Minister accused of complacency on teacher numbers

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The Independent Online
A Government minister was accused of complacency after claiming that state schools would have all the teachers they need by the start of next term.</p>The Minister for School Standards, Stephen Timms, told the Professional Association of Teachers' annual conference in Cardiff yesterday that reports of staff shortages reaching crisis levels in September had been "unduly alarmist". The Government had evidence that no school would be placing pupils on a four-day week next term, he told the 30,000-member body.</p>He said: "There are certainly pressures but I do think some of the forecasts that have been expressed have been unduly alarmist. We have contacted local education authorities in eight of the nine regions in England and none of them expects pupils to be on reduced hours this September."</p>However, a survey by the Secondary Heads' Association is expected to claim there will be 4,000 vacancies in secondary schools alone next term. A survey by ITN last week predicted that there would be 8,000 vacancies in primary and secondary schools.</p>John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said it was "crazy" to suggest that schools would have all the teachers they needed by September. Professor John Howson of Oxford Brookes University, and an expert in recruitment, said: "He is burying his head in the sand. If he is prepared to say that we will have all the teachers we will need in September and he is wrong, then he should resign in September."</p>Jean Gemmell, general secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers, said: "I hope his optimism is well founded but I think it is probably not."</p>Surrey County Council has already warned parents that some of its schools could face a shorter working week for pupils from September because of staffing shortages. Officials have described the situation as "the worst ever witnessed". Hampshire County Council has also written to parents asking if they would like to train to become teachers because of shortages. Even the Government's own figures suggest vacancies earlier this year had doubled during the previous 12 months to 4,690.</p>Theresa May, the Conservatives' education spokeswoman, accused Mr Timms of being complacent, adding: "He is a new minister and I hope in the next few weeks he is going to learn about what is going on in schools rather than come out with these glib statements."</p>However, Mr Timms insisted: "I am cautiously optimistic about the prospects for September but I emphasise we're taking nothing for granted." </p>