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25 Oct 2000 : Column 286

Teachers (Supply and Recruitment)

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): We now come to the next Opposition debate, and I inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.27 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): I beg to move,

I am sad that, despite all the warnings that the Government have been given over the past two years of the growing crisis in teacher supply and recruitment, today we face a worsening problem and a Government unable to recognise the damage that their policies are doing to the quality of education for children in our schools.

We should be absolutely clear. This is not just a debate about teachers; it is about children and the standard of education that they receive. That standard is falling and will continue to fall. [Interruption.] shows just how out of touch Ministers are with what is happening in our schools that they choose to laugh. However, the standard of education will continue to fall as long as the Government do nothing to improve recruitment and to stem the tide of teachers leaving our schools as a direct result of Government policy.

Conservative Members cannot debate this subject without first putting on record our recognition of the hard work and commitment of hundreds of thousands of teachers in our schools and our gratitude to those who carry on despite the burden of bureaucracy and in the face of Government interference. It is the children who matter, but their education is suffering. It suffers when there are not enough teachers in schools; it suffers when there are not enough specialist teachers; it suffers if schools have to rely on a constant supply of temporary supply teachers; it suffers when teachers are stressed out and have their non-contact time removed and have to work increasing hours to carry out their own teaching requirements and to cover for vacancies.

There is already evidence of the impact on standards. Professor Howson of Oxford Brookes university--when commenting a month or two ago on this year's key stage 2 maths results in London, in which a third of inner-London boroughs made little or no gains at all--said that

Teacher shortages are severe. [Interruption.] Perhaps, instead of debating with the Liberal Democrats which party Professor Howson is a member of--an entirely academic debate between Labour and the Liberal Democrats these days, given their pact--the Secretary of State would have the courtesy to listen to what is being said.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): One of the facts to which the Secretary of State might care to listen and

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which my hon. Friend can add to her magazine of ammunition to destroy the Government's credibility, is that, in the district of Harborough, three primary school heads are retiring early this year as a direct consequence of the Government's activities, and it is impossible to find replacements for them.

Mrs. May: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for reminding the House of the reality of the Government's policies, which is that schools are being left without head teachers and children's education will suffer as a result. I have no doubt that the teachers in the schools in my hon. and learned Friend's constituency will work their hardest to ensure that children's education does not suffer, but, as a result of the Government's policies, too many schools find that their heads are leaving and that they cannot recruit replacements, and education and children will suffer.

In a report earlier this year, the London chief education officers group told Ministers that it was concerned that there was a potential crisis in the staffing in schools in London. Croydon was recruiting in Australia; Tower Hamlets reported a desperate situation in primary schools and was thinking of recruiting in New Zealand; Merton reported that the situation was worse than ever; Kensington and Chelsea spoke of pockets of despair in some primary schools, not related to the standards of the schools; and Southwark was concerned about the quality of applicants.

It is little wonder that the situation is so bad. The Government have failed to meet their target for recruitment into initial teacher training in each of the past three years. During the past three years, there has been a net outflow of teachers from the profession. Applications for maths and science postgraduate certificate of education courses, with the Government's golden hellos, have slumped below the levels that prompted the launch of the initiative in the first place. Last year, the intake for maths trainee teachers was less than half the required number, and for technology teachers it was two-thirds down on the target. Late last year, the Government even slashed the recruitment targets for technology teachers by a third and they still failed to meet the target.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): Will the hon. Lady therefore explain how come last year recruitment to initial teacher training for maths teachers rose for the first time since 1994 and for science teachers for the first time since 1996?

Mrs. May: The hon. Lady can quote what figures she likes, but the reality is that the Government are missing their targets. It is simple. There are not enough maths or technology teachers, and the Government are failing to address that particular problem.

To meet the targets for teacher training of graduates in modern languages and maths, about 40 per cent. of all graduates in those subjects would need to go into teaching every year. The number of teachers this year is 2,000 below the required number and during the past year there has been an increase in the gap between the supply of and demand for teachers, and that is on top of estimated vacancies of 17,000. House of Commons figures show that, if nothing changes in the teaching profession up to the year 2004, the overall gap between the number of

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teachers available and the number of teachers required could grow to 31,000. In other words, on that basis, in five years time, we would be 31,000 teachers short.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): The hon. Lady has done a good job of setting out the problem, but can she explain what she proposes to do about it? Surely she does not propose that simply the election of another Conservative Government will make a difference. Does not the solution have something to do with alternative salaries for some of these well-qualified graduates?

Mrs. May: I can well imagine the Liberal Democrats embarrassment when they hear the reality of the Government's policy being set out as clearly as it is today, but if the hon. Gentleman will have some patience, I shall come to his point. In the meantime, if he wants an instant answer, I suggest that he reads the motion.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): My hon. Friend is in danger of being unfair in simply criticising the Labour Government. We in Dorset have a Liberal Democrat- controlled county council running the education authority, which is failing time and again. When we have good Conservative policies getting the money down to the schools, we shall cut out those Liberal Democrats who are stopping teachers from being employed.

Mrs. May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us of the iniquities of Liberal Democrat- controlled councils, from which my constituents suffered until May this year when, I am pleased to say, the royal borough of Maidenhead and Windsor returned to Conservative control.

The time bomb that is ticking away under our schools may be even more explosive than the figures that I have given suggest. More than 50 per cent. of the teacher work force is now over the age of 45, and how many of them, faced with the increasing pressures of life under the Government, will soon be looking for early retirement? We already have schools on a four-day working week--Beechwood school in Slough and Corby community college. As was clear when I spoke to the head teacher of Corby community college, that was done reluctantly, but it has happened. It is interesting that Corby community college has gone on to a four-day week, but the Labour-controlled local education authority could afford to send someone to stand around outside the school while I was meeting the head. That person was not doing anything, just standing around. That is how Labour spends money that should be going into our schools.

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby): Would the hon. Lady care to take this opportunity to apologise to the House and the people of Corby for riding her Tory bandwagon into Corby, kicking Corby kids and making a political football out of Corby community college, something that has brought the Conservative party and the hon. Lady's reputation into severe disrepute?

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