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Waiting for the dust to settle

John Howson looks at factors influencing the job market

Will there be a job for me this summer? That is the key question for those completing training this year. The answer is not as straightforward as new teachers would wish. Various factors influence the number of posts on offer.

Teachers of early years and key stage 1 classes should be comforted by the Government's class size reduction initiative to reduce all key stage 1 classes to fewer than 30 pupils within the next few years. The extra posts created will compensate for any reductions in the birth rate that would otherwise cause some teaching posts to be lost.

The downside is that there is likely to be little growth in the number of posts for key stage 2 teachers. Class sizes have been worsening in recent years for pupils in junior classes and there is little reason to expect that there will be much improvement this year. Value added skills might be important in securing a job teaching this age group. Familiarity with computers and the Internet might well be an important selling point as the National Grid for Learning really begins to develop.

The job picture at secondary level is complicated. Many schools that had been funding posts out of their reserves have run out of money and may need to cut jobs unless their budget is increased. This could be either through a rise in pupil numbers or by more generous funding. As local authorities do not set their budgets until late January or early February, it is still too early to tell whether schools will receive more money in real terms than last year.

What is certain is that much depends on the level of the teachers' pay settlement, to be announced in the next few weeks. The staging of the 1998 award means that there is a 1 per cent overhang on 1999 budgets. Anything over 3 per cent for the 1999 pay award would almost certainly mean fewer jobs for new entrants.

The picture is not uniform across the country. There are always more vacancies in London than elsewhere. In both primary and secondary schools, vacancies recorded by the Department for Education and Employment doubled in some London boroughs between January 1996 and 1998. The January figure can only be a guide to the number of posts available in the summer, but the local education authorities reported fewer than 1,000 vacancies in London in January 1998: 625 were for primary teachers and 290 for secondary teachers. By comparison, in the whole of the North-east there were only 39 vacancies for primary teachers, and 45 for secondary teachers.

Students, especially in primary schools, are often worried about having to compete for posts with those returning to teaching after a break. The supply of returners seems to be slackening. In 1995-96, the last year for which the DFEE has published figures, only 6,100 teachers returned to full-time service, compared with 19,500 first-time entrants to teaching. This was 500 down on the number who returned to full-time service in the previous year.

Other factors affecting the job market will be whether the rate of retirement among the number of teachers in their fifties continues to slow down, and whether the Government initiative to attract them back part-time succeeds.

Those who train as teachers after a period in the labour market often find it more difficult to enter teaching than those coming straight from university. This is partly due to a lack of mobility, but also because schools often overlook the benefits such staff can bring. It is to be hoped that the new Government-funded recruitment officers will be aware of the talent wasted by not employing these teachers. These officers will also become familiar sights at college recruitment fairs.

This year will also see changes to the induction year. It would be unfortunate if some heads were not interested in operating the new induction schemes, and switched the posts often kept for new teachers to other teachers. It is more likely that the use of supply agencies, for both daily cover and longer-term posts, will keep growing. For some new teachers, the agencies provide the opportunity to view several schools and LEAs before settling down.

What is certain is that new teachers who are prepared to be both mobile and flexible will have the greatest pick of the jobs. Anyone wanting a job in a particular part of the country will have to work hard to chase what posts become available.

Some new teachers might take a year out, particularly if the fast-tracking proposed in the Government's Green Paper, Teachers Meeting the Challenge of Change, were to be available to those who wait a year before entering teaching. At present there are few details out about fast-tracking, but watch out for them.

With training numbers falling over the past few years, especially for some secondary subjects, 1999 entrants may generally be in a more favourable position. The class of '99 will be joining the profession at a time when teaching is once more being recognised as an important and worthwhile career, with good prospects and a new salary structure in the offing.

John Howson is a visiting fellow at Oxford Brookes University who researches the job market for teachers. Email:

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