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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Where are all the teachers?
Classroom
The teacher shortage has shown little sign of abating
As the new school year approaches, an old problem is returning to haunt the government.

Teacher shortages are back in the headlines, with the Chief Inspector of Schools in England warning that the problem is at its worst since the 1960s.

In the run-up to this year's general election, the government's education policy looked at its most vulnerable when the opposition turned their attention to persistent staffing problems.

Estate agent sign
Are house prices linked to teacher shortages?

This was highlighted by industrial action by teachers' unions, in which a refusal to cover for long-term vacancies resulted in pupils being sent home from schools.

Although a deal was brokered which suspended the dispute, the underlying problem seems not to have gone away, with recurrent forecasts of further shortages.

The government has steadfastly claimed that it is successfully tackling a longstanding problem, putting money into recruitment packages and increasing teachers' salaries.

But head teachers have continued to warn that they are struggling to fill vacancies and that there is little evidence of improvement.

So why has teaching lost its appeal? And how is the government addressing the difficulties?

Pay and workload

Teachers' unions have long campaigned for a substantial pay increase, claiming that teaching has slipped behind other graduate professions.

The government has introduced performance pay, which makes higher salaries available for many teachers.

But the unions have also argued that workload is even more important and that an excess of stress and a culture of long hours in term time has led to many resignations from teaching.

The unions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are campaigning for a 35-hour week contract, as achieved by teachers' unions in Scotland.

High house prices

Teacher shortages are most pronounced in London and the south-east of England - and there have been claims that there is a strong connection between high house prices and recruitment difficulties.

This argument says that teachers simply cannot afford high house prices and move away, leaving schools dependent on an ageing workforce of teachers who bought when prices were lower.

Last week, a teacher in Islington, Andy Magee, complained that he had to commute from Huddersfield because of the sky-high price of accommodation in the capital.

The government has begun moves to provide subsidised housing for public sector workers.

Low status

Teachers have often seen themselves as a profession under siege, receiving little but hostility from parents, pundits and successive governments.

This has prompted many claims from teachers that their social standing has been eroded, receiving little respect or support from the community.

In an attempt to bolster morale and to promote an image of professionalism, a General Teaching Council has been created in England.

Full employment

The difficulty in recruiting teachers has been claimed as being the downside of a buoyant employment market.

This theory argues that teaching is at its most attractive when people are worried about losing their jobs - with teaching been seen as a safe, recession-proof career.

But when unemployment falls to low levels, such as in recent years, graduates are tempted into the higher salaries offered by the private sector.

'Difficult' schools

When teachers are in demand and can pick and choose jobs, there is less likelihood that they will apply to schools seen as having "challenging" pupils.

This can create staffing problems within individual schools, while in general there are no shortages in the local area.

This pattern can explain why the government can say there are more teachers in classrooms than in recent years - and there can still be schools saying that they have too few teachers.

Global patterns

The United Kingdom is not alone in suffering from a teacher shortage, with the United States being among the other developed countries most affected.

This global pattern suggests that in advanced, affluent countries it is increasingly difficult to find graduates who want to devote themselves to working in public services.

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