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Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that at a recent union-arranged conference, he was criticised by the union chair for devoting the whole of his speech to an attack on the Conservative party, rather than making any constructive observations about what the Liberal party might come up with?

Mr. Willis: I seem to remember being cheered from the rafters at all the teachers conferences for the sensible, constructive and proactive stance that I took on those occasions.

Let us consider what happened during the Tory years. I make no apology for attacking the Tories for their policy, and for what happened during those years. It is small wonder that the number of teacher vacancies increased in each of the last three years of that Government, beginning a trend that has, sadly, continued ever since. No wonder the hon. Member for Maidenhead did not dwell too much on the past: the roots of the present crisis were firmly planted by her former colleagues.

When we examine Tory education policy before 1997, it is easy to see why teacher recruitment became a problem. Just look at the Tory record on pay during the previous Parliament. In debates such as this, it is important for us to remind the public of what happened in those Tory years before 1997. Only in 1992 and 1993 did the Tories fully fund the teachers' pay award as recommended by the review body. In 1992--a general election year--there was a recommendation for a 7.5 per cent. award, which, oddly enough, was paid in full. In 1993 there was a recommendation for a 1 per cent. award, plus restructuring. That too was paid in full, but for the remaining years of the previous Administration teachers had to put up with an award topped up by local education authorities making cuts elsewhere. In 1996 and 1997 they had to put up with the appalling arrangement of staged pay rises introduced by the last Government. That shows how much that Government valued teachers, and how much they wanted to encourage the profession.

It was not just lack of pay that put people off joining or staying in the teaching profession. It was the lack of promotion and career prospects; it was the ever increasing bureaucratic load imposed by the disastrous launch of the national curriculum--mentioned earlier by the Secretary of State--under the previous Secretary of State, John Patten; it was the intensive use of Ofsted, whose first round of inspections drove many teachers out of the profession because of the stress caused; and it was the changes in early retirement and pension arrangements, introduced by the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), which caused a massive exodus from the profession before the September 1997 deadline.

Furthermore, there was a lack of investment in school buildings, equipment and books, a lack of investment in professional development, and continued blocking of the General Teaching Council. It is worth pointing out that when the GTC was launched in September, not one Tory

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Front Bencher turned up at the launch. Indeed, not one Tory Member of Parliament turned up. It was left to the Minister for School Standards and me to represent the House.

The deliberate concentration of policy on grant- maintained schools and assisted places sent a clear message to would-be teachers that they would be joining a two-tier education system, consisting of a tier that the Government valued and a tier that they did not value. It is sad that a Labour Government who were so critical of the last Administration should adopt almost the same complacent attitude to teacher recruitment and retention.

In 1997, the Select Committee report "Teacher Recruitment: What can be done?" identified the problems that needed to be tackled. The Committee's Chairman, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge)--who made a fleeting appearance this evening, and who is now a Minister--made it clear where the blame lay. On 18 February 1998 she said:

She promised, however, that the Labour Government would sort that out:

The Government began solving it by imposing tuition fees on undergraduates.

Dr. Harris: And removing grants.

Mr. Willis: And removing grants. The net result was that BEd students had a minimum of £3,000 heaped on their shoulders, in addition to the average £10,000 debt that they incurred because of the removal of grants. I defy the Minister to explain how the introduction of tuition fees and the removal of benefits and grants could improve the supply of teachers.

The Government discouraged potential graduates from choosing a teaching career by introducing a culture of "name and shame", and a fear of failure. Imagine ICI or Arthur Andersen recruiting on that basis. They would be laughed out of court. This was also the Government who gave succour to Chris Woodhead when he launched his polemical attack on 15,000 failing teachers. He did not produce a shred of evidence, and not one Minister challenged his findings.

The Government have increasingly deprofessionalised teaching by telling teachers what to teach, when to teach and how to teach, and discouraging creativity in the classroom. They have created bureaucracy in schools with their target setting and central control, which send all the wrong messages to potential recruits. The net result has been an acceleration of the recruitment crisis in the past three years, and--equally significant--a dramatic increase in the desire to leave the profession.

I spent 34 years in the teaching profession. The Minister for School Standards spent 18 years in the profession. Such periods were not uncommon. According to an ICM poll this year, whose findings have been substantiated by various other polling organisations, half our teachers now want to leave within the next 10 years.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the average length of service is now only 15 years, and is dropping year after year. It is no surprise that the number of teachers leaving

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the profession within five years has increased each year since 1994, and now stands at a staggering 5,000 a year. It is no surprise, either, that in the last two years the number of teachers leaving the profession, but not retiring, has increased by 30 per cent.: more than 3,000 have simply packed their bags and gone. Nor is it any surprise that, according to the September submission to the Department by the review body, schools now have 2,666 vacancies--the largest number since 1991, when there were 5,222.

Both The Times Educational Supplement and the Secondary Heads Association surveys showed, in September, that the real number of vacancies is much higher than that--some 4,000 in secondary schools alone. The Government's complacency, however, is as staggering as the Opposition's hypocrisy. Replying to my noble Friend the Baroness Sharp of Guildford, Lady Blackstone claimed that the crisis had been exaggerated. She should tell that to parents in Southwark, where today there is a 7 per cent. vacancy rate. In Tower Hamlets, 97 teachers are needed. In Hackney some schools do not even advertise posts, because they receive no response to their advertisements.

London is approaching meltdown in terms of teacher recruitment. Without the support of teachers from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, many London schools would have to close their doors, never mind working a four-day week. The problem is not confined to London, however. In Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton, 186 vacancies are currently reported. That is a 100 per cent. increase on the number two years ago. Even in more affluent Buckingham and Milton Keynes, 59 teachers are urgently required.

The hon. Member for Maidenhead spoke of 30,000 vacancies by 2004. That, of course, included the assumption that all 17,000 supply teachers would need to be replaced by permanent teachers--a somewhat exaggerated claim, as I am sure the hon. Lady would agree. However, she highlighted the admirable way in which many of our teachers manage their schools to overcome the lack of permanent staff. In January 1997, one in 25 teachers was either a temporary teacher or an instructor; today the figure is one in 20. The ingenuity of heads and their staff has enabled the Department to be as complacent as it is.

It would be wrong to say that the Government have done nothing. There has been a Green Paper on the future of the teaching profession, but a bungled threshold payment scheme has devalued what was essentially a sound proposal to reward service in the classroom.

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): The hon. Gentleman has never said that before.

Mr. Willis: I have always argued that teachers in the classroom should be paid more and that the career structure should keep teachers in the classroom. I am very pleased that the Government have listened to those cries.

Pay awards since 1998 have been met in full. There are promises to reduce bureaucracy, and we have heard the Secretary of State make them. I certainly would not accuse either him or his Ministers of not being sincere in their desire to recognise the worth of our teachers, but it will take much more than that to resolve the teacher

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shortage. The Government took two years to respond to the decline in applications for teacher training with golden hellos for key shortage subjects.

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