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Head teacher Phil Taylor
"I can't find a maths or French teacher"
 real 28k

Friday, 5 January, 2001, 13:36 GMT
Another school shut by shortages
Teachers' unions say vacancy figures are misleading
A secondary school in Suffolk has been unable to open for the new term because of a lack of teachers.

Holywells High School in Ipswich has had to postpone its return to school after Christmas for two days, while efforts continue to recruit teachers to fill vacancies.

"I have been teaching for 30 years but never in my personal experience have I experienced something as bad as this. I don't think it is going to get any better for a long time," said head teacher Barrie Whelpton.

This enforced extra holiday comes on the day that the government announced extra funds for underperforming schools to recruit and retain staff.

And it will highlight the growing gap between the government's argument that there is no recruitment crisis - and teachers' claims that the staffing shortage is real and getting worse.

Teachers say ...
There is a staff shortage
Vacancy figures do not show teachers covering for staff shortages
Pay is still not competitive
Four-day weeks could be widespread
16% downturn in applications compared with January 2000

And there is scepticism over whether extra money announced for struggling schools will tackle the underlying problem of an overall lack of teachers.

John Bangs, assistant general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, says that there are a number of local authorities considering putting pupils onto four-day weeks because of a lack of staff.

And he dismissed the government's announcement of extra recruitment funds for struggling schools as only a "short-term solution which will have little long-term benefit".

The government says ...
There are 7,000 more teachers than two years ago
Applications up for first time in eight years
Improvements in pay and training grants will make a difference
Advertising campaign will increase applications

Instead there is a need for a substantial increase in teachers' pay to make the profession more attractive, he said.

Head teachers' union leaders have also been warning about the risk of a staffing "meltdown", with schools unable to fill vacancies and supply agencies lacking the staff to provide cover.

The difference between the government's position and the view from head teachers was apparent when a Manchester head teacher and the School Standards Minister Estelle Morris clashed in an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Phil Taylor, head of Stamford Community High School in Tameside, challenged the government's claims saying the "recruitment situation is not improving".

Schools go to great lengths to avoid children missing out on lessons and finding ways of covering vacancies. You can't put them into a queue in the way that a hospital has a waiting list

Doug McAvoy, National Union of Teachers

A head of an underperforming school which will gain from the extra money announced by the minister, Mr Taylor said that he had two vacancies - for a maths and French teacher - which he had been unable to fill.

But Ms Morris rejected the claim that this reflected a decline in applications for teaching the subjects, saying that "golden hellos" worth 5,000 offered to student teachers of maths and modern languages had improved recruitment.

Apart from the money available in increased salaries, Mr Taylor also argued that schools in deprived areas found difficulty in competing for staff with schools in more comfortable circumstances, where there might be greater support from parents and less challenging pupils.

But the minister repeated the government's argument that the overall picture on recruitment is that there are now more teachers than there were two years ago.

And the government says that after eight years of falling recruitment, there is now an increase in applications for teaching.

The divergence in how government and teachers see the problem could be because of how the government measures vacancies, says the National Union of Teachers.

By measuring vacancies the government overlooks the ways in which short-staffed schools are working around a lack of teachers, the union argues.

So if teachers are covering subjects for which they are not qualified or if they are giving up free periods to sit with a class, this might not show as a vacancy.

"Schools go to great lengths to avoid children missing out on lessons and finding ways of covering vacancies. You can't put them into a queue in the way that a hospital has a waiting list," said general secretary Doug McAvoy.

But even these temporary arrangements are now coming unstuck, says the union, with a growing threat of widespread staffing difficulties this year.

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See also:

05 Jan 01 | Education
Bonuses for teachers in tough schools
03 Jan 01 | Education
Four-day week threat in schools
05 Jan 01 | Education
Teacher shortage is 'housing problem'
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