Trawling for staff

They're preparing the bait in Hull this week for an audacious campaign to lure teachers from other Yorkshire authorities to the Humberside city. Joe Clancy reports.

The tradition of raid and pillage along the east coast dates back to the Vikings. Now it's about to be revived as Hull tries to tempt teachers from its neighbours to sample its delights. Show them cheaper housing, a vibrant city and good schools support, the theory goes, and those in search of a mid-career boost will make the jump north of the Humber bridge.

Four towns and cities nearby have been targeted and next week a team of Hull's senior education officials will visit York, Leeds, Sheffield and Doncaster to charm interested staff to come and inspect their city - all expenses paid. Adverts have been placed in the Yorkshire press inviting teachers to presentations about Hull in prestige hotels in their hometowns.

The city admits it has an image problem: people see it as isolated, its people slightly insular. It's a northern fishing port suffering industrial decline and and its schools are at the bottom of the GCSE league table. And yet its last report declared it a good authority.

Hull has no problem recruiting students from university. What it is are actively seeking are experienced teachers in shortage subjects.

Though it is common practice to lure people at recruitment fairs, the targets are usually students, women thinking of returning to the classroom or people contemplating a career change. Hull is believed to be the first authority to go it alone and deliberately poach teachers from its neighbours.

Hull's teacher shortage, at 3 per cent, makes it the highest north of Nottingham. Last September, it was 30 teachers short; this year, the number has risen to 64. It is nowhere near the level of several London authorities - Hammersmith and Fulham had to replace 9.7 per cent of staff in schools last January and was looking at a joint London approach to find staff. A spokesman said: "We have been seeking co-operation with our neighbours on recruitment schemes such as affordable housing and travel concessions."

That seems to smack too much of socialism for the Humberside city, Liberal Democrat since May. Its recruitment literature argues that Hull has shed its old image and is now a modern, vibrant city, rich in culture and confidence, able to offer an attractive lifestyle to newcomers.

Those who are interested will be invited to visit Hull on Saturday October 12, expenses paid, where they will be wooed by a team of enthusiastic heads and officials who will extol its virtues. They will be taken on a tour of the city to see the new pound;44m stadium built to house the local football and one of the rugby league sides - it also includes extensive community sports and learning facilities - the new pound;45m submarium, a super-aquarium which is turning out to be a huge tourist attraction, the marina in the old trawler docks and the stunning Princes Quay shopping centre built on stilts in a city-centre dock.

A key recruitment tool will be the low cost of housing in the city and surrounding villages. A smart two-bedroom apartment in the redeveloped Victoria Docks area can be bought for as little as pound;45,000 - well within the price range of a newly qualified teacher on a salary of pound;17,595. For pound;90,000, a large detached house close to the city centre can be snapped up, easily affordable for a young teacher with a working partner. And in the surrounding villages large houses with several acres of land are within the budget of senior teachers on higher salaries.

Former geography teacher Mike Jones was appointed in September 2000 as recruitment strategy manager. "We need experienced teachers to take on the role of heads of department and in shortage subjects such as maths and particularly in design technology," he says. "We can persuade NQTs to come here on the basis that they can buy a nice apartment where they can park their car on the drive, rather than rent a room in a shared house as they would have to do in London. But attracting experienced teachers who have mortgages and children and partners is more difficult."

Simon Gardner, the city's deputy director of education, says: "I came here from Warwickshire in 1989 and my former colleagues burst out laughing when I told them where I was going. People think of Hull in terms of fishing, even though it has very little to do with fishing these days. It has undergone significant changes but I don't think people's view of the city has changed."

He vigorously defended the policy of holding recruitment drives in neighbouring cities. He said: "I wouldn't object if people from other LEAs came here to ask our teachers if they fancy teaching in their schools. It is about sharing good practice, getting new blood and new views."

Hull's plans have ruffled some feathers among neighbours. Patrick Scott, director of education for City of York Council, said: "Clearly Hull's interest is flattering to York's reputation as a high quality provider of educational services. I am sure teachers are more than capable of making their own minds up about where they want to teach without tactics and approaches of this kind."

Leeds was more sympathetic to Hull's plight. "It is quite common practice for education authorities to recruit teachers from outside the local area, and we do not condemn it," a spokesman said. "Our recruitment policies tend to focus on helping non-teaching staff to become teachers, and we retain teachers by implementing policies which help staff maintain a healthy work-life balance.

"We have also formed an innovative partnership with a teacher supply agency to help schools fill vacant posts and to offer an alternative to full-time work for teachers who are unwilling or unable to take up a permanent position."

HULL OF FAME: IT'S ALL HAPPENING ON THE HUMBER

* There were seven miles of docks at the height of the whaling and fishing trade. It is still the busiest estuary in the country.

* The Humber bridge built in 1981, was then the world's longest suspension bridge.

* Famous sons and daughters: poets Andrew Marvell and Philip Larkin (adopted), playwrights John Godber and Alan Plater, Amy Johnson, William Wilberforce, Clive Sullivan, J Arthur Rank, Wreckless Eric, Maureen Lipman.

* Sir John Hotham, the governor, turned Charles I from the city's Beverley Gate in 1642, one of the first acts of the Civil War.

* The 'phone boxes are white, symbol of the city's independent phone system. It was privatised in 2000 which produced a pound;35m windfall to spend on school buildings.

* If you've heard of the E20 trading route linking St Petersburg with Limerick, Hull occupies a key position, according to Brussels.

* Birds Eye conducts the world's largest frozen peas operation.

* "From Hull, Hell and Halifax, Good Lord deliver us" - Yorkshire proverb.

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