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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 01:26 GMT 02:26 UK
Teacher shortages loom as term starts
Teacher supply agencies are expecting to be busy
As the school term gets underway for pupils in England and Wales, many head teachers will be crossing their fingers they have enough staff to put in front of classes.

Teachers and unions - even the chief inspector of schools in England - are warning of problems ahead with widespread teacher shortages.

Teacher supply agencies are expecting a record number of requests from head teachers.

Doug McAvoy
Doug McAvoy says the government has played down the situation
In an attempt to gauge the full extent of the problem, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has launched a special shortages hotline.

And the new General Teaching Council for England has given the education secretary its advice on how to tackle the problem.

One school in Norfolk has already had to introduce a contingency plan to cover for teacher shortages.

Pupils (excluding Year 11) at the Oriel High School, Gorleston, Great Yarmouth, will be sent home for one day a week.

It has also delayed the start of term until 17 September, to allow time to recruit.

Shortages hotline

The NUT hotline will gather up-to-date information on vacancies and the struggle to find supply cover across England and Wales.

The union has also set up a special e-mail address for similar information to be provided.

NUT representatives - and others - are being urged to contact the union with details from their schools, which will be treated confidentially.

The government has constantly played down the problem faced by schools

Doug McAvoy, NUT
"It will enable the NUT to develop a picture of the true state of vacancies in our schools and the problems teachers, head teachers and pupils are facing," the union said.

General secretary of the NUT, Doug McAvoy, said it was the first time the union had run a shortages hotline.

"With massive effort on the part of LEAs and head teachers, it's possible there won't be many vacancies this week - but what happens a week later and what happens when teachers get sick?

"The government has constantly played down the problem faced by schools," Mr McAvoy said.

"They keep saying there are 12,000 more teachers in post than in 1998, but that as a result of some of their policies, such as the limit on class sizes.

"Some initiatives, such as the literacy and numeracy hour, actually took teachers out of class," he added.

Teacher exodus

Meanwhile the General Teaching Council (GTC) for England said it was to take the lead in developing a new package to tackle teacher shortages.

The council has been in discussions with the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, in an attempt to find ways of halting the exodus of new teachers from the profession.

At present, 40% leave within five years.

The council has recommended teachers have more professional time set aside, when they can fulfil other duties such as planning, and assessment.

It also wants a clearer definition of the role of classroom assistants and other support staff, such as technicians, allowing teachers to focus on their professional role.

And, as skilled professionals, teachers should have the same entitlement as doctors, lawyers and other professionals to professional development, the GTC told Ms Morris at a meeting on Monday.

Scale of the problem

At the same time, a report published by the centre-left think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research attempted to quantify the scale of the teacher shortage in the short and longer terms, and suggest ways forward.

After analysing the available statistics on teacher recruitment, resignation and retirement patterns, the report concludes that with rising pupil numbers in secondary schools to 2004, their staffing difficulties will be particularly acute.

"They cannot be resolved in the short-term by expansion of training. Instead, national action must be taken to reduce wastage from the profession and to maximise the return of those out of service.

"This can be done only by improvements to the job itself, currently unattractive because of excessive unnecessary workload, poor pupil behaviour, poor management, and overarchingly the loss of opportunities for creativity and professional autonomy which offer job satisfaction."

The leader of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers teachers' union, Nigel de Gruchy, said the institute's report was "spot on".

"Put simply, the three crucial problems in desperate need of resolution are workload, pupil indiscipline and pay," he said.

"It is gratifying that more and more organisations and people are coming to realise this and support the long-term contention of the NASUWT.

"Unfortunately, it still seems that the government will be last to be converted to the obvious."

Chair of the General Teaching Council Lord Puttnam
"We can't go on having very well trained teachers leaving the profession"
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