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Science teacher shortage spreads, forcing government to relax immigration restrictions

Teaching bodies criticise labour market review as authors conclude teacher shortages are 'not an occupation-wide problem'

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Thursday 26 January 2017 14:28 GMT

A national shortage of science teachers has spread to critical level, forcing the government to relax immigration restrictions in order to fill school vacancies.

Publishing its partial review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) warned that maths and physics teachers remain in high demand, and that computer-science and science teachers should be added to the list of most needed professions from those applying to work in the UK.

Mandarin teachers were also added to the SOL, amid a government drive to promote the language within schools, but chemistry teachers were removed from the list as they were no longer deemed an acute concern.

The recommendations come as part of a comprehensive review of the labour market for teachers in nursery, primary, secondary and special needs education, as commissioned by the Home Office last year.

Releasing a statement on Thursday, the Home Office said it accepted the Committee’s recommendations wholly, and that the “necessary changes will be made to immigration rules to reflect this”.

Teaching union leaders criticised the MAC, however, for failing to recognise a “full-blown teacher recruitment crisis”, after the report concluded that the shortage was not occupation-wide.

Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary of ASCL said: “We are disappointed… [the] conclusion flies in the face of the evidence which matters most and that is the experience of schools up and down the country which are dealing with a full-blown teacher recruitment crisis.

“School leaders are reporting severe difficulties in recruiting staff in many subjects and they are deeply concerned about the impact on their pupils.

School leaders have consistently warned of a “chronic” lack of teachers across England and Scotland, and last year it was reported that schools were being forced to fill science roles with unqualified teachers as a result of the deepening crisis.

Calling for the SOL to be extended, in order to make it easier for schools to recruit from outside the European Economic Area, Mr Trobe said: “It is a shame that schools will be denied this opportunity in many subjects.

“The government must develop a comprehensive strategy, working with the teaching profession, to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.”

To help fill jobs vacancies on the SOL, employers do not have to pass the resident labour market test, do not have to meet the £35,000 minimum salary required for permanent settlement, and are given priority in the allocation of certificates of sponsorship for employees.

A National Audit Office report last year found the Government had missed its teacher recruitment targets for the past four years running, despite allocating more than £700m per year towards training.

The Department for Education has since pledged to spend more than £1.3bn to attract more teachers into the profession by 2020, offering bursaries of up to £30,000 tax free in priority subjects including maths and physics.

While the overall number of teachers has kept pace with rising pupil numbers, teacher shortages are growing, particularly in poorer areas and at secondary level, the NAO warned.

More than half (54 per cent) of head teachers in schools with large proportions of disadvantaged pupils said attracting and keeping good teachers was “a major problem”, compared with a third of those in other schools, it was reported.

In a statement on Thursday the Home Office said: “We recognise there may be a need to recruit overseas where we continue to have genuine skill shortages or require highly specialist experts. We adjust the Shortage Occupation List from time to time and in line with the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations to ensure that, where necessary, labour can be sourced from outside the European Economic Area.”

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