Teacher shortage spirals to 4,600

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The Independent Online

Thousands of teaching posts remain unfilled less than a month before the start of the new school year, a survey by The Independent has found.

The study of all 168 local education authorities in England and Wales shows that, despite ministerial assurances, there are still 4,600 vacancies in state schools. The findings cast serious doubt over the prediction last week by Stephen Timms, the School Standards minister, that all pupils would have the teachers they need by the start of September.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, warned that headteachers would find it impossible to find sufficient supply staff to fill all the vacancies. He said it had been "the worst year on record" for trying to fill empty posts.

Mr Timms admitted yesterday that schools "will have problems in recruiting the teachers they need". He said: "We have never denied that vacancies have risen. Given the extra investment now in the system, it's natural that schools expand the number of posts on offer." He added that it was still "a very busy time for teacher recruitment", with schools continuing to fill vacancies for the new term.

Many of the worst affected councils are in the home counties. Surrey, which has already warned that some schools may have to introduce part-time education, had the highest vacancy rate, with 330 posts unfilled. But the survey shows that high vacancy rates have spread to all parts of the country, with authorities as far apart as Plymouth and Sunderland still having large numbers of posts to fill.

Paul Gray, Surrey's director of education, said that although he welcomed Mr Timms' assurances, he was worried that they were "a little premature".

Norfolk County Council also challenged Mr Timms' assertion that – based on local authority returns to the Government – no schools had given an indication they would be introducing part-time schooling or a four-day week. One, Oriel High School in Great Yarmouth, has already told the parents of its 600 pupils that all but those studying for GCSEs will have to work one day a week at home if six teaching vacancies remain unfilled.

The Independent's research does, however, hold some comfort for the Government, revealing that inner-city areas – particularly in London – have made great strides in filling vacancies. In the south London borough of Southwark, a trawl abroad for overseas teachers which has taken in Russia, Bulgaria and the Caribbean, as well as the long-established recruitment visits to Australia, has cut the number of vacancies to fewer than 30.

Hertfordshire, which still had 261 vacancies at the latest count, has also set up a video conferencing link with Australia so that headteachers can interview overseas applicants on screen.

Hampshire, which sent letters to parents asking if they wanted to become teachers to reduce vacancies, said it had received about 200 responses – cutting its vacancy figure to 56.

The figures unearthed by the survey are also lower than the direst predictions based on school surveys last month, when ITN forecast 8,000 vacancies, and a joint survey by the Secondary Heads Associationn and the Times Educational Supplement – to be published next month – predicted 4,000 vacancies in secondary schools alone.

Mr Timms said there were now 12,000 more teachers employed in schools than in 1998 as a result of extra government funding for education.