deal with rising pupil numbers and class size reduction initiatives and finding enough money to both attract teachers into the profession and to retain them once they are there. The signs are that the Government may be prepared to pay more to teachers but not to create more teaching posts, except for key stage 1 classes.

With 23,000 new entrants to the profession finding jobs in state schools throughout England and Wales in 199798, career prospects for enthusiastic, competent and flexible NQTs should remain bright into the next century.

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