Teacher crisis set to worsen

EDUCATION chiefs in Essex are bracing themselves for a deepening of the county's teacher shortage crisis ahead of new vacancy figures due out tomorrow.

EDUCATION chiefs in Essex are bracing themselves for a deepening of the county's teacher shortage crisis ahead of new vacancy figures due out tomorrow.

Latest data from County Hall reveals the number of unfilled posts at primary and secondary schools across Essex rose 14% in the space of just one term this year.

If that trend continues, tomorrow's announcement is likely to paint a grim picture of schools struggling to attract staff amid ever-growing workloads.

Last night, a senior teaching union official called for drastic changes to the national curriculum as a means to stemming classroom disaffection and morale.

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At the beginning of the summer term in April, Essex County Council was trying to fill 251 teacher posts, up from 220 at the start of the spring term in January.

On top of that it was also looking for a further 31 learning support assistants.

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The numbers are being seen as a reflection of the parlous financial state of the county's schools, which have had to contend with years of budget and cashflow problems.

However, the county council insists it is doing all it can to tackle the teacher shortages by regularly embarking on a series of national recruitment drives.

One of the problems faced by authority is its close proximity to London, where teachers are paid a weighting allowance in their salaries - which does not happen in high cost Essex.

Although most of its teachers come from the county itself, the LEA last year pumped £300,000 into packages designed to encourage new recruits to move.

Among incentives offered are relocation packages of up to £6,850, tax advantageous childcare vouchers and attractive discount schemes at local restaurants and shops.

The county has managed to recruit dozens of teachers from the north of Britain, as well as Ireland and Wales.

Some schools also run their own initiatives to tempt teachers from further abroad.

Iris Pummell, portfolio holder for education at Essex County Council, said: “Filling vacancies is still an issue in schools and one of our main priorities is helping them overcome these difficulties for the benefit of both teachers and children.”

But Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers in Essex, said there needed to be radical changes at classroom level to make the profession more attractive.

He said: “When you have a curriculum that constrains creative teaching, it's no wonder you get pupil disaffection which has such an adverse affect on teacher morale.

“The key to the problem is the retention of teachers, not just the recruitment. “Many schools, especially in the Tendring and Harlow areas have a high turnover of staff.”

Ruth Brock, executive chair of the Essex Primary School Headteachers' Association, added: “Essex is an expensive place to live.

“Add that to the increasing workloads faced by teachers in management positions and there's bound to be a problem.”

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