Headlines: April 30th, 2003

The government says new figures show it has fulfilled its manifesto commitment to recruit an extra 10,000 teachers by 2006. They indicate that the number of teachers has risen by nearly 25,000 since 1997 and that there are more qualified teachers in schools now than at any time since January 1984. But in an immediate response a teachers’ union leader has called for caution over the figures and questioned how many of the latest recruits are qualified.The statistics from the Department of Education and Skills show the number of teacher vacancies fell by a quarter in the year to January and that more than 122,000 teaching assistants are now supporting teachers in schools -twice as many as in 1997. In the same 12-month period the number of supply teachers working in schools fell by 2,600.

The government claims the figures prove that measures designed to boost recruitment and reduce workload are taking effect. The School Standards Minister, David Miliband, said workforce reform was taking place in many schools and, as the government had promised, there were more teachers and more support staff, not one at the expense of the other.

But Doug McAvoy, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers said the figures were distorted. Independent analysis had found recently that of the government’s claimed 20,000 increase in teachers since 1997 over 8,500 are in fact unqualified staff. That, he said, left a question over how many of those in last year’s increase were also unqualified.

“It appears that just under 3,000 of the 4,300 increase are either unqualified teachers or overseas teachers some of whom have qualifications which have yet to be recognised in this country. I am deeply concerned by the implication that the Government has reached the limit of its ambition for increases in teacher numbers,” he added.

He welcomed the fall in vacancies but said there were still teacher shortages and he was unhappy about the reported drop in supply teacher numbers because, as qualified teachers they did a good job in difficult circumstances.