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Every autumn, the newspapers announce a new back-to-school teacher crisis. Until last year, the problem was teacher...
Every autumn, the newspapers announce a new back-to-school teacher crisis. Until last year, the problem was teacher shortages, with schools finding

it impossible to recruit enough staff to cover lessons.

This year, both The TES and The Guardian reported a new twist.

The schools' funding crisis has apparently meant hundreds of teaching posts have been lost, and hundreds more staff have been made redundant.

The Department for Education & Skills has acknowledged that funding problems caused by the government's efforts to redistribute spending from the south-east to other areas has led to around 250 teaching job losses, but it insists other job losses reflect falling school rolls.

Ironically, the latest problems emerged just as the government announced a further surge in trainee teachers, with an extra 3,000 recruits this year. And the Teacher Training Agency has just launched a controversial new recruitment campaign to encourage people in non-teaching jobs to 'use their heads' and opt for a career in education.

It might seem that, just as one problem has been solved, another emerges. But these surveys need to be taken with a pinch of salt, since they rely on some self-selection and incomplete returns. Previous shortage claims proved exaggerated when the annual January schools census was published.

However, the government faces a bigger headache implementing its workload agreement with most of the teaching unions, whereby some 20 administrative tasks, ranging from data collection to collecting dinner money,

are taken away from teachers to allow them to focus on teaching and lesson preparation.

But because of the phasing in of the new local government funding regime, many schools could find their budgets this year may be barely enough to avoid cuts, let alone employ new staff.

And the National Association of Schoolmasters & Union of Women Teachers - the second biggest teaching union and an agreement signatory - has already clashed with the head teachers' associatio ns over the speed of implementation.

Education secretary Charles Clarke hopes to avoid a repeat of this year's funding crisis by guaranteeing that every school will receive minimum extra funding for each pupil in 2003-04.

And, after years of above-inflation increases, helped by performance related pay and shorter pay scales, teachers are likely to face a tight pay settlement this year as the government tries to avoid inflating school bills.

With many teaching assistants likely to receive above-inflation pay rises

to cover their new responsibilities, some schools may find it difficult to retain their existing assistants, let alone recruit any more.

With the anti-agreement National Union of Teachers already threatening industrial action over plans to allow teaching assistants to take some classes, ministers could find themselves on a collision course with the teaching unions over the issue.

With a moderate pay settlement, and no repeat of this year's national insurance and pension contribution increases, ministers hope that they have done enough to avoid another funding crisis. Whether they can also prevent classroom disruption is another question.

Conor Ryan

Education consultant

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