Rise in number of teachers disguises crisis, say unions

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Government claimed yesterday that it had begun to resolve the teacher shortage crisis after figures showed the biggest increase in staff numbers for 20 years.

The Government claimed yesterday that it had begun to resolve the teacher shortage crisis after figures showed the biggest increase in staff numbers for 20 years.

Teachers dismissed the statistics, arguing they "disguised the extent of the crisis" in schools. The improvement was due to "sticking-plaster solutions" that had seen headteachers using unqualified and overseas staff to plug vacancies, union leaders said.

The number of teacher vacancies fell slightly over the 12 months, provisional statistics published by the Department for Education and Skills showed. But schools are still short of nearly 4,500 teachers, although there are now 500 fewer vacancies than in January last year. The number of teachers in English schools increased by 9,400 to 419,600, the highest annual increase for 20 years.

Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, said the figures showed the Government had made good progress in the drive to tackle teacher shortages. Initiatives such as £6,000 training bursaries and £4,000 "golden hellos" offered to graduates in shortage subjects were beginning to have an impact, she said.

A sharp rise in the number of unqualified teachers accounted for much of the increase in staff numbers, the figures showed. There were 8,000 unqualified "instructors" working in state schools in the year to January, up from 4,300 in 2001. The number of trainees taking classes jumped from 1,300 to 3,300, and the number of classroom assistants rose from 93,500 to 103,600.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the statistics "disguised the extent of the crisis" in schools. He added: "The situation is better largely because of the Herculean efforts of headteachers to fill vacancies, but many of these are only on a temporary basis. Heads are having to appoint less than satisfactory candidates in order to put a body in front of a class and keep the school open."

The vacancy rate, as a proportion of teachers in post, fell from 1.4 per cent to 1.2 per cent in the year to January 2002, but has still not compensated for the increase, which saw teaching vacancies almost double 12 months earlier. But the drop was almost totally due to improvements in London and the South-east – the areas most severely affected by recent teacher shortages. Most of the rest of the country saw a rise in the number of vacancies.

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, welcomed the fall in vacancies but warned: "The Government's strategies to date have merely been inappropriate sticking-plaster solutions to a deep wound in the education service."

* Nine out of ten teachers in England and Wales are opposed to government plans to allow classroom assistants to supervise classes. A survey of nearly 4,000 staff for the National Union of Teachers found that while four out of five welcomed the support of assistants, 90 per cent were opposed to allowing them to cover for absent teachers.

Comments