Sometime this term, most students' thoughts will turn to job hunting. A couple of years ago, this wasn't a problem. Schools had plenty of cash in their budgets, pupil numbers were rising, and most secondary training courses had failed to fill their quota of places. So, unless there was an urgent desire to teach in a particular school, finding a teaching post was, for most, just a matter of responding to an advert in the jobs section of The TES and waiting for the interview.
However, this year it may well be different. Consider the following: There are more students on courses than last year. In England, when compared with last year, there are probably around 1,400 more secondary PGCE students and possibly 1,000 more primary PGCE students. In Wales, the numbers are lower, with just 50 extra secondary and a handful more primary PGCE students than last year. In addition, in Scotland, there are possibly 100 more secondary and 60 more primary students on PGCE courses than last year.
There are more trainees on the employment-based routes who will qualify this summer already working in schools. This is a route now popular with the Government. Additionally, in London this September, there will also be the second cohort of 250 new "trainees" on the "teach first" scheme to add to the 150 or more moving into their second year. These 400 or more students will make a sizeable dent in the capital's vacancy rate for secondary school teachers that has already fallen by some 40 per cent, or 350 posts, in the past two years.
Next year will see fewer pupils in our schools. There will be 60,000 fewer primary and 9,000 fewer secondary school pupils in January 2005 than this January, according to recently published figures from the Department for Education and Skills. Fewer pupils could mean fewer teachers are needed.
School budgets are uncertain. It is still too early to tell whether more schools will have extra resources this year, but action by Charles Clarke, the Education, should, hopefully, have prevented the situation from getting appreciably worse, unless, that is, schools are seeking to use any extra money they receive to rebuild their financial reserves. However, there is also the issue of how many current teachers will receive extra money in September as they move up to the third point on the upper pay spine, and what effect this will have on staffing policies.
Nevertheless, it is not all doom and gloom. This September sees the introduction of the second part of the Workload Agreement that could produce extra teaching posts. However, the introduction of a guaranteed 10 per cent minimum for planning, preparation and assessment time doesn't come into effect until September 2005. Even then, this is likely to have more effect in primary schools than in the secondary sector where many teachers already have a better non-contact ratio than the guaranteed 10 per cent.
The number of teachers retiring is rising again. In 2002-03, it was estimated to have been 11,300, up from 9,800 three years previously.
However, the big jump in retirements may still be a few years away as only around 30,000 teachers were in the 55 to 60 age bracket in 2002 compared with a massive 76,000 who were aged between 50 and 54. By 2008, retirement may be running at well over 15,000 a year, or around 40 per cent higher than at present.
So, after all these caveats and questions, what will the job market look like for those trainees seeking their first post this September? Hard evidence is not easy to come by, but an analysis by Professor Alan Smithers for the National Union of Teachers last summer showed wide variations in the number of applications schools received for each post advertised. For some subjects, secondary teachers seemed harder to find in the North-East than in some other parts of the country. Not surprisingly, mathematics teachers are generally in short supply, although London may not be the worst-affected area. Throughout the country, there were more applications for primary than secondary posts in the Smithers survey.
Overall, it looks like being a more challenging recruitment round for students than in recent years, but with the message from inspectors at Ofsted being that trainees are now better prepared than ever, there may be genuine reasons for schools preferring to employ newly qualified teachers rather than returners or other applicants.
However, if there were to be another budget crisis this year, all predictions about the shape of the job market would be irrelevant. Those teachers qualifying this summer should keep more than an eye on the news over the next couple of months. There is little room for complacency.
John Howson is managing director of Education Data Surveys.