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Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Blunkett rejects teacher 'crisis'
Classroom
Teacher recruitment has been a long-running problem
The shortage of teachers is not getting any worse - but it is also not getting much better, the Education Secretary David Blunkett has revealed.

Rejecting claims from teachers' unions that staff shortages in England were becoming more acute, Mr Blunkett said that official statistics showed vacancies were running at a similar level to last year.

This is despite reports of a school in Berkshire being forced to adopt a four-day week because of a lack of teachers.

Teacher shortage
1,000 vacancies in secondary schools
1,250 vacancies in January 2000
44% vacancies in London
26% vacancies in south east England
Shortage subjects maths, science, design and technology

Speaking at the launch of the General Teaching Council for England, which will be expected to encourage recruitment into teaching, Mr Blunkett said that "there was no room for complacency" over the number of vacancies.

But he argued that a package of incentives and an improved pay scale would begin to turn the tide of a problem that he acknowledged as a "real challenge".

Among those schools facing a particular challenge at present is Beechwood School in Slough, where over a quarter of posts remain unfilled - after little response to job advertisements.

David Blunkett
David Blunkett concedes that recruitment is proving a "real challenge"

This has forced the head teacher, Ron Austin, to send pupils home with work for one day a week - but he hopes to soon get back to five days a week.

An unexpected consequence of the publicity over his four day week has been a sudden upturn in applications to work in his school.

Mr Austin said that his school's problems reflected a national problem, but there were also specific problems that made recruitment more difficult, such as its size and its location.

Smaller schools have greater problems recruiting staff - and Beechwood School has a full complement of only 38 staff.

It is situated in the Thames Valley where house prices are high, but is just outside the area in which teachers receive extra London allowances, which encourages local teachers to find jobs within the London weighting boundary.

Despite this, Mr Austin says he is confident of getting the school back to a full timetable later this term.

Regional differences

Figures published by the Department for Education on Thursday claim that there are currently 1,000 vacancies in secondary schools in England - compared with 1,250 in January.

But the survey also showed that shortages were concentrated in specific regions and subjects - with 70% of the vacancies in London and the south east.

The subjects with the greatest recruitment problems, according to the Department for Education's figures, are science, maths and design and technology.

The Conservative's education spokeswoman, Theresa May, said that the figures showed "that the government measures have done nothing to reduce the teacher recruitment crisis".

"If Labour is genuinely serious about wanting to recruit more teachers they need to slash through the bureaucracy and set schools free allowing teachers to get on with the job of teaching," she said.

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See also:

05 Sep 00 | Education
Staff shortages mar new term
04 Sep 00 | Education
Signing-on fees for teachers?
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