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Warning of primary recruitment timebomb

Charles Clarke's decision to allow primary teacher numbers to drop because of falling rolls will store up recruitment problems for the future, according to an employment analyst.

The Education Secretary has implied a funding rise of more than 4 per cent per pupil for schools with falling numbers will not be enough to prevent job cuts. There are around 50,000 fewer primary pupils this year, and numbers are predicted to fall by the same amount next year.

Mr Clarke believes that, because of falling rolls, there will be many primaries with reduced budgets - "and so possibly staff numbers".

But this year around 1,000 extra primary trainees are taking postgraduate certificate in education courses. Employment expert Professor John Howson said many of these would be unable to find jobs and so be lost to the profession. In the medium term he fears this is likely to discourage graduates from going into teaching, just as more are needed to replace a surge in teachers retiring.

The visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University said that 15,000 primary teachers were due to retire between 2002 and 2007, with the numbers going up each year.

He thought retirements would cancel out the 1,900 or so primary teacher losses due to falling rolls, in two years. But by then the idea that primary jobs were scarce would have gained currency and ministers would once again find themselves with recruitment problems.

"When you have only just got teaching out of a hole in terms of recruitment the last thing you want is stories saying that all these people have racked up another year's worth of debt only to find that there are no jobs available," he said.

The TES online staffroom is already being flooded with messages from anxious newly-qualified teachers. Several say they have been forced to give up on teaching and find other jobs. One from Nottingham had been told at the start of her PGCE that the previous year had seen a 98 per cent employment rate. This year she estimated that only 40 per cent of her fellow students had found jobs.

Another from North Yorkshire wrote: "I was extremely excited and enthusiastic about embarking on my teaching career. How wrong I was. Dozens of applications later and only two interviews I am beginning to feel I will never become a teacher."

Professor Howson said that the Government should re-introduce early retirement for older staff to make way for NQTs who inspectors have said are the best-trained generation of teachers yet.

Last month the National Union of Teachers and Alan Smithers from Liverpool university's centre for education and employment said that the Government should use falling rolls as an opportunity to cut class sizes, not staff.

NEXT WEEK on leadership pages: WHAT Falling PUpIL NUMBERS MEaN FOR you

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