Schools hide staff shortages, says NUT

7 Sep 00
A teaching union claims hard-pressed schools are covering up the true extent of teacher shortages.

08 September 2000

Head teachers anxious to attract pupils are keeping quiet about the desperate measures needed to fill their vacancies, according to a report commissioned by the National Union of Teachers and published on September 5.

Teacher shortages have hit the headlines in recent weeks, with reports claiming that there are 4,000 vacancies in England and Wales and that the system relies heavily on an army of staff from Australia and New Zealand.

But the NUT claims the true picture is much worse, with schools putting the quality of teaching at risk to fill posts.

Employing unqualified staff, changing the curriculum to fit the available teachers and increasing class sizes are just some of the ways that schools across England and Wales are dealing with shortages, according to the study carried out by the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Liverpool.

One head teacher who took part in the research claimed schools are faced with a 'complete lack of choice' when making appointments, saying: '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 choices do you have?'

NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy called for increased funding, saying: 'Only the government has the power to end this helter-skelter to decline. The beginning of term assessment on this government is, that after three years, it has failed to accept its responsibilities.'

Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson surveyed 573 primary schools and 350 secondary schools for the report, Coping with teachers shortages, and talked to head teachers from 107 state schools and 21 independent schools for the accompanying report, Talking heads.

The independent schools' heads did not have the same difficulties as their state counterparts. Smithers puts this down to higher salaries and better working conditions.

McAvoy called on the Local Government Association to back the report, but Graham Lane, education chair at the LGA, warned that the findings should be treated with caution.

He said: 'The information they have collected is not reliable. If you ask schools, you get a picture that is not comprehensive. Shortages are a problem, but it is nowhere near as bad as unions claim.'

Estelle Morris, school standards minister, said the government was taking 'every practical step' to overcome teacher shortages, including doubling the size of the Graduate Teacher Programme and introducing training salaries and 'golden hellos'.


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