Schools to face teacher shortage

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Schools will face massive teacher shortages before the end of the decade, it was revealed last night. The profession needs an injection of new blood to meet a rise in pupil numbers but the number of applicants is falling dramatically.

An extra pounds 1.6m is to be put into recruitment campaigns in the next year, but the initiative is unlikely to prevent a major shortfall. Ministers have promised to increase the number of teacher trainees from 20,000 to 30,000 per year in the next four years. However, the number applying to become secondary teachers has dropped by 12 per cent since this time last year and it seems that the profession is waning in popularity.

Last night experts in the field said young people were being put off applying by their own teachers, who were telling them to avoid teaching at all costs.

The problems of poor wages and low morale which have dogged the profession for years were now being compounded by a spate of redundancies and early retirements, they said. Many schools have got rid of older, more expensive staff because of cuts. In the past new entrants had often cited job security as an advantage of going into teaching, but now they were unsure even about this.

Another possible explanation is that Britain is coming out of recession and graduates had more chance of finding a job in another, more lucrative field.

At the beginning of this month, just 15,000 people had applied for places on post-graduate courses for secondary school teachers, compared with 17,000 at the same time last year.

In shortage subjects such as maths and sciences, the situation was much worse. In physics the number had dropped by 37 per cent from 470 to 300 and in maths it had dropped by 28 per cent to 1,060.

Some areas were more healthy, with applicants for physical education teaching rising by 13 per cent to almost 1,000, and the total applications for primary school teaching up 3 per cent to 12,300.

Anthea Millett, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, which oversees recruitment initiatives, said there might be a late surge in applications during the summer term, but admitted that the real problems would come at the end of the decade.

"We recognise that we will have a shortfall in subjects which are difficult to recruit to, but the real issue is what new strategies we put in place to secure a better situation at the time when we will have difficulties," she said.

However, teacher trainers said last night that the profession's image had hit rock bottom and the Government was doing little to put the situation right. Ted Wragg, professor of education at the University of Exeter, said he had been predicting a crisis in teacher recruitment for three years but ministers had taken little notice.

Almost all the students who came for interview at Exeter had been put off teaching by its poor image and many had been advised by experienced teachers to do something else instead, he said. One young woman had met her old head teacher in the street and had told her of her intention to become a teacher. The head had replied that she must be mad and that if she had her time again she would not go into teaching.

"In the past people thought teaching might pay lower salaries, but at least it was a secure and fulfilling job. Now people feel it is still badly paid and a number of teachers have been fired," he said.

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, said figures illustrated the Government's failure to plan for the needs of schools. "It is vital that we do all we can to attract good graduates into the profession so that these shortages can be tackled before they hit hard," he said.