Teachers poached to cover staff shortages

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The Independent Online

Headteachers are poaching each other's staff as they try desperately to cover up teacher shortages, says a report published yesterday.

Headteachers are poaching each other's staff as they try desperately to cover up teacher shortages, says a report published yesterday.

They are interviewing teachers on weekends to steal a march on other heads, sending taxis to collect interviewees from neighbouring schools to fill vacancies at their own and head-hunting teacher training students.

One head hired a teacher after a 20-minute interview by telephone to Australia. Another rushed to a London hotel the minute an application was received to hire a room to interview the applicant.

The result, warns the report from Liverpool University's Centre for Education and Employment Research, is that "some headteachers are settling for what they can get, often drastically lowering their expectations".

As one head said: "When push comes to shove you've got to put a body in front of the class. So long as you know they are not going to kill a child or maim them - what choice do you have?"

The report argues that the Government's insistence that schools are almost fully staffed masks the fact that heads are resorting to desperate strategies to fill posts. Professor Alan Smithers, who carried out the research with Dr Pamela Robinson, said: "They have to have someone in a classroom irrespective of how closely their skills match the requirements of their position."

As a result, some PE staff are teaching maths, maths teachers are taking science and geography teachers business studies. Class sizes are being increased and some subjects are being cut out of the curriculum.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, which commissioned the report, said: "Schools are guilty of a great cover-up. Because they are in a competitive market they have to present themselves as being as good as the school next door. But it is unwise of the Government to conceal the real depth of the recruitment problem."

The report says that the worst affected schools are in the poorest areas and the least affected are leading independent schools which pay a starting salary of around £22,000, at least £5,000 above the state sector.

Even independent schoolshave to wait before making some appointments but that is because they often insist on higher standards than the struggling state schools.

Professor Smithers suggests that recruitment into state schools would improve if classes were smaller, teachers had more non-contact time and facilities were improved. He points out that independent schools on average receive at least twice as much money per pupil as state schools.

Other parts of the country as well as London and the South-east are affected, according to a survey carried out by the researchers. In the East Midlands and the North-west, more than half the primary posts were difficult to fill and in the South-west and the West Midlands, more than half of secondary posts. Remote counties such as Cornwall struggle to find teachers, as well as the inner cities.

Government sources said that the number of applications in shortage subjects was up and pointed out that the Government was offering bursaries worth £6,000 for all subjects and £4,000 "golden hellos" in shortage subjects.