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Wednesday, 29 August, 2001, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Brown's cash blamed for teacher shortage
Gordon Brown
Budget day windfalls have fuelled the teacher shortage
A lack of co-ordination within government has exacerbated the teacher shortage, says one of the country's leading experts on teacher recruitment.

In particular, Chancellor Gordon Brown's Budget day hand-outs to schools have contributed to the shortfall in staff, says John Howson, managing director of Education Data Surveys.

Mr Howson says that when the Treasury has announced windfall payments to be given directly to head teachers, this money has been spent on recruiting extra staff to cut class sizes.

The official teacher vacancy rate is at its highest rate since 1991

In the Budget of 2000, schools were promised up to 30,000 and last year, the Chancellor announced direct grants of up to 115,000.

This has pushed up the demand for teachers - but Mr Howson says the extra spending has not been co-ordinated with recruitment targets, creating a shortage in supply.

"This lack of joined up government is making the teacher crisis worse," says Mr Howson.

The Department for Education uses teacher-pupil ratios in its planning for staff requirements, says Mr Howson, and the additional money announced by the Chancellor would have cut across such calculations.

Advance warning

But the government has defended its record, saying that extra funding had helped to create 5,500 more teaching posts than last year, but this had not aggravated shortages.

The planning models for staffing numbers were more "sophisticated than Mr Howson suggests", said a spokesperson.

"There is also no evidence to link reduced class sizes with teacher shortages," said a spokesperson.

Mr Howson, who is also a visiting professor in education at Oxford Brookes University, says that there was evidence available that could have warned ministers of the link between spending boosts and teacher shortages.

The official teacher vacancy figures show an earlier peak corresponding with increased school budgets.

The last year in which teacher vacancy rate was higher than at present was 1991 - the year which represented the peak of education spending under the previous Conservative administrations.

A following decline in spending on schools was matched by a fall in vacancies, with the recent bulge in school budgets being echoed by a surge in the vacany rates, which have doubled between 1999 and 2001.

Trouble ahead

Mr Howson,who has specialised in the statistics of teacher recruitment, has also criticised the government for failing to use other information available.

For instance, for more than 20 years a four-yearly survey examined how many pupils were being taught by non-specialist teachers - for example, history being taught by someone trained to teach maths.

This survey which would have taken place in 2000 was not carried out. And Mr Howson says that even if the results would have been embarrassing for the government, it is the kind of information needed for accurate planning.

However the government says there is no set interval for these surveys and "ministers are currently considering the case for conducting a new survey".

Mr Howson predicts that any shortages in primary schools can be resolved, but that there are serious problems in finding teachers for secondary schools.

He blames a lack of adequate intervention three or four years ago for the current crisis - and warns that an ageing workforce will mean a serious problem in the next decade, with a rising number of teachers set to retire.

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