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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 14:44 GMT
Four-day week fears 'exaggerated'
Graham Lane
Graham Lane says schools must find ways to keep open
By BBC News Online's Sean Coughlan

Threats of teacher shortages forcing schools into four-day weeks have been exaggerated, say local government organisations.

And despite the dire warnings of a staffing "meltdown", there are fewer vacancies in schools now than a decade ago, say the Local Government Association and the Employers' Organisation.
Teacher vacancy rates, England and Wales
1991: 1.1%
1992: 0.5%
1995: 0.3%
2000: 0.7%

The most recent vacancy rate for secondary schools in England and Wales is 0.7%, compared with 1.1% in 1991. But it stands higher than the lowest levels of vacancies, which went down to 0.3% in 1995.

The latest figure is based on annual census statistics from January 2000 and a later survey conducted in September 2000.

"There are no more vacancies than last year - and if schools with difficulties get in touch with their local authorities there will be ways of avoiding a four-day week," said Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association.

And he attacked early-warnings of widespread four-day weeks as "irresponsible" and the "last thing that anyone should be considering".

teachers
The vacancy rate for teachers was worse a decade ago

While there have been growing warnings of schools being unable to recruit and retain enough staff for a full timetable, Mr Lane said that the problems were overstated.

Rejecting claims that schools were unable to find staff, Mr Lane said that authorities could put schools in touch with recently-retired staff or those who were taking time out for families.

Mr Lane said that there were 400,000 qualified teachers who were no longer working in schools - and that authorities could tap into this pool of trained teachers to fill any temporary gaps.

If necessary, he said that local authorities could deploy their own town hall education staff to help out in schools, since many were trained teachers.

And he claimed that reports of shortages were being used opportunistically by unions seeking a pay hike and opposition parties seeking to embarrass the government.

While there were specific problems with retaining younger teachers in the profession, he said that the increases in pay, including performance related supplements, would make teaching more attractive in the longer term.

This is the latest exchange in a long-running dispute over the severity of the teacher shortage - with reports of schools' struggling to fill vacancies being countered by government claims that there are more teachers than two years ago.

Last week, Essex County Council wrote to the education secretary warning of serious problems with the supply of teachers - and others have expressed concern about difficulties in finding enough staff.

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See also:

03 Jan 01 | Education
Four-day week threat in schools
05 Jan 01 | Education
Teacher shortage is 'housing problem'
05 Jan 01 | Education
Another school shut by shortages
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