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Points of Order

4.1 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your assistance? As I understand our Standing Orders, if an hon. Member wishes to use them to request an emergency debate, he should have done so by now. In view of today's grave events, could you intimate whether you would be minded to grant an emergency debate if a leading Opposition spokesman were to make a request for such a debate? Important though teacher shortages are, this issue is even more important. We have heard nothing yet about the Opposition's views. The country needs to know. Should an Opposition Member rise to his feet now and request a debate, could you please intimate whether, in view of the importance of the subject, you would be minded to grant that request?

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman knows that requests for emergency debates under Standing Order No. 20 must be received before noon in my office.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think you will confirm that if the Minister who is responsible for these matters and who is sitting in his place wanted to make a statement on the strike, he is capable of making it. We do not need Conservative Members--the moonlighters, the representatives of the goose- stepping tendency--to tell railway men and women how much money they should be getting. If he has anything to say, the man who went to be educated beyond his intelligence should go to the Dispatch Box and tell us.

Mr. Speaker : I confirm to the House--

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Ewing : It is a different point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I have already heard the hon. Member on one point of order today.

Mr. Ewing : This is very important.

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is a day on which the hon. Gentleman's own side has chosen the subject for debate. No fewer than 18 hon. Members wish to participate in it.

Mr. Ewing : As I say, Mr. Speaker, it is a very important point of order.

Mr. Speaker : I shall hear the hon. Member if he insists, but I hope that it is a genuine point of order.

Mr. Ewing : I am grateful to you for listening to me, Mr. Speaker, because I insist. [ Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] I should explain that when I raised my original point of order I did so for your benefit. As soon as one Government Whip disappeared from your right hand, he was replaced by another Government Whip, the Scottish Whip. My concern is that Government Whips are now rehearsing for the television cameras. Every time that you are in focus, one of the Government Whips will be standing at your right hand nodding approval. If it continues, by the time the television cameras are here in November, one of the Government Whips will be sitting on your knee. That is the last thing that I should like to see. I hope that you will deal with the problem.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not see why you should apologise because a Government Whip supports the Government. It is quite obvious that the Opposition Whips, who can stand behind your Chair, do not support those on the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Speaker : We had better get on.

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Opposition Day

[17th Allotted Day]

Teacher Shortages

Mr. Speaker : No fewer than 18 hon. Members wish to participate in this debate, so I appeal for short speeches. Before I call the Opposition Front Bench spokesman to move the motion, I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.5 pm

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn) : I beg to move,

That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government for its education policies which have produced the worst teacher shortage crisis since the early seventies ; and calls upon the Secretary of State to introduce an emergency programme of measures designed to halt the drain of teachers by improving their morale and rewarding them better, in order to guarantee that no child is without permanent properly qualified teaching this September.

A popular, well-supported London secondary school loses eight heads of department this week. Three of those people--among the best paid in teaching--are taking jobs outside education, because the money and the conditions are better. One is to run a market stall with her husband.

At a south London primary school, the head and all the teaching staff but one have resigned. Only a deputy head has been recruited. In Tower Hamlets, 500 Bangladeshi children have no school. Barking and Dagenham are considering the closure of 16 nursery schools to release teachers for children of primary age who otherwise would be sent home. Islington has already warned that there may be part-time teaching in September. ILEA is short of 638 primary teachers and 100 nursery teachers.

This afternoon, in the House, the Prime Minister boasted that a bigger proportion of teachers to pupils exists today than hitherto. In many schools, the proportion of teachers to pupils is none, and there may be no teachers in those schools in September.

Nor are the problems remotely confined to Labour London, as Ministers no doubt would wish. According to a survey by The Times Educational Supplement last week, Conservative-controlled Essex has 260 primary and 330 secondary vacancies--an increase of 150 in the past year. In the Prime Minister's Barnet, the authority has had to launch a major recruitment campaign in Australia and Ireland advertising 25 vacancies in primary schools and 56 in secondary schools. Hampshire, Kent, Bromley, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset and many other local authorities all report problems worse than last year.

Labour's own survey of 91 of the 104 local education authorities in England and Wales was among the most comprehensive yet. It showed that two thirds of local authorities faced serious concern about shortages--a figure compounded by the Daily Telegraph Gallup poll on 29 May, which reported that one third of teachers were trying to leave and the percentage among the best qualified teachers with the greatest experience--those with 20 years' experience or more--is 40 per cent.

The evidence of a more major teaching crisis than at any time since the early 1970s when the Prime Minister was Secretary of State for Education is overwhelming, and is

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undeniable to all except those who are responsible for the crisis--Ministers. Their response is simply to deny what everyone knows to exist.

The Secretary of State's deputy, the Minister of State, this morning accused me of scaremongering, and described teacher shortages as a myth. She told an incredulous audience at the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers :

"We really need to nail this myth that teaching has difficulty in securing recruits and in retaining them when it does secure them." In so far as the Minister thinks that there may be the odd local difficulty, or the odd blip, the fault lies with the local authorities. On 4 July she told the House of Commons :

"It is wrong to say that the responsibility for the planning and recruitment of teacher numbers lies with the Government ; the local education authorities are the managers of the education service".--[ Official Report, 4 July 1989 ; Vol. 156, c. 145.]

She was ignoring her responsibility for the funding of the service and for the pay and morale of teachers.

The message from the Secretary of State may be more oleaginous, but it is essentially the same. In April, he told the Select Committee on Education :

"I am determined that the action we shall take will ensure that we have the teachers that we need, and I am confident that it will." But the confidence of Ministers is pure bluff.

Still less than they care do they know. Behind their claims is a black hole of ignorance and self-delusion. There is one basic piece of information needed to make a judgment on whether schools may be short of teachers in September and that is the number of teachers who have handed in their resignations to run from that date. Resignations to run from September have to be in by 31 May. Three weeks after that deadline, I asked the Secretary of State a simple question : how many teachers had submitted their resignation by 31 May? The answer was extraordinary. The Secretary of State said :

"The information is not available The latest data are for the year ending March 1987."--[ Official Report, 29 June 1989 ; Vol. 155, c. 536.]

He then gave me the figures.

There are 2,565 staff in the Secretary of State's Department. There are 39 people in his press office. There are just 104 local education authorities. I suggested to the Secretary of State that he put just a few of those staff to the telephone. The Secretary of State obviously thinks that teacher shortages in other people's schools are a laughing matter. No wonder he wants to keep himself in ignorance.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it right for the hon. Gentleman to give us the stuff we are hearing this afternoon--[ Hon. Members :-- "Yes."]--when we have heard it all on the radio this morning? He did not have the courtesy to come to the House in the first place, but delivered his speech first on radio. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The whole House knows that I am not responsible for what is said in the Chamber, provided that it is in order.

Mr. Straw rose --

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : Does the hon. Gentleman not regret the fact that, since Labour came to office in Lancashire, the number of administrative

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staff in the education department at county hall has gone steadily up, whereas the number of teachers at the chalk face has gone steadily down?

Mr. Straw : Yes, I regret that. I regret that there have been so many impositions by central Government and so many circulars that Lancashire county council has had to increase the number of administrative staff. I also regret the fact that the Secretary of State has cut the capital building programme for Lancashire county council and that its rate support grant has been cut, so that the council has had no alternative but to cut the number of teachers. The bluff and apparent ignorance of Ministers is now compounded by their surreptitious actions. They are afraid to admit to a crisis today, but they are desperate to avoid a worse one in September. Thus, the newspapers have been fed regularly with unattributable stories of ministerial action. On 7 July, The Times Educational Supplement wrote :

"Education Ministers have spent months seeking help from modern language experts to help tackle a growing teacher shortage which they publicly deny exists."

On 3 July, The Independent reported :

"Baker may recruit teachers in Hong Kong."

Scarcely a day passes without a report of another local authority having to send scavengers across Europe to Holland, Denmark or West Germany, on a near-fruitless hunt to entice their teachers to the United Kingdom to teach in an education service with the worst conditions and the worst pay in Europe. It will not be West Germany's best who come here, but West Germany's rejects.

Ministers have only themselves to blame for the crisis. They have been warned by local authorities, teachers' unions, parents and the Opposition, not least in the debate on teacher shortages on 2 May. What makes Ministers all the more culpable is that this crisis should never have happened. There is no absolute shortage of teachers in the United Kingdom. There are teachers everywhere except in our schools. For every teacher teaching, there is another, properly qualified, who is doing something else.

Why is there such famine among plenty, so great as to threaten the education of many children in September? Why do one in three new teachers fail to go into teaching the next year? Why do one in four of those who go into teaching leave within five years? The answer is simple : it is to do with morale and money. Without the high dedication of the teaching profession, the education system would have collapsed months ago, but Ministers trade on that dedication and disingenuously confuse it with morale. The Secretary of State told the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts :

"I think, by definition, that someone who is dedicated has a high morale".

The right hon. Gentleman knows that they are quite separate considerations, because his interim advisory committee and his inspectors have told him so. His specially appointed committee said :

"We continue to be impressed by teachers' commitment and high professional standards ; but morale appears to have been as low as we judged it last year".

In his report, the senior chief inspector of education has said that it is

"of great importance that teachers are not used as convenient scapegoats for all society's problems."

Too many teachers feel that their profession and its work are misjudged and seriously undervalued. No one

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has more sedulously fostered that misjudgment of teachers, that undervaluing of teachers, than Ministers. The early speeches in 1986 by the Secretary of State were full of sly attacks on the profession, such as his insinuation in August 1986 that teachers were contributing to a "yob society". A report in Today in August 1986 said :

"Education Secretary Kenneth Baker has attacked the poor quality of teaching in state schools In some schools nearly one in three classes are taken by teachers who are not trained in the subject, he says."

That proportion has got worse since then, not better, as the latest secondary schools staffing survey shows. It has got worse not least because of the cheap and easy denigration of the teaching profession--so easily rolled off the tongue to get a cheap cheer before any Conservative party audience.

Morale has been damaged, too, by the manner in which the needs of the maintained sector have been mocked by the meretricious policies of the Secretary of State. Private school fees, of up to £5,000 per child, are paid by the state under the assisted places scheme, whereas the Inner London education authority, like other local authorities, is rate-capped when it spends less than half that sum on its pupils.

The Department of Education and Science estimates that there is a £3 billion backlog of repairs in maintained schools. Her Majesty's inspectorate says that one quarter of children are educated in buildings whose condition is so bad that it affects their schooling, yet the cash on capital repairs in many counties has been cut. More public money--£10 million--has been devoted to a single city technology college in Nottingham than to the capital repairs and improvements in all the 1,175 maintained schools in Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Bedfordshire put together.

There is a school down the road from my constituency, Crawshawbooth in the Rossendale valley, where one class has 45 children in it and another has 50. The Secretary of State knows about this, because I wrote to him after I visited that school in April. Its needs and the needs of hundreds of other such schools are ignored, while the budgets for assisted places and for CTCs are increased handsomely. In some areas, the Secretary of State has cynically and deliberately refused to agree to urgent repairs unless the school concerned becomes a city technology college.

That is the truth of what has happened to the Bacon's school in Southwark, where the Secretary of State and the CTC trust have effectively blackmailed the governors and the diocesan board into making the school a city technology college with the offer of £10 million of taxpayers' cash if it becomes a CTC, whereas the Secretary of State refused to agree to £2 million if it remained a maintained school.

The Secretary of State may tell us, as he usually does, how well endowed his schools now are. Perhaps he will explain why so many schools now have to raise funds, not for extras but for essentials.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : Before my hon. Friend moves on from the subject of CTCs, will he reflect on one of the visits that he made earlier in the year to the Sylvan high school in Croydon--in your constituency, Mr. Speaker--which has been wrecked by the local authority's proposals for a CTC? Teachers are leaving in droves, 97 per cent. of the parents have voted against and the Secretary of State still will not make a

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decision before the end of the school term. The parents will not know about the future of the school for the whole of the school holiday. What they do know is that there will not be the teachers to teach the children come September.

Mr. Straw : I confirm what my hon. Friend has said. In pursuit of a shoddy partisan policy, the Secretary of State has wilfully presided over the disintegration of what was a good school, backed by its parents.

The Secretary of State will tell us, as the Prime Minister tried to, that everything is lovely and that schools have resources like they never had before, but these days schools have to raise funds not for extras, but for essentials.

The headmistress of Balfour infant schools, Patters lane, Rochester in Kent, wrote recently to parents to seek support for an activities day. We read from her letter that the funds raised were not for extras. The money raised is to be used

"to purchase some large items of school equipment which we need to help us deliver the English and Science National Curriculum to the children."

Flag days, sponsored activities, commercial advertising inside schools in Kent and charges for school lockers have had to fill the gaps--the gaping holes--left by the Government's neglect of the education service.

Let me warn the Secretary of State, if he needs warning, that the Education Reform Act 1988 contains 450 new powers of central state control, but powers mean duties on the Secretary of State and on the Government. The Government and the Law Officers had better beware that if there is an inadequate teaching force to deliver the national curriculum, Ministers, not local authorities, will face court action by parents for a breach of their ministerial duties and responsibilities to the children of this land.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : What is the hon. Gentleman suggesting?

Mr. Straw : The hon. Gentleman might like to put that question to the Secretary of State and to ask whether he has already warned his colleagues of the possibility of legal action if there are no teachers in schools. My understanding is that he has.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : The hon. Gentleman has answered my hon. friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellet-Bowman) about Lancashire, where he and I both represent constituencies. This is an Oposition debate on teacher shortages. Conservative Members want to know what the hon. Member proposes to deal with the shortages. [Laughter.] Opposition Members laugh. They tell the public that they can do a better job than my right hon. Friend--

Hon. Members : Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Hind : Let them tell the people and Conservative Members what they would do about it.

Mr. Straw : I will tell the hon. Gentleman that when he has understood the extent of the damage done by the education policies for which he has voted.

Mr Harry Greenway : Answer the question.

Mr. Straw : I shall. The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) asks in whom people have confidence. He

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should bear in mind the results of the county council elections in Lancashire, where, especially in his constituency, the Conservative party got a pasting. On that result, he would not be in the House for a second longer.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : The hon. Gentleman is in some difficulty with that line. The only thing we know about Labour party policy is what appeared in the policy review. The Times Educational Supplement described Labour policy as having a Conservative look. The truth of the matter is that every policy set out there is a mimic of policies introduced in the Education Reform Act 1988. A considerable amount of the froth that the hon. Gentleman is putting forward today is intended to disguise the fact that, in all the education initiatives of the past five or six years, the Conservative initiatives have set the pace.

Mr. Straw : The hon. Gentleman has not even read Labour's policy review or the response in The Times Educational Supplement, which was far more--

Mr. Baldry : I have it here.

Mr. Straw : No. The hon. Gentleman is looking at the wrong piece. He has been quoting from the news report ; he should read the editorial that appeared the week we produced our document, which compared and contrasted our policies and those of the Government. One difference is that Labour Members' children attend state schools--[ Hon. Members :-- "So do ours."] I am talking not about the labourers but about the men and women in the Cabinet, all but one of whom have sent their children to private schools and who care little and know less about the condition of state schools.

In addition to the mocking of the education system by the Secretary of State, we have what the education editor of The Independent described yesterday as "system overload". There is one budget-- [Interruption.]

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West) : Oh, shut up.

Mr. Harry Greenway : You shut up.

Mr. Straw : There is one budget-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Perhaps it would not be a bad idea if Back Benchers on both sides of the House did shut up.

Mr. Straw : There is one budget that has been subject to no constraint by the Secretary of State--the budget for his publicity, which has increased by 3,000 per cent. since 1980. Schools are knee-deep in glossy pamphlets and ring files all signifying the further half-baked hasty changes that they are expected to implement in too little time and with too little money. Local management of schools, the national curriculum, school governors, open admissions and opting out are just part of the burden ; in London, considerable additional uncertainty has been created by the break- up of the Inner London education authority.

The Government's Interim Advisory Committee on School Teachers' Pay and Conditions said in its latest report that it believed "pay to be a critical factor in morale, and in motivation." The committee was constrained before its work began by a pre-ordained cash limit on its recommendations, which led its members to doubt that the proposals that they could make within that straitjacket would

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"secure the requisite degree of motivation among the generality of teachers at this crucial time."

No doubt the Secretary of State will tell us that the crisis has been got up by his opponents--by the press. It has, indeed, been got up by the press --not just by The Guardian and The Independent but by the Sun and the Daily Mail. On Monday last, the Sun ran a so-called "special" on the crisis hitting our classrooms, with stories--far from untypical--of teachers who have doubled their salaries on leaving the profession. The Daily Mail said, rightly, that the pay rise that teachers were given earlier this year was less than the rate of inflation, and that, it said, "just isn't good enough". That view was expressed again in an editorial this morning. Teachers' starting pay--especially for those in London and the south-east-- is far from generous, but the gap grows after five and 10 years.

Mr. Pawsey : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw : No. I have given way enough.

The interim advisory committee pointed out last year that, after 10 years, the average good honours graduate teacher could expect a real-terms pay increase of only 56 per cent., whereas outside teaching the same person could expect a salary rise of twice that, or 110 per cent.

It will take some years following the departure of this Government before all the damage they have done to the education system can be repaired. "Children First", Labour's detailed policy document on education, spells out proposals for reforming teacher training, for providing new teachers with much greater support and in-service training, for a proper career structure for teaching assistants--

Mr. Pawsey : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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