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Vacancies' chill wind

SEPTEMBER'S mists may be here, but mellow fruitfulness is in short supply. Yet autumn 2000 will be remembered for more than the usual crop of new faces. Seeds are being planted now in the hope of some record future harvests.

The good news is that, after decades of dithering, sixth-formers are finally getting the breadth of study long enjoyed by their European cousins. The new A-level courses should encourage young people to continue their education beyond 16 or branch out into subjects they would previously have dropped post-GCSE.

Primary teachers can look forward to the arrival of their grammar teaching guides as well as a comparatively gentle ride into their own Curriculum 2000, with renewed emphasis on all six foundation subjects. After the literacy and numeracy strait-jacket, this will be a welcome professional freedom. And at last under-sixes will have their own curriculum, rather than finding their feet in KS1 as well as a whole new environment.

Threshold payments should finally drop into pay packets - although exactly when is anyone's guess - and there's the fun of spending Mr Brown's bounty. But here, the lengthening shadows of autumn approach. In many schools, it's all oo clear where the cash will go - on the battle to attract new staff. For above all, this academic year is likely to be remembered as the time when record numbers of underpaid supply teachers, classroom assistants and even untrained staff struggled alongside their overworked colleagues in understaffed schools.

This is not, of course, Britain's first teacher supply crisis (Briefing, page 24). A booming economy always means there are many better-paid and more attractive jobs for graduates. But, as The TESSecondary Heads Association survey re-veals, it could become the worst - with indications that 4,000 secondary posts may still be unfilled. And, unlike the 1980s, schools now have a legal obligation to teach the whole curriculum, as well as a league table position to protect or improve.

This year, the stresses on the system will be of a different order, and the solutions harder to find. In the long run it is essential that we move towards a smaller, more highly-qualified, better-paid profession, and a larger, properly trained and well-rewarded lower tier of classroom assistants. In the short run, it seems, we must once again rely on the British genius for muddling through.

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