Private boss asked: get us more teachers

The Prime Minister has asked Alec Reed, the head of Britain's biggest employment agency, to help solve the looming teacher supply crisis. Judith Judd, Education Editor, says the chairman of Reed Executive, a donor to Labour party funds, is undertaking a personal mission.
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The Independent Online
Tony Blair has invited Mr Reed to advise him, despite the Teacher Training Agency's announcement last month of a five-year pounds 10m campaign to boost teacher recruitment, including cinema advertising in which celebrities name their favourite teachers.

But ministers believe that teacher shortages may become an acute problem long before the campaign is complete, particularly in London and the South- east. Mr Blair has asked Mr Reed to report to him by Christmas.

Last week, the Commons Select Committee on Education warned of an 11 per cent drop in the number of undergraduates studying teaching. In some shortage subjects such as maths, a third of training places have been left unfilled this year.

The committee warned that the government drive to raise standards in schools, central to Mr Blair's pledge that "education, education, education" will be his priority, will be endangered unless the recruitment issue is tackled.

Mr Reed is talking to teacher unions, local authorities and headteachers about how to solve the problem. So far, he has discussed ideas for giving teaching a better career structure, better training and better morale. Teachers have complained to him that constant changes by the Government, excessive bureaucracy and unwarranted criticism of the profession will all have to stop if more people are to be attracted into the job.

Proposals to increase teachers' working hours in return for more pay, are understood to have been canvassed by Mr Reed as part of his investigation.

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "It is imaginative to involve someone with a lot of experience of the sorts of packages that will be necessary to recruit the right people. The days are past when the public sector can learn nothing from the private sector."

But he criticised the idea that teachers might work longer hours for more pay. "There is a great deal of evidence that teacher workload is a problem and we are not just talking about formal hours during school opening." A more realistic agenda, he suggested, was that put forward by the Department for Education to the School Teachers' Review Body, under which teachers who volunteered to help with the new homework clubs and summer literacy schemes being introduced by the Government might be paid more.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "We welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has sent out someone to listen to teachers. If the Government wants teachers to promote the profession, he must address the problems of continual change, excessive workload and uniformed criticism." The union would oppose an increase in hours for more pay, he said.

The Department for Education said that there were no proposals at present to consider the idea of longer statutory hours for teachers for more pay.