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Tough job but will anyone do it?

The national shortage of teachers is making it hard for failing schools to attract good staff and improve performance, reports Jill Parkin

Failing schools and weak education authorities are in Catch-22. Without good staff they cannot improve and without improvement they cannot attract staff.

These schools are at the sharp end of the national teacher shortage, victims of readily available Ofsted reports on authorities as well as individual schools. Its website is there for all would-be applicants to see.

The weak authorities include Liverpool, Hackney, Newham, Manchester, Tower Hamlets, Barnsley and Norfolk. NUT figures on hard-to-fill vacancies show a national total of 11.3 per cent of full-time primary teaching posts unfilled, of which 48.8 per cent are classed as "difficult to fill"; and 9 per cent of secondary posts, of which 49.5 per cent are classed as "difficult to fill".

The regions experiencing most recruitment problems are Inner London (86.3 per cent of unfilled classed as difficult); East Midlands (56.8 per cent); North-West (55 per cent); and South-East (54 per cent). The situation may not be helped by the expected post-Christmas glut of NQTs who have done the maximum of four terms' supply teaching and must find a job or leave teaching. Failing schools are the least likely to have the time and resources to take on induction year candidates.

"Of course it's a problem, especially in London," says Olive Forsyth of the NUT. "Teachers are reluctant to apply to a failing school, knowing it could be closed down. These schools lose staff and have difficulty recruiting replacements."

John Dunford, of the Secondary Heads Association, says: "Unfavourable reports, which are well-trawled by potential applicants, can discourage some.

"Having said that, schools and heads ar very skilled at putting the Ofsted report in the context of their own background material. They outline the action that is being taken and the exciting challenges for applicants," says Dunford.

While successful schools trumpet their achievements in job adverts, there's no disguising a bad Ofsted and many schools are frank about the position, mentioning special measures or fresh start. Others use adjectives such as "challenging" and ask for great commitment and enthusiasm from candidates. Luckily, there are still teachers who get excited at the prospect of helping to get a school out of special measures or turning round a failing department.

"Teachers are a fairly sophisticated lot," says Mike Walker of the Local Government Association. "They take the league tables with a pinch of salt. And some people enjoy a challenge."

"Broadly speaking, that's our experience, too," says Moira O'Connell of Cambridge Education Associates, the provider which has been advertising for a head to get Pooles Park Primary School in Islington, London, out of special measures.

The DFEE is exploring whether incentive payments to teachers can be increased and has asked the Schoolteachers' Review Body to iron out some of the London bias in current arrangements.

There are four categories of incentive for teachers and heads in schools with staff shortages: payments of pound;909, pound;1,782, pound;2,703 and pound;3,765. At present the third payment is only for posts in schools which are failing or are in Inner London, and the fourth for schools both failing and in Inner London. The payments are at the discretion of the LEA.

The DFEE would like the payments to be more widely available. The STRB is expected to reply to the DFEE in January

"The primary teacher who came in from the cold", Friday magazine, p29.

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