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Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me because so far, in a 16-minute contribution, he has said precisely nothing about the need for good order in schools. Given the rising tide of violence by pupils against teachers throughout the country, does he agree with the Conservative Opposition that new guidelines on the legitimate use of physical restraint are urgently needed and that they should be based on the common-sense instincts of the majority of the British people, not on the permissive prejudices of the liberal establishment?
Mr. Willis: As ever, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. His interventions are always so interesting. However, he raises an important issue, and I shall treat it seriously. I do not share his jaundiced view of what happens in the vast majority of our schools. Of course, some students--I have met a few of them in my time--cause major problems for teaching staff and the rest of the school community, and of course it is right and proper that they should be treated properly. I am sure that the Minister recognises the folly of setting a target for the reduction of exclusions; it was nonsense. We must have a balanced programme, but the hon. Gentleman, with all his wisdom, does state schools no good by creating the impression that they are overrun with mindless thugs who do nothing but attack teachers, take drugs and burn down schools.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): Further to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), does the hon. Gentleman agree that emotional and behavioural difficulties represent the fastest growing area of special needs in schools? Although one can parody the situation, he knows that that is certainly a major concern for many teachers, especially those in inner cities.
The hon. Gentleman, who has a genuine interest in special needs, is absolutely right to say that dealing with special needs children who also exhibit behavioural problems is a major problem. The Minister will agree that it is a sad statistic that those with a statement of special needs are seven times more likely to be excluded than those who have not, and that Afro-Caribbean youngsters are four times more likely to be excluded from schools. Those problems must be treated seriously, but that will not happen if we simply give heads a blanket excuse to get rid of such kids from their schools. We must create the sorts of innovative teaching and support mechanisms that allow youngsters with special needs to develop as productive members of society, rather than excluding them and making them outcasts. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with those comments.
Mr. Willis: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention--and I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would agree with him as well. In reality, there is not a jot between the three major political parties about the need to get rid of bureaucracy in schools and allow teachers to teach. We need to tackle the previous Government's legacy of bureaucracy, and as a party, we have made it absolutely clear how we would tackle it. We should accept that creating time for teachers to teach is also an issue, especially in primary schools. The sadness is that most primary school teachers are committed to a full-time teaching load five days a week. That makes it exceptionally difficult to spend time with disruptive children or those with special needs, and to do the work required to prepare the curriculum and the lessons.
The Liberal Democrats have asked the Secretary of State to ensure that all primary teachers timetables include the non-contact time to enable them to tackle some of those issues, and that each primary class has a classroom assistant. Those sensible proposals would do much to enable teachers to have more contact time with youngsters, bring teachers back into primary schools and give them the time to work with their pupils.
I have mentioned that the Government took two years to recognise the crisis and introduce golden hellos, and three years to introduce training grants--a proposal that my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) made in response to a Select Committee report about four years ago.
It is important that we recognise that neither golden hellos nor the training grants have resolved the crisis, despite wildly optimistic claims. The DFEE rightly states that applications have increased, but the number of acceptances in the key shortage areas are down--
Ad hoc policies do not tackle the shortages that exist elsewhere in the system. The primary sector crisis is especially acute in special needs, particularly in London, where one in 20 classes do not have a specialist teacher. That is unacceptable. Although Government policy has produced more trainees for science, there is a huge imbalance in favour of biologists. In 1997, the Select Committee urged the Government to operate a more comprehensive, transparent planning system for teacher supply. That simply has not happened. I hope that the Minister will commit herself to making that system possible. We have the same stop-go teacher recruitment policies that we had 10 or 15 years ago, and that is unacceptable. In the past it may have been possible simply to respond to economic cycles. Today it is not. We must recognise that education is in the marketplace for the best graduates. We must respond to that marketplace.
I urge the Government to look more imaginatively at solving teacher shortages and not to rely simply on importing skills from abroad. May we encourage universities to offer all undergraduates a teaching component in their degrees to encourage them to acquire and to use skills in schools and colleges? Let us rethink the package of incentives and create a £10,000 training salary for all postgraduate trainee teachers, with clear contractual safeguards. Let us encourage mature entrants into the profession with realistic financial support packages, so that they can make the transition from industry to the classroom.
Let us support teachers in deprived or high-cost areas such as London with a realistic package of housing and travel benefits, and can we recognise that we must have competitive staffing salaries if we are to attract teachers? Above all, let us make teaching the attractive career that I believe it is. The Minister and I spent many years in the teaching profession. It is a proud tradition, and it is at the root of our society. I trust that the Minister will give us assurances as to how we will meet our requirements for the future.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), not a near neighbour, but a neighbour of mine in Yorkshire. It is a pleasure to follow his speech because it ended with some constructive suggestions. As Chairman of the Education Sub- Committee of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, I am rather proud to look back at the early report that it published, not under my chairmanship, but under the Chairman before me, entitled, "Teacher Recruitment: What can be done?" It made some positive suggestions about a pathway for the future.
What is disappointing is that I was looking at the membership and it included the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). Unfortunately--I have to say this; I do not want to be too partisan--I heard her make very few constructive suggestions about why we have a problem with teacher recruitment and what we should do about it. I hope to look at some of the deeper reasons for problems and the reasons why we have not gone far or fast enough, given that good October 1997 report.
I re-read that report. I then read the Government's response to it. All of us would admit that Select Committees, which I am proud of, make very good reports and that Governments do not always give a 100 per cent. positive response to them. In the case of that report, the Government did not, but, to be fair, a very high percentage of the report's suggestions were acted on. Although "could do better" would be my judgment on overall performance, there were some significant, positive responses to the report.
I was trying to think about the underlying reasons for our problems in teacher selection, recruitment and retention. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment mentioned retention, which is so important--retention at every level. Why do many more men drop out of teacher training courses? Why, after five years, are only--estimates vary--between 60 and 70 per cent. of teachers still in the profession? We must look at that carefully.
What I started with is the awfulness of the political debate. If we had a bunch of teachers watching the debate--many will be watching us on television--what view will they have of the useless hyperbole that is used? What good does it do? My old friend the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough is guilty of it, too. Like the Leader of the Opposition, he talked about meltdown.
To be honest and fair about the present situation, there is a problem with teacher recruitment. It is not the worst that we have ever had. I have obtained figures from the House of Commons Library. Ten years ago, the position was more than twice as bad as it is today. I think that there was a 1.8 per cent. recruitment lag. The latest figures show that there is a 0.8 per cent. lag.
There was a significantly worse situation in 1989. Interestingly--we are all sensible people in the Chamber--that recruitment lag was also at a high point in the economic cycle. We all know that there is a high point in the economic cycle. We cannot walk past a shop without people advertising for people to work. Everywhere we look, there are advertisements in the newspapers. Graduate employment is a competitive market.
There are more and more jobs and more diverse careers than ever before. We have relied on women to be the backbone of our teaching force and have often taken them for granted. For many years until not that long ago, often, when a bright young woman was leaving school and going to university, the advice that she got was that there were only three careers for her to go into: nursing, teaching and becoming a secretary. Thank God--I have to admit that I have three daughters and a son--those days are in the past.
Only on Monday evening, I was talking to the head of a large girls school. She said that she had just come back from making a speech at another girls school, where she said, "You as women can do any job in the world that you are physically capable of and that you have the intellect for." A few years ago, people would have scoffed at the suggestion of a female astronaut, let alone females in every profession. Jobs are becoming more open and more challenging, and more attractive not only to young women graduating, but to men. There is a competitive marketplace.
I suppose that, if we are going to stay in the world of economic reality, one of the answers is that we must pay teachers competitive rates. I was digging out work by the 1953-55 royal commission on public service that considered the public sector and public sector pay. There was a serious attempt to work out what had to be paid in the public sector to attract and to retain talented people. It is about time that we as politicians and Governments looked more carefully at the realistic pay that we must give teachers to retain them. It must be seriously competitive. That is the reality.
Surely something could have come from the Opposition. They purport to be the experts on business, competitiveness and the real world of the private sector. Surely we should have heard some word about the reality of having to pay the price. In many areas, the Government have responded to that. I know that performance-related pay is controversial between the parties, but I believe that it is a significant change towards giving teachers the opportunity to increase their pay.