Thousands of teachers are out of work and seeking jobs despite the severe recruitment crisis in schools, according to government figures obtained by The Independent.
As many as 10,000 teaching staff are unemployed, the latest labour force statistics show, despite reports of severe recruitment problems around the country. Local authority leaders have warned that many middle-aged recruits failed to get jobs in schools after switching to teaching in a change of career and called for a full inquiry into the problem.
The latest national Labour Force Survey, by the Government's Office for National Statistics earlier this year, shows that 10,000 people who last worked as teachers in schools, colleges and universities were out of work.
The most recent detailed jobless figures also show substantial unemployment among teachers. The statistics, for September last year, show 2,607 people were looking to teach in primary and nursery schools, while 3,367 were seeking jobs in secondary schools.
By contrast, a survey of local authorities by The Independent found there were about 4,600 vacancies in schools at the start of this term.
Graham Lane, chairman of the local authority employers' group, said he would commission research into the scale of ageism in schools. He said: "We have evidence that particularly mature people who are attracted to switch jobs are not getting employed by schools. Heads seem to be reluctant to take them on. It's not just the fact that they may be more expensive to recruit, but they are confident people and they make good teachers."
Local authority leaders raised the problem with the Department for Education and Skills last week. Mature entrants to teaching have proved more expensive to employ than recent graduates, but a spokeswoman for the department said ministers would allow local authorities to meet the extra cost.
The Government has been trying to persuade people to switch careers in a drive to increase recruitment to teaching.
Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said he had raised the case of two constituents last week who could not find work in schools. He said: "The fact that you might have as many as 10,000 people who are technically able to go into a school, perhaps after some training, while we have this huge shortage just demonstrates the inability of the Government to see where they would get an additional supply of teachers.
"It's incompetence and complacency and a lack of commitment to solving a critical issue facing schools. I have been calling on the Government to set up a general database of qualified teachers so they can track them and see how to get more to return to the classroom."
Professor Alan Smithers, director of Liverpool University's Centre for Education and Employment Research, said older teachers tended to be less able to move to find work than younger colleagues.
He said: "They might be less attractive to schools if their degrees are out of date. Schools are very concerned about the rate at which their staff are ageing. Schools also have pecking orders, but if you appoint a scientist or a business person they can alter the relationships."
* The first school to threaten to put pupils on a four-day week because of teacher shortages this term will run a full timetable when it opens today – despite its failure to recruit any extra permanent staff.
Oriel High School in Norfolk has been unable to fill any of its six vacancies with permanent staff, revealing the extent of the teacher shortage crisis.
The school will operate a full timetable after persuading a retired teacher to return and being "lent" five staff from nearby schools. It has also hired staff from South Africa and Canada on short-term contracts and will plug remaining gaps using supply teachers.
The school has struggled to attract enough staff for some time and the acting headteacher, Michael Dopson, warned parents in July to expect a four-day week. He insisted that he would not hire any teachers he felt were not up to the job.
"The recruitment effort will continue but it is very difficult to attract suitable applicants," Mr Dopson said. "It has been a very difficult time for the school. The staff turnover since last year has been 50 per cent and I am the third headteacher it has had in eight months."