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7.58 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

Can I say how good it was to experience the gems of wisdom that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) presented, which took us so much further forward in finding solutions to problems? Of course I cannot. The hon. Lady did not come up with a single solution to the problems. She cannot match the spending to which we are committed for the next three years because her leader and shadow Chancellor will not help her to do that. She could not say whether she would retain and spend the £180 million on the recruitment programmes, the graduate teacher salaries, the bursaries, and the incentives in London to ensure that teachers are in the classroom. She could not give us an assurance that she would increase teachers' salaries and match the performance-related promotion because she cannot commit those on her Front Bench to matching our spending.

Tonight the hon. Member for Maidenhead has offered nothing but doom and gloom. I have some advice for her. I advise her not to pretend--to use words such as "crisis" when there is no crisis. There is a problem in specific parts of the country, including London and the south-east. That problem must be addressed. However, there is no universal problem or crisis, and to suggest that there is undermines the commitment of those, including teachers, who want to attract young and old alike back into the classroom. They want to encourage people to come into one of the best professions in the world.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when a problem becomes a crisis?

Mr. Blunkett: The problem became a crisis when the Conservatives were elected in 1979, and started to cut spending on education and undermine the teaching profession.

It is important that we compare like with like. Our use of statistics must be understandable and deeply honest, and the hon. Member for Maidenhead has not used them

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in that way. It is also important to compare like with like in terms of the economic and labour market situation with which we are faced. We should reflect on what happened in the late 1980s, before the genuine crisis that was created--

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): What crisis?

Mr. Blunkett: It was a crisis. I think that everyone accepted that Black Wednesday was a crisis. It wasted £15 billion of our national reserves. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. I consider Black Wednesday to be a crisis.

We are talking this evening of a real challenge to us all to get things right. Let us compare like with like.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Blunkett: I will in a moment.

Let us compare full-time posts, not temporary and supply teacher posts. Let us ensure that when we make a comparison we get it right. Let us consider whether what has already been put in place is making a difference. In other words, have we recognised that there is a problem? Yes, we have. Have we done something about it? Yes, we have. Is it beginning to work? Yes, it is.

The problem should not be addressed only by the Department for Education and Employment and the Teacher Training Agency. They alone should not put measures in place to deal with it. It is one that should be considered across government. Conservative Members never recognised that when they were in government. That is why the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is working with my Department on the start-up programme for attracting and encouraging young people to come to London by providing the scheme that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will be announcing shortly. We want to ensure that teachers can buy or rent a house. That is a significant difficulty in London at present. Indeed, it has been a problem in London over many years.

The hon. Member for Maidenhead, in her litany of local authorities having difficulties, mentioned Tower Hamlets. In 1989, there were 450 permanent vacancies in Tower Hamlets. It is reasonable to use 1989 as a comparison after the 1988 boom. The comparison includes the labour market, the rise in salaries and the competition for good graduates. If we compare 1989 and the present situation, we arrive at a reasonable view of what has been happening.

There were 5,500 vacancies in the teaching profession in 1989, and 3.7 per cent. of those were in London. There are now slightly fewer than 3,000 vacancies throughout the country, and 2.7 per cent. of those are in London. Vacancies throughout the country are slightly less than 1 per cent. That is comparing the figures that were available in 1989 with the figures that are now available.

Let us take the Library figures. They include part-time and supply teachers, which the Department does not include in its figures. The figure of 429,000 which the hon. Member for Maidenhead has put out to the press cannot be compared with the 404,600 which we acknowledge in terms of normal statistical arrangements.

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I do not demur from the Library's statistics. Taking the exemplification that they make, I do not say that there would not be the sort of shortfall that the hon. Lady has outlined. I am sorry to disappoint her, but I will not go into statistical doublethink or doubletalk and suggest that the problem would not arise. The problem is that the Library statistics were based on the January count: 10 months ago--not now. At the beginning of the year we recognised that a major problem was afoot. We understood that if we did not take action there would be a genuine crisis. On 30 March--a fact that the hon. Lady seems to have ignored--we announced a package of measures, to which I have referred. The package was expensive, but necessary to ensure that we reversed the decline in teacher recruitment.

The package is working. To suggest otherwise is to undermine the efforts of the Teacher Training Agency and those of local authorities that are trying genuinely to recruit. Above all, it would undermine the efforts of head teachers, whose job it is to fill vacancies. It does not help to try to get smart 10 months later; to undermine the efforts that are being made to recruit; and to play down the measures that have been put in place. A failure to acknowledge that we have put measures in place to recruit and that there are nearly 7,000 extra teachers in the classroom compared with two years ago is similarly unhelpful. The 7,000 have been recruited to reduce class sizes and to relieve the pressure on teachers that the hon. Lady has described.

Yes, there is pressure. There will be pressure. There was pressure when I was a teacher. There needs to be pressure, and also mutual support. It is a difficult job. It will always be a challenging job. I will always be able to read letters from teachers who would prefer to leave the profession and live in the Lake district. There are times when I would like to go to live in the Lake district, and tonight is one of them. However, I shall have recovered by the morning. When I have recovered, I shall continue to take the pressure because it is worth it. Similarly, it is worth being a teacher.

Mrs. May: Given the right hon. Gentleman's comments, is he rejecting the figures that were sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) not 10 months ago--not in March--but one month ago, by the Minister for School Standards, which show clearly that there is still a fall in applications for teacher training this year?

Mr. Blunkett: I am denying none of the statistics in terms of their severity or impact. I am suggesting that the take-up of places from the autumn has risen by 5 per cent. overall. There is still a problem when it comes to maths, but there has been a dramatic change in technology, to which my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards will refer when she replies.

Mr. Robathan: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Blunkett: I have just given way to the hon. Member for Maidenhead. If I give way constantly, I shall not be able to make a speech.

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There is a 5 per cent. improvement overall in the take-up of places. Compared with two years ago, there is a 14 per cent. improvement in the take-up of secondary places, where the real problem arises because of the disparity of applications to vacancies in the sector.

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