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Will birth rates boost demand for teachers?

Many schools are already finding their resources and budgets under pressure, and this is set to intensify as the number of children aged between five and 11 in the UK increases significantly, if recent reports are to be believed.

According to official projections, between now and 2018, the equivalent of an additional 2,260 new primaries will be needed to cope with the increase in school age children. Around 543,000 more children are expected to reach primary school age in the period, due to both an increase in birth rates and immigration in some areas.  An increase of this size would likely place significant pressure on education resources, even with more than £15 billion pledged by the government for updating schools in the coming years.

The publication on the figures follows on from the revelation earlier in the year that major cities such as London, Bristol, Coventry, Leicester, Luton and Plymouth could be facing a major squeeze on school places in the coming years. Worst hit are likely to be Slough, Wokingham, Lewisham, and Barking and Dagenham, which are predicted to see the size of its school age population increase by more than a fifth.  Furthermore, if migration takes place at levels faster than predicted, the pressure could be even greater.

Commenting on the release of the latest figures, School Minister Lord Hill said: "It's clear that rising pupil numbers are a major issue facing the schools system. "Our independent capital review will report shortly on how we can make best use of available capital funds to target one of our key priorities of meeting the rising demand for school places. "We will continue to work very closely with local authorities, particularly in London, to ensure that we meet rising demand for school places effectively over coming years."

The creation of the 2,260 extra primary schools, which some believe will be needed, would of course create a number of opportunities for teachers – providing this is one of the steps the government takes to deal with the issue. However, if the answer even in the short term is seen to be an increase in class sizes, then teaching professionals could see their work burden increase significantly.

Figures disclosed in March 2010, before the general election which saw the coalition government enter office, suggest some primary school children in the UK are sharing the classroom with up to 40 other pupils.

Large class sizes were seen as a particular issue in Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent, Hertfordshire and Hull, and Education Secretary Michael Gove, then the shadow secretary, commenting at the time said: "Parents want schools built on a human scale where heads know the names of their children," the Daily Telegraph reported.

Research conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also found class sizes in UK schools are larger than those of their foreign counterparts.  According to the research, on average there are 26 students in a class, which is higher than any other country in Europe and the US.

Although the OECD did not criticise the size of the classes. Andreas Schleicher from the organisation said: "The larger class sizes allows the UK to afford better teacher pay and longer student learning hours, so basically it’s quite an effective spending choice.

Primary school is of course just one step in the education process and in the longer term this increased number of pupils will have to be accommodated in secondary schools, although leading up until 2018 the number of students in secondary education is expected to fall by just over 50,000.

As the Times Education Supplement explained, the recruitment market for those looking to go into teaching jobs is likely to fluctuate, as well as be extremely competitive over the coming years, as changes in the pupil population to some extent dictate vacancies.

John Howson, Director of Recruitment analysts Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education, told the news provider, inner city schools are seeing more applications as posts become scarce, and although this will see greater opportunities presented in the future, for now it means increasing competition.

"Schools are benefiting from this market in the way that teachers did a decade ago from a market that was very firmly in their favour. They could choose the school they wanted and name their price. Now the boot is on the other foot," Professor Howson said.

In conclusion, rising birth rates could potentially present more positions for school teachers, however whether these opportunities will remain in the long term or how appealing they are to education professionals remains to be seen.