By Kim Catcheside
BBC education correspondent
Newly qualified primary teachers are finding it harder to get jobs, teacher training colleges in England and Wales are warning.
There is a decline in the number of primary-age children
Almost two thirds of the 44 colleges which took part in a BBC survey said new teachers were finding the jobs market more of a struggle than before.
The situation is particularly acute in the South West, North and North East of England, which have been hit by falling primary school rolls.
There will be 60,000 fewer primary children in schools across England as a whole, but in the North East rolls are expected to fall by 10%.
Schools minister Stephen Twigg told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this could lead to smaller class sizes or to schools providing more facilities.
"We want to ensure this is got right for the future," he said.
The primary teaching programme leader at Bath Spa University College, Dan Davis, is reporting a large fall in the number of students taking teacher training courses who have found jobs.
Last year two thirds of his students had got jobs by mid-June. This year just a third are settled.
"Some of them are getting pretty despondent," he said.
"One student in my tutor group went to an interview for a job in south Wales and found there had been 140 applicants - which when you've been led to expect that there is a demand for your skills in the workforce is a bit discouraging."
Another college in the North East reported that local primary vacancies were getting over 100 applications and that only a small percentage of students had found jobs.
One of the big training colleges in the North West said that the job situation was "considerably worse" than in previous years.
Struggle for jobs
The tight job market has surprised many newly qualified teachers.
Joanne Taylor, who lives in Blackpool, qualified from Liverpool Hope University in April.
She has had no success after 10 or 12 applications and thinks there is little chance of anything other than supply work for this September.
"I had no idea this would happen. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't get a job. My concerns used to be, will I turn the first offer down? How far am I prepared to travel?
"I'm really angry. I feel I've been completely misled. There may be primary jobs in London, but not in this area."
One teacher from Durham said she had been looking for a permanent position since 2001.
This year had been a nightmare. "There have been up to 150 applicants for every job I've applied for," she said. "This year I've made 25 applications and only got two interviews."
At Christmas she had to take temporary work in a shop to make ends meet. "My worst moment came when some of the children I'd been teaching the previous term came in and recognised me," she remembers.
"I just wanted the earth to swallow me up. I felt so humbled."
Peter Harrison, who recruits teachers for Durham, said that last year he had 250 applicants for 90 primary places. This year he had 400 applicants for about 70 jobs.
For schools in deprived parts of the region like South Stanley Junior School, the increased competition for jobs is good news. It had 70 applicants for a post advertised recently - four times as many as usual.
Head teacher Alan Black is delighted. "I could have appointed any of the applicants, they were all of a very high standard. But the choice means that we can find someone to suit our exact needs. It's a buyer's market and it'll be good for standards."
But the mystery is how the primary teacher market became over-supplied at all. The government has had years to prepare for the fall in the number of primary school children.
The government and the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) regulate the number of trainees. Yet with 60,000 fewer primary school children expected, last year they increased the target for primary trainees.
A TTA spokesman said some surplus was good for quality. He dismissed the notion of thousands of unemployed teachers. "Many more than hundreds would be a surprise," he said.
A spokesman for the Department for Education pointed out that the most recent vacancy figures showed 790 unfilled primary posts across England and Wales in January 2004.
But those jobs are concentrated on the more traditional shortage areas of London and the South East.
We asked about your experiences of the employment market in teaching. Here are some of your responses:
I graduated with a PGCE [post-graduate certificate in education] in post-compulsory education two years ago, psychology specialism. As I was paid by the government to study for this course, I assumed there was a desperate shortage of teachers and that I would "walk in" to a job. However, I could only secure part-time work which covered 14 contact time hours a week paid hourly. Needless to say, once I had paid for childcare expenses and travel it wasn't worth me leaving the house in the morning. This September I moved from Manchester to Lancashire and secured a supply post full-time until April, which was a relief.
Psychology is supposed to be a really popular subject so why are the jobs not out there in abundance? There are also so many applicants per appointment the probability of actually being appointed is slim...I am angry and despondent. Thanks, Tony, for your £6,000 grant but I can no longer live with the not knowing what will happen from one academic year to the next, so I quit.
Lynda Thorpe, Clitheroe Lancs
As a careers adviser, I have been warning young people for a while that this problem in primary education was coming. Unfortunately, with a three- to four-year course, it is too late for those who have started. When I telephoned around teacher training agencies and local education authorities about this situation, some were not as honest as I would have liked.
The lesson is: check out the job prospects for any course before applying. It is no guarantee of a job, but at least it reduces the risks of not getting one.
Richard Wilcock, Rhyl, North Wales
I left IT to become a teacher, due to the lack of IT work in the North (Note to the government - there is NO IT skills shortage - repeat this after me, Mr Blair). Now I find that there's no shortage of teachers. Not sure what career to try next. The only work around Yorkshire is low paid, low skill.
Peter Jay, Leeds
The primary school jobs situation is certainly bad in North Yorkshire. My wife, with three years' teaching experience in London and great references, has had no success getting a post after we moved north. I'm not surprised that newly qualified teachers are having trouble, as the schools round here say they can only afford to appoint inexperienced teachers because of falling class numbers.
I would like to point out that this is not a new phenomenon. I qualified in 1996 and struggled just as much to find a full-time, permanent position in a primary school. After a short-term contract which ended at the end of the school year, I had no option but to take any job I could find for the summer. I ended up working in a chocolate factory for £85 a week.
Come September, I had the same problem and ended up joining a temps agency and falling into an admin job. I really feel that today things are far worse than they were then, and goodness knows how many teachers there are out there now who are struggling on with temporary contracts or who have simply given up and moved into another field of work. However, I do feel that today's students should realise that it may be months or even years before they get a settled job.
Sarah Elliott, Leicester, UK
This situation is an absolute joke. Those of us who have gone into teaching for the right reasons (for the rewarding nature of the job and to make a positive impact on the lives of children and society) are battling against those who have been tempted by the advertisement of holidays and pay. I've just turned 21, I'm £14,000 in debt and have no job for September. It's disgusting.
Lou Hewitson, Lancaster, Lancashire
I have been searching for a job since June of last year. I have just finished a temporary post and have been desperate to find another position. I have applied for well over 100 posts since March and have had only three interviews, to be told that I don't have enough experience or enough "extra-curricular" things to offer. I also have not been particular in the location of finding a job. I have searched Fife-wide, as well as Edinburgh and the Lothians. It is very frustrating and depressing not being able to find work and not knowing how much supply work I can get.
Lisalynne Brown, Rosyth
My partner has just finished her PGCE in south Wales, and stories were floating around that it would be really difficult to find teaching jobs in the UK. However, she and her close friends have managed to find jobs after, at the most, three interviews, and, luckily, my partner after only just one.
S Morris, MK
I have just qualified in the post-primary sector in Northern Ireland. This year has been a very lean one for jobs. I have applied for about 18 and got eight interviews, but with no success yet. Most of my PGCE class mates haven't secured anything either, so it looks like substitute work for September. The problem over here also is that many advertised posts have someone already doing the job, so the interview process is merely "running through the motions" of the legal requirements.
Dave Evans, Northern Ireland
Is what is being observed here due to the large numbers of students who several years ago, instead of finding real employment related to their degrees, were bribed by the government with offers of paying off loans/overdrafts and the promise of more loans. An attempt to plug a gap in the market without much thought. It does, however, pain me that the genuine teachers may not be able to find employment, because our schools are full of people who didn't really want to teach but sat their PGCE, as a means to repay some of their debt.
I will be amazed if you are not inundated with requests from Headteachers all over the South East for the details of all the 'unemployed' teachers in this country. I am the secretary of an Infant school in Essex that has a 6 month to 1 year vacancy from September. We have advertised 3 times and have attracted just 2 applications from overseas trained teachers. At least Stephen Twig acknowledges that the South East of England has a problem.
I hate to say it but Norman Tebbit's famous phrase of 'get on your bike' springs to mind to these tender plants. I speak with some authority as in order to find work in the late 1960's my husband (a teacher) and I uprooted ourselves and went to work in Africa for 5 years; how much less drastic would a move from the north to south of England be?
Margaret Cross, Essex