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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
More teachers come forward
Class sizes have fallen slightly
There has been a cut in class sizes in state schools and a slight fall in the number of unfilled teaching posts in England, official figures show.

The vacancy rate, as a proportion of teachers in post, fell from 1.4% to 1.2% in the year to January 2002.

In the previous year the vacancy rate had risen from 0.8% to 1.4%.

According to provisional statistics from the Department for Education and Skills, there are now 419,600 full-time equivalent teachers working in England, a rise of 9,400 on last year.

It is good news that average class sizes have fallen at nursery, primary and secondary level compared to a year ago

Estelle Morris, Education Secretary
In primary schools, the number of children in an average class fell from 22.9 to 22.5, while in secondaries, the average class size went from 17.1 to 16.9.

The number of classroom assistants has risen more than 10,000 from 93,500 to 103,600 in the past year.

The figures were welcomed by the Education Secretary Estelle Morris: "I am not complacent for one moment.

"We are moving in the right direction but I know we have more to do.

"Our targeted policies to improve recruitment and retention are delivering results - this is true for both primary and secondary schools.

"Fewer vacancies and 9,400 more teachers means we can raise standards further."

On class sizes she said: "Parents know that smaller class sizes are good for standards.

David Hart
"Supply teachers are covering up real vacancies" says David Hart of the NAHT
"That is why it is good news that average class sizes have fallen at nursery, primary and secondary level compared to a year ago."

The figures have been given a guarded welcome by teachers and heads.

The Secondary Heads Association (Sha) said the figures were achieved through an increasing reliance on unqualified teachers.

The new data revealed that the number of "instructors" and trainees jumped from 5,200 to 10,700 in the past year.

"Heads are putting bodies in front of classes in order to avoid a shortened working week," said Sha's general secretary John Dunford.

"That disguises the extent of the problem." Eamonn O'Kane, the general secretary of the classroom teachers union NASUWT said: "NASUWT welcomes the fall in teacher vacancies in parts of England.

"However, the government's strategies to date have merely been inappropriate sticking plaster solutions to a deep wound in the education service.

"Only when the issues of pay, workload and pupil indiscipline are tackled decisively will there be a permanent solution to the crisis."

Cover up

Teachers' unions generally view the figures as an incomplete picture of the shortages, because they do not take into account supply (temporary) teachers or those from abroad who are working in English schools.

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Clearly schools have started to repair the damage caused by years of staffing cuts, but there are still too many temporary and supply teachers covering up real vacancies.

"The problem is that this year's budgets look as if they will fail to cover rising costs.

"The net result will be that unless the spending review can deliver real, sustained improvements over the lifetime of this parliament, we could find ourselves back to square one in staffing terms very quickly."

Four-day week

Last year the chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson, said the shortage of teachers was the worst it had been for two decades.

The government has mounted an aggressive advertising campaign to try to encourage people to come into teaching by various routes.

It has been offering "golden hellos" to people who can teach subjects where teachers are most needed and is proposing to write off student loans for graduates entering the profession.

But many schools report consistent recruitment problems.

At Bognor Regis Community College in West Sussex, many pupils were put on a four-day week because the school was short of 10 teachers.

It is hoped the school will be back to normal next week.

David Wilmot, the headteacher of Cams Hill School in Fareham, Hampshire, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Teacher recruitment is now in crisis, I am not given to exaggeration, and it's going to get a lot worse.

"Since last May, 38 teachers have left my school, 15 of them have been young teachers and they've gone out of teaching.

"During the past year I've had to find 54 teachers, full-time and part-time, to cover those vacancies, and I am spending an average of two and a half days a week just on recruitment."

Barry Sheerman, Labour chairman of the Education select committee, said on the Today programme that the the problem was "very patchy".

"Most of the schools in our country do not have the kind of problems that we've heard of this morning," he said.

"We have many teachers teaching, children getting really good learning and experience in the classroom.

"We have more successes in teaching and in education in this country than we have had for many years, and so in a sense don't let's get dragged down by particular cases."

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