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Mr. Robathan: The right hon. Gentleman has quoted many statistics which may or may not be right. I am concerned about the retention of teachers. I shall be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman came to my constituency and to the school that I visited recently. I cannot swear to it, but I would judge that most of the teachers there voted Labour at the general election, believing that there was a brand new sunrise on the horizon. Instead, they found that it was a sunset. They have been hugely disappointed, and they laughed when I talked about what the Government were doing in schools. They could not wait to get out of teaching. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to them why teaching is a good profession in which they should stay?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes. I invite them to send a delegation to meet me in my office--I shall be happy if the hon. Gentleman joins them. I shall then be able to tell them why it is worth being a teacher. I will be able to share with them what others are saying to us, which is why taking 450,000 youngsters from classes of more than 30 pupils is making things easier for the teaching profession. Eleven thousand schools are undergoing repairs and renewals. We are spending £1 billion on putting technology into schools. I refer to the computers that did not exist and the link to the internet that did not happen under the previous Government. These things are worth celebrating. These are successes that breed success.

Let us rejoice in what is working and let us be clear about what is not. Let us tackle the problems and have them solved. Let us not have rhetoric, backed up by letters read out in the Chamber, that demoralises the teaching profession rather than rejoicing in what is taking place. And yes, let us have discipline. This year, £174 million--which is a one-third increase--has been spent on ensuring that teachers and heads with disruptive children can get them out of the classroom and into support units where action can be taken, and do not dump them on the street to become drug addicts and drug pushers.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Like the Secretary of State, I shall not say anything that will undermine the recruitment or the position of teachers. I want to ask a simple question as a London Member of Parliament who also chairs a school governing body. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many experienced teachers have difficulty coping with the level of bureaucracy? They perceive that it is increasing and that it takes more of their time, and it is a pressure that is driving some of them out of the profession or to think about leaving it. If the right hon. Gentleman does accept that, will he review seriously the frequency with which the Department for Education and Employment sends out circulars, issues paper and sends, either directly or through local education authorities, additional documents for teachers to consider? Surely we could reduce that to one or two occasions a year, so that for the rest of the year teachers and head teachers could concentrate on managing and teaching in their schools.

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I accept that there is a problem with bureaucracy, paperwork and administration. That is

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why we have set up a panel of heads and teachers to monitor the commitment that we have made that, from this September, we will cut the number of documents issued by a third and the amount of paper by a half. We will send out material in batches, and we will use electronic communication when that is suitable for heads. We will take similar steps with other agencies, such as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and Ofsted, and with local authorities, so that requests for information are not duplicated. Data collection can be simplified and we can lift unnecessary burdens from heads and teachers.

There is still a long way to go, but I take no lessons on this issue from the Conservatives. They made a complete backside--a complete mess--of the introduction of the national curriculum and the assessment tests, they introduced Ofsted, and they set up the system of data collection for the tables to which we are committed. Those four measures alone placed more administrative requirements on heads and teachers than any paperwork that I have introduced, trebled. The paperwork that I have required includes the literacy and numeracy framework, advice to teachers on the "terrible" forms they have to fill in to get a £2,000 uplift in their salary, and advice on safety that we sent out two years ago and which the Opposition consider a bureaucratic infringement. Some things have to be done; some things have to be sent; and some things are necessary for consultation. However, too much has been sent out; too much has been required; and too much has to be read by teachers and heads rather than appropriate extracts or information available on the web.

We will continue to take action to ensure that we lessen the burden. In the end, paying teachers well, increasing the number of teachers, creating buildings that are fit to teach in with equipment that is fit to use, ensuring smaller class sizes, ensuring that the money is available to pay teachers at an advanced level to retain as well as recruit them, ensuring that heads get backing through the new leadership centre, and the other measures that we have put in place will all make a difference.

We will work with the Teacher Training Agency and the General Teaching Council, and with heads and local authorities across the country, to ensure that vacancies are filled, and that children get teachers with the qualifications and experience to do the job. The problems cannot be resolved by glib answers in a debate. That can be done only by concrete action to recruit young and old alike, and to make it worth being in the teaching profession. We should sing about what is working and tell every young person we meet that the teaching profession is the best way of fulfilling themselves and of making the next generation fit to live in this country.

8.14 pm

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I congratulate the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) on choosing to raise such an important subject on a Supply day. I think that the whole House would whole-heartedly agree that without a supply of well qualified, well motivated, committed and well paid teachers we cannot expect standards to rise, social exclusion to diminish, underachievement to be tackled or society to have confidence in the education product.

There is a teacher shortage--a teacher crisis--in our schools, despite the protestations to the contrary by the Secretary of State this evening and by Baroness

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Blackstone in the other place last week. However, it is to the eternal credit of the teaching profession--and in particular, of the ingenuity of head teachers--that it has not made a drama out of a crisis.

The recent research by Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson of the university of Liverpool, entitled "Coping with Teacher Shortages" and "Talking Heads", gives us a graphic insight into the coping strategies of many schools. Those reports should be compulsory reading for all MPs, and certainly for the Secretary of State. The research helps to explain the paradox between what the Department for Education and Employment reports about teacher shortage and the actuality of what head teachers and governors find in their schools.

The hon. Member for Maidenhead read out a number of lines from the report "Talking Heads". They make amusing reading and make a cheap byline in such a debate, but they send out a stark warning that there is a limit to what can be done in our schools to paper over the real problems of teacher recruitment and retention.

Mrs. May: I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard tomorrow he will regret his remark that those deeply felt comments from teachers about the problems that they face were just a cheap byline in a debate. Will he withdraw that remark?

Mr. Willis: I certainly will not. I never regret what I say in the House; I choose my words carefully. The comments made in the Smithers report "Talking Heads" were well made--they were from committed teachers and were not intended to be used to make cheap political jibes in the House. They highlighted a difficult problem, and those teachers expected the House to take the issues that they raised seriously.

It is sad that the hon. Lady has chosen to link the important issue of teacher shortages with the nonsense of the Tory proposals for free schools. That was the only solution she offered--that free schools would solve the problems. What the hon. Lady did not mention in her litany was that private schools have the freedom to charge fees. There is a great difference between what private schools can do and what the state sector can do. The policy of free schools has been thought up by those barmy 14-pints-a-day folk in Conservative central office, who care not one jot about the state sector. What we have seen tonight are crocodile tears.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willis: No, I will not.

It is sad that not once did the hon. Lady acknowledge that the problem of teacher recruitment and retention began with previous Tory Governments. Between 1985 and 1990, every target set by the Tories for secondary recruitment was missed by a margin of 10 per cent. That is the reality of what was happening in the 1980s. Between 1993 and 1997, with the exception of 1991-94, the target for the recruitment of maths teachers was missed--by a staggering 21 per cent. in 1995-96 and an even more staggering 34 per cent. in 1996-97. The only time the previous Government met their targets for teacher recruitment was when Norman Lamont engineered the biggest economic depression since the war.

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That is the reality. The only bonus of that policy was that at least teachers in London could afford to buy houses, because the housing market collapsed.


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