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Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): My family has been exposed to both the independent and the maintained sector in our schools, in common with many of my constituents and in common with many colleagues in my party and throughout the country. That is why, while the Labour class warriors want to build barriers between the independent and state sectors, we want to build bridges and, because we want to build bridges, we have achieved in the past few years new ideas that will take our education system forward. That is why the teaching unions--the professionals--are paying a new attention to the thoughts of the Conservatives in education today.
I pay credit to the Secretary of State. I do not think that he is as much of a class warrior as he used to be. He has tried to endorse the Conservative reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. His problem is that he shows all the zeal of a convert and takes all our ideas far too far, to the extent that he drives teachers away from the classroom and away from their schools, because he tries to tell them what to do every living moment of the day.
The key point behind free schools is that we believe that the head teachers, not the politicians, should be in charge of their schools. Teachers, not political correctness, should rule in the classroom. In contrast, the Secretary of State appears to want to be the head teacher in every school in the country, and that top-down direction is driving away teachers in droves.
We have heard from the Minister for School Standards of a skills shortage in our economy causing a shortage of teachers. She has not mentioned in previous speeches--perhaps she will deal with it tonight--that the failure of her Government to follow the involvement of the private sector and further education colleges in putting more people through training is at the heart of the skills shortage throughout our economy today. The number of those passing through FE colleges in the past three years has now fallen a cumulative 500,000 short of the level that would have been achieved if she had maintained the productivity and output of the FE sector that she and her Government inherited from the Conservative Government in 1997. Because we have 500,000 fewer trained people in the economy, we now have more than 1 million vacancies.
Of course the teaching profession is suffering as potential teachers are drawn away by higher pay in the private sector, caused by that failure. In my constituency, that problem could not be more acute. Unless that shortage of teachers, and the high cost of living in places like Guildford, are addressed by the Government urgently, there will be an even more serious problem in some of the parts of the country that are the engine of the economy, in that it will be impossible to deliver the teaching that our country desperately needs.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): This has been a short but good debate on a subject of real concern to head teachers, teachers and, increasingly, to parents, too. We have heard some excellent speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) made a sincere and appropriate appreciation of teachers. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) made several valuable points about mature entrants to the profession and my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) made important points about teachers in schools in his constituency. We also heard an interesting and thoughtful speech from the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), as well as contributions from the hon. Members for Corby (Mr. Hope) and for Gedling (Mr. Coaker).
In his introduction, the Secretary of State followed in the footsteps of Baroness Blackstone by, once again, raising the question of whether there was a crisis at all. "Crisis? What crisis?" neatly sums up the Secretary of State's attitude. The most potent evidence of that is that the only cheep of opposition that we heard from the Liberal Democrats was that the Secretary of State had been complacent. Everything else was a paeon of praise from the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). We now know why the Liberal Democrats are so utterly feeble towards the Labour party; but if they describe the Government as complacent, that must be so.
It will not do for the Secretary of State somehow to suggest that the problem is localised in London. The problem takes its most severe form in London and we have heard stories of London authorities scouring the world for teachers. They have been searching for them in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia, Dubai and
I have referred to the problems of the London authorities, but the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association discussed the matter in The Guardian. I hope that the Secretary of State will not take too much offence at the general secretary's words, because he used the word "crisis" and said:
The problems are set to get even worse in the future. The Government made much of the introduction of golden hellos, which were introduced in September 1999, and earlier this year of the introduction of the training bursary. Therefore, let us consider what has happened to the number of graduates accepting places in teacher training colleges in the past few years. In the last two years--this will interest the hon. Member for Corby, who suggested that the whole problem was the result of the previous Conservative Government--the number of graduates recruited for teaching in secondary schools was below the number recruited in 1997 and way below the target set by the Government for the number of teachers required. In the academic year just commenced, it appears that the total number recruited is slightly up on last year, but still below the Government's target and below the numbers being recruited by the previous Government at the end of their period in office.
The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) made the worst contribution to the debate--she got her facts all wrong. In 1994, the then Government were recruiting more maths teachers than their target required. Recruitment has slumped since then and this Government are way below their target. In this academic year, the number of maths and physics graduates has fallen again. The Government are also way below their target for technology graduates.
We understand that the Minister for School Standards will give us some good news about technology, so perhaps she will tell us whether the Government are meeting their target and whether the numbers recruited
Mr. Clappison: I congratulate the Under-Secretary. She spotted that well. The reason why it is Latin is because two of the few subjects in which the Government are succeeding in recruiting sufficient teachers and are meeting their targets, and in which the numbers are increasing each year, are classical studies and history.
Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend beats me to it. It may not be what the Government have in mind when they talk about modernising the teaching profession, and we doubt very much whether it will feature in the list of the Prime Minister's achievements in his speech to the Labour party conference, not least because he seems to show every bit as much of a wish to abolish history as to abolish verbs in his speeches.
The Government's policies have failed. Instead of the Government attracting the high-quality graduates that our schools need, the additional pressures that they have created for teachers have deterred them.
The Secretary of State spoke of lower class sizes under the Government as being an incentive for people to enter the teaching profession and an achievement, but in secondary schools, where the crisis is at its worst and it is proving the most difficult to attract graduates into teaching, class sizes have risen every year under the Government until there are now 36 per cent.--90,000--more pupils in secondary schools in classes of more than 30 than there were in 1997.
We have heard from Conservative Members just how much the Government have undermined the authority of teachers by preventing them from excluding children when it is necessary to do so. When my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) mentioned the case of the lady head teacher in Wales, the Secretary of State intervened to say that that was a matter relating to Wales and could not be commented on. However, that did not prevent the Minister for School Standards from commenting on it because she said that she was pleased for Mrs. Evans, and that it was a sensible decision. She was able to comment on that and our comment is that the Government have put far too many teachers' heads on the block and have undermined discipline and authority in schools.
The worst feature of all this is the ever-increasing burden of bureaucracy placed upon teachers by the Government. We hope that at long last the Government will take some positive steps to reduce that burden, other than by using their pathetic tool-cutting kit.
The Prime Minister's proudest boast is that this year we have seen the best ever primary school test results. We applaud the success and achievement of pupils and teachers. However, both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister failed to mention that those tests have shown an improvement each year since they were published under the previous Government. The Secretary of State will recall that he opposed the publication of those results. When the first set of results was published in 1995, showing a higher increase than for the present year, I think that the Secretary of State called it a searing indictment of the Tory Government--so much for the realism of his comments. Now it is an achievement under this Government. Likewise, the number of pupils obtaining five good GCSEs has increased every year since that examination began in 1988.
Yet today we have touched upon the greatest single threat to standards in our schools. The hopes of present and future generations are surely put at risk by the prospect of there simply being not enough teachers to teach them. Parents who find their children being taught by a succession of supply teachers--I agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, who quoted one case of 13 supply teachers--or parents who find their children being taught by someone who is not trained to teach the subject in question, or worst of all, as in Corby and Slough, who find their children being sent home because there is no one at all to teach them, are entitled to feel angry.
Those consequences flow inevitably from the Government's complacent attitude. We have heard no constructive response from the Government after the failure of their policies. All we have heard, as ever with this Government, is spin and propaganda. The anger of parents, teachers and heads will be all the greater when they confront the miserable consequences of the Government's failure to provide enough teachers in the future. When that happens, the Government's soundbite, "Education, education, education", will sound more than just a little hollow.