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Programme highlights Friday, 2 February, 2001, 14:51 GMT
Pay-rise to boost teaching profession
The PM is aware of education's electoral importance
The PM is aware of education's electoral importance
A pay-rise for teachers well above inflation has been accepted unconditionally by the Government.

Ministers hope that it well help to restore faith in the profession, and end a teacher-shortage that has become an acute political embarrassment.

No government wants to risk going into an election campaign with schools working part-time, and teachers threatening to strike because of shortages in the staff-room. Especially if the party concerned had made education its top priority - three times over.

Yet that is a real possibility for Labour.

Under the deal, new entrants to the profession will be offered an extra 6%, class-room teachers at the top of their scale will get an extra 2,000, the London weighting allowance will rise by 30% and there will be special arrangements to help teachers in the Home Counties with their housing costs.

Education Secretary David Blunkett: 'Depressed' at union reaction
Education Secretary David Blunkett: 'Depressed' at union reaction
The average increase is 3.7%. But will it make a difference?

Union 'dismay'

Mr Blunkett will have been depressed to hear the first reaction of one of the main teaching unions - the National Association of Schoolmasters and Women teachers. The general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, condemned the award as 'dismal', and 'the worst pay review board outcome for a decade'.

His views were echoed precisely, if with different terms of abuse, by other unions.

The National Association of Head Teachers said the deal was stunningly complacent, and described the Review Body as the Government's poodle: the National Union of Teachers accused the government of resorting to lies, distortion and double-counting.

Such union criticism is perhaps predictable - but the reality on the ground is certainly worrying. A rash of stories emerged over Christmas about the difficulty in filling posts. Sometimes there have been specific reasons: towns with almost no unemployment, like Swindon, have found recruitment very difficult.

But the problem is much more widespread.

More teachers recruited

Is pay the main reason for recruitment problems?
Martyn Berry, head teacher of the Brackenhoe Secondary school in Middlesbrough, told the World at One that he had sent one year-group home for three days this week. Absence through sickness was the main reason, but he was two teachers below strength to start with.

Yet the Government has been producing some more encouraging statistics in recent weeks.

The latest official figures show seven thousand more teachers in post than a year ago and teacher training recruitment up 10%, year on year.

A closer look at the small print, however, shows that the bulk of the increase has been in training for primary school teachers - which consistently exceeds the department's targets.

Secondary recruitment is more problematic. The increase of 4% over last year sounds reasonable - but the comparison is with a particularly low figure last year.

In several key subject areas, recruitment actually fell: Mathematics, English, French, geography, history and religious education were all down by between 2% and 9%.

Vacancy level 'higher'

As for shortages in schools, unfilled vacancies are down to 0.5% in primary schools from 0.8% in 2000, but up slightly for Secondary schools from 0.7% to 0.8%. And all those figures are extremely contentious.

Professor Alan Smithers of Liverpool University, co-author of a recent investigation into the shortage statistics, told the programme that the level of vacancies was really much higher. Only posts unfilled for an entire term are included.

Another intriguing statistic is that, at present, some 30,000 teachers leave the profession every year. In order to cover that natural wastage, the government needs to persuade 12% of all graduates in England and Wales to take up teaching.

These are the problems that the new pay deal is intended to deal with.

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett was scathing about the union response and said today's announcment went some way to solving the recruitment problems.

NAS/UWT's Nigel de Gruchy
Pay report is most disappointing
Bethe-Ann Marshall
Promising teachers are leaving, overburdened by paperwork
Professor Alan Smithers
We have not been training enough secondary teachers for years
Education Secretary David Blunkett
Union reaction is 'deeply depressing'
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