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London struggles to find teachers, but elsewhere it is not all doom and gloom, reports Phil Revell

IT must be very frustrating. Ministers are spending millions on recruiting and training new teachers, but the supply pool is leaking. Each year 20,000 trained staff abandon the state system for other jobs (TES, June 27).

More than 31,000 people signed up for initial teacher training in 2002, the highest number for more than 12 years and 2,000 more than in 2001. This year colleges were given the green light to increase numbers again. More than 34,000 training places were allocated in 2003.

Teacher Training Agency chief executive Ralph Tabberer acknowledged the scale of the recruitment challenge when the figures were announced. The year-on-year increase means that colleges have to attract 600 more trainees for mathematics, 300 in modern languages and 550 in science subjects.

However, it may not be such an uphill battle. The recent annual survey of graduates by the High Fliers research company saw teaching jump two places, to become the third most popular choice of career, with 10.5 per cent of all graduates considering teaching.

And the quality is up. Inspectors have acknowledged that teacher trainers are producing the best-ever generation of new professionals, with fewer unsuitable trainees slipping into the system.

Training places are allocated by the TTA, but the numbers are dictated by the Government.

"The Department for Education and Skills uses a detailed model in working out how many teacher- training places it should fund," said a DfES spokesperson. "School population estimates, teacher age and retirements are all factors used by the model to help determine the number of places needed."

Nevertheless, it is questionable whether the right people are getting to the right places. The TTA's main problem is the wide regional variation in demand and supply.

Schools in London and the South-east think themselves fortunate if they attract half a dozen applications for an advertised post. And the South-east effect now seems to extend north into the Midlands. Schools in Northampton, for example, say that recruitment is difficult. But schools in the North and West are seeing healthy shortlists. Welsh primaries attract 20 applicants per post on average. There were no vacancies in 67 per cent of Welsh primaries between January and August 2002.

On paper, there is an oversupply in the North-west, with more than 3,000 training places in the region. But the TTA points out that the quality of training is as important as geographical spread - and that trainees do not necessarily apply to work where they trained.

In London, the shortage of teachers is as acute as ever. But there are interesting differences between inner and outer London.

"The inner-London vacancy rate is 1.7 per cent," said Fred Asamany, teacher recruitment manager for Waltham Forest. "Our rate is 7.7 per cent."

He argues that his outer-London borough, which borders Hackney and Newham, has the same housing costs and disadvantage as the inner city, but teachers across the boundary get pound;1,200 a year more.

Covering those vacancies with supply teachers is not a problem - London may even have an oversupply of cover staff, many from overseas. But filling the vacant posts is proving extremely difficult.

Contrast that with the situation in the North where teacher unemployment is a reality. One Wigan primary has seen a healthy response to a TES advert for a newly qualified teacher, but some of the applicants were teachers made redundant by local schools.

Falling rolls are reducing the demand for primary staff just as the Government is expanding training numbers. The irony of the situation will not amuse heads who are struggling to ensure that September's classes are properly staffed. But they may find some consolation in the knowledge that education is not the only public service that is short of skilled staff.

The latest survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows that the problem affects all sectors and regions. Ninety-three per cent of the 557 organisations surveyed reported recruitment difficulties.

Social work, nursing and medicine all find it hard to attract staff. As always, however, there is no shortage of politicians.

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