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The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"There are particular shortages in some key subjects"
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Tuesday, 5 September, 2000, 01:00 GMT 02:00 UK
Staff shortages mar new term
Technical staff are in short supply
Secondary schools in England and Wales could be starting the new academic year with more than 4,000 staff vacancies, a survey suggests.

Almost three quarters of head teachers believe the problem is worse than it was last year.

Key subjects are particularly badly hit: one in four maths vacancies have not been met, one in five English vacancies and one in six of the advertised science posts.

And more than a quarter of vacancies in technology and special needs are unfilled, according to the survey by the Secondary Heads Association and the Times Educational Supplement.

Head teachers' perception of the problem is that it is worse than official figures suggest.

But the government points to the strenuous efforts being made to recruit and retain staff and says these are now beginning to work.

'Worst for 20 years'

The survey, although it was conducted during the summer "holiday", produced responses from more than 1,600 secondary schools, which reported 1,734 unfilled vacancies.

The figure of more than 4,000 vacancies was arrived at by extrapolating this to cover the 3,800 secondaries in England and Wales.

john dunford
John Dunford: "It's demoralising"
In the "snapshot" annual schools census last January there were the equivalent of 1,140 full-time posts vacant.

The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said: "Recruitment is the worst I have known in the past 20 years.

"There is nothing more depressing for a head than starting the academic year with vacancies in vital subjects and the same pressure to produce results as though you had a fully staffed, stable teaching force."

League tables

He said unfilled vacancies should be taken into account when producing the school performance tables.

"These shortages must have an effect," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Employment said: "The government is addressing this long-standing issue through 'golden hellos' and teacher training salaries. This is having a dramatic effect on applications.

"More than 20,000 people have inquired about becoming teachers through employment-based groups. In response to this we have more than doubled the number of places on the graduate teacher programme and provided extra funding to make it easier for schools to take part in the scheme."

Mr Dunford accepted that the measures the government had put in place were having an effect but said the substantial backlog of under-recruitment meant other steps needed to be taken.

The suggestion by the Local Government Association of "signing-on fees" targeted on teachers in shortage subjects wins his approval.

And he said the new performance-related pay system for teachers at the top of the basic salary scale would make "a substantial difference" in the longer term.

But there was also a need to look at the salary structure for those who were five years or so into their careers.

And there was still a general need to make teaching a more attractive job, he said.

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