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Friday, 19 January, 2001, 18:17 GMT
Rules eased for overseas teachers
Teachers from overseas may be allowed to work in schools in England for four years instead of the present four months, as the government makes another attempt to ease the staff shortage.
The move comes as a primary school in London failed its Ofsted inspection because of its difficulties in coping with a shortage of teachers.
Inspectors said resources at the school - Heber Primary in Dulwich, south London - were "stretched almost to breaking point".
Ofsted's new chief inspector, Mike Tomlinson, has said he is worried about the general effect of shortages on educational standards.
The Schools Minister, Estelle Morris, said: "For many years some schools in London and the South East have employed fully trained teachers from countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
"At present trained teachers from overseas can only spend four months in any one post as 'temporary teachers', which makes it more difficult for schools.
"We are responding to requests by schools and overseas teachers and propose to increase this time to four years."
She said "overseas trained teachers" would still have to obtain an English teaching qualification at the end of their four years if they wanted to carry on teaching in England.
Cannot teach the curriculum
The action follows repeated charges from the Conservatives of a "crisis" in school staffing.
Heber Primary's Ofsted report points up the problem afflicting schools in London in particular.
The inspection report said: "Leadership and management are satisfactory, but the school's resources are stretched almost to breaking point by staff shortages, and money is not effectively spent to meet these."
The school did not have enough permanent, qualified staff to teach the national curriculum.
Some parents had told the inspection team they were "very concerned".
"One parent during the inspection complained specifically about the instability in teaching and the time wasted adapting to new teachers," said the report.
"One day when her child's teacher did not turn up she was allocated to another year class and spent the day drawing. Very similar situations occurred in two classes during the inspection."
Wider 'threat' to standards
It said the head teacher and senior staff set a tone of commitment to high standards and good behaviour - but much of their energy was "consumed" by the need to cover for staff shortages.
The head had to teach full time throughout the inspection - but even so, pupils from one class had to be dispersed among other classes, often not from the same year-group. Some of them received no teaching.
Southwark Council said the school was now being run by an acting head teacher and had a full complement of staff.
Ofsted's chief, Mike Tomlinson, said it was "a dilemma" for inspectors to have to fail schools because of circumstances beyond their control, such as teacher shortages.
He told the London Evening Standard that the biggest threat from the present recruitment difficulties lay not in the few schools having to adopt a four-day week, but the sort of things others were having to do to avoid that.
"We are getting children in classes with a succession of supply teachers. We are getting considerable staff turnover, which has the same effect," he told the paper.
Unions welcome comments
"In secondary schools, what is more notable is an increased level of mismatch between what teachers are teaching and their expertise."
It is thought Mr Tomlinson might comment on the problem of staff shortages in his annual report next month.
The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Doug McAvoy, said: "At last we have an inspector who realises the importance of high morale.
"Equally he is recognising the difficulties schools are facing in terms of recruitment and retention."
His counterpart at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, Nigel de Gruchy, said Mr Tomlinson was "honest and courageous".
"When union leaders such as myself seek to expose these problems, government condemns us for seeking to make the matters worse," he said.
"I can only hope the government will treat the chief inspector's comments on their merits rather than seeking to personalise the issues and smear union leaders."
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