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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
'Third World' jibe by head teachers
School staffing problems are getting worse, heads say
By BBC News Online's Katherine Sellgren at the NAHT conference in Harrogate

The shortage of teachers in schools in England is making the country look like a Third World nation, the leader of a head teachers' union has said.

The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, told delegates at the union's annual conference in Harrogate that staffing problems in London are approaching meltdown and the problem is not confined to the south east.

Before his speech, Mr Hart said England looked like a Third World country because it was having to "scour the world" for teachers.

"America, France, Germany, Italy and Japan - none of these nations have to scour the world to find teachers for their schools," he said.

"Why are we unique among G-7 countries in having to raid the teaching forces of other countries to plug the gaps which successive governments have presided over.

"No advanced industrialised country should have to seek teachers abroad - it should be able to generate enough teachers itself by pursuing a policy which recruits and keeps people in the profession."

Mr Hart added that despite the shortages, standards were certainly not Third World.

In his speech, he told delegates that headship vacancies were up by 25% in April 2001, compared with 2000, and adverts for deputy head teacher posts were up by 37% during the same period.

David Hart, general secretarty, NAHT
David Hart: Shortages are approaching meltdown in some areas
Mr Hart said adverts for teachers in The Times Educational Supplement had risen by 80% in the past year to 17,000 posts.

Supply costs have rocketed from 120 a day last year to 160-180 a day this year, leading to a situation where it costs over 5,000 a year more to employ an agency teacher than a young teacher, he said.

And many teachers were now resigning from a permanent post to work as supply teachers.

"They are resigning from their permanent or temporary contracts and are selling themselves to the highest bidder because they know they hold all the aces in the pack," Mr Hart said.

A senior government source said it was absurd to compare England to the Third World.

"We have more teachers in schools than in any year since 1984", he said.

"We certainly don't have enough teachers yet to meet demand, which is why Labour is committed to an extra 10,000 teachers in its next term."

'Let the teachers teach'

The union's general secretary also focussed on the problems caused by bureaucracy, saying red tape had to be reduced.

He said 140 Department for Education documents had been produced for schools during a six month period in 2000.

"MAFF does not tell farmers how to farm, the DTI does not tell industrialists how to make profits, the Department of Health does not tell surgeons how to operate or GPs how to treat, the Lord Chancellor does not tell lawyers how to practise.

"Why the hell should the DfEE tell teachers how to teach?"

The senior government source said Mr Hart's figures on red tape, and specifically the number of documents sent out were out of date.

He said the goverment had halved the amount of material going out to schools.

Mr Hart also called for the national target-setting agenda to be overhauled, with targets agreed rather than imposed, taking account of each school's circumstances.

He was also critical of league tables, which he said were "simply unacceptable in their present form".

Mr Hart warned there would be an outbreak of non-co-operation by school leaders if the tables were not reviewed.

He also called for a "sensible debate" on the future of national inspections, so that rigorous external assessment could be combined with support and advice and self-evaluation.

Violent pupils

On violent pupils, Mr Hart said there should be a review to ensure that children and teachers were not put at risk.

"If school leaders feel that they cannot deal appropriately with pupils who assault staff, undermine the good order and discipline of a school and prevent other students learning, they will vote with their feet prematurely," Mr Hart said.

Scottish example

Focussing on pay and conditions, Mr Hart described the settlement for staff in Scotland as "ground breaking".

The deal provides for a 35-hour working week from August 2001 and a maximum class contact of 22.5 hours.

Mr Hart said the Scottish system was the envy of teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"Scotland values its teachers. Scottish teachers' pay and conditions of service reflects this in concrete terms," he said.

The BBC's James Westhead
"Never before have so many teacher vacancies been advertised"
Head teachers question David Blunkett
"Recruitment crisis reaches meltdown"
Click for more on England's teacher shortage

News and reaction

Recruitment effort


See also:

31 May 01 | UK Education
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23 Apr 01 | UK Education
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