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Teacher Vacancies

3. Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): What recent meetings he has had with ministerial colleagues to discuss the number of vacancies in the teaching profession. [147905]

9. Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): What recent meetings he has had with head teachers to discuss the number of vacancies in the teaching profession. [147912]

11. Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): What recent meetings he has had with parent groups to discuss teacher recruitment. [147916]

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The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): My right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards and I regularly meet those parents, teachers and heads who have a commitment to raising standards in recruiting and retaining teachers.

Mrs. Laing: Does the Secretary of State recognise that, throughout the country, but particularly in Essex, there is a severe crisis in teacher recruitment and retention? If so, why will he not see that his policy of piling red tape, bureaucracy and form filling on new teachers, who have joined the profession because they have a vocation to teach, is causing them to leave, because they are expected to be administrators, not teachers? If he wants to retain teachers in the profession, why does he not change his policy and allow them to teach?

Mr. Blunkett: When I wrote back to the director of education in Essex, I asked him to contact us at the Department if there were any particular problems in schools in Essex. I have no knowledge of any such contact being made. We have increased recruitment to teacher training by more than 2,200 this year; the latest figure for applications for teacher training from this coming autumn is up by 12 per cent.; and the number of inquiries made to the inquiry helpline has gone up from 39,000 this time last year to 114,000 this year.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Is the Secretary of State aware that the situation in Hampshire, as in Essex, is very serious indeed? Head teachers in my constituency have told me that they are gravely concerned about the lack of candidates applying to fill vacancies. Just before Christmas, Fernhill primary school was on the point of sending children home early. Only at the very last minute did it have just one application for the vacancy there, enabling it to keep running at the beginning of this term. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in Hampshire, between September and December no fewer than 500 vacancies were advertised, with 60 advertised last week alone?

It is a very serious situation. The Secretary of State keeps telling the House and the country that everything will be resolved because of all the people who are applying for teacher training, but will he confirm that no less than 25 per cent. of those who apply for and take teacher training give up before they get into the classroom?

Mr. Blunkett: First, let me make it absolutely clear that I have never said, and never would say, that all will be resolved by the measures that we have so far taken. We know that, in a tight labour market, there will be a continuing challenge to ensure that we recruit and retain sufficient highly qualified teachers to be able to do the job that we are setting them. We also recognise that, having recruited an extra 7,000 teachers over the past two years, and having substantially increased both pay and promotion prospects, so that a good teacher can stay in the classroom and earn £31,000--£34,000 in London--we are now taking the necessary steps to put right what began in the 1980s, when there was a massive drop in recruitment to secondary teaching, and a total lack of action by the previous Government.

Mrs. Gorman: Would the Secretary of State be interested to hear about my discussions with parent groups

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in my constituency? They are absolutely fed up and disgusted that their children are being taught in classes not of 30 and 40, but sometimes of 90, when classes have to be amalgamated because there is no one to teach them. Furthermore, they do not regard classroom assistants as a substitute for fully qualified teachers. Would the right hon. Gentleman also be interested to know that they hark back to the days when we had grant-maintained status, when schools had the opportunity to make their own arrangements and when we were creating a proper free market, in which parents had real choice? Will he note that they are looking forward to the free school policy of this Government when we get back into office after the general election?

Mr. Blunkett: I am always interested in the rantings of the hon. Lady, and not least in the fact that she thinks that her party is still in government. It is this Government who are tackling the teacher shortage and the retention of teachers. It is this Government who will have increased the level of teachers' pay that we inherited so that an experienced teacher of seven years' standing, who was paid £21,000 when we took office, will be able to earn £31,000. It is this Government who have put in place measures to help individual schools.

I am aware of one school which, on one day, grouped three classes so that 90 children took part in PE and music lessons, but that is not the same as 90 pupils in one class being taken by one class teacher as a result of teacher shortages. I put the facts on the record just in case someone reports a ridiculous story that starts another ridiculous hare running.

There is a serious problem, and it needs to be dealt with seriously. The hon. Lady's statement is neither serious nor helpful in resolving that problem.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the effective efforts being made by Slough and other areas close to London to solve problems with recruiting teachers? Part of the work of our education action zone is devoted to providing houses for teachers, which has helped local schools to recruit. Will my right hon. Friend encourage other areas with similar problems to develop strategies to provide housing for new teachers, so that they can recruit and retain more teachers?

Mr. Blunkett: I think that the initiative described by my hon. Friend is excellent, as was the one in Reading that was ridiculed by one national newspaper. That is why last week we allocated another £5 million for an immediate recruitment drive that will pay teachers to come back for a six-week refresher course in shortage areas. It will also pay for child care for those with small children. Instead of disparaging and shying away from re-joining the best profession in the world, people will be encouraged to join it.

Angela Smith (Basildon): Is my right hon. Friend aware that unlike the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), Labour Members with constituencies in Essex have not been shouting and ranting about the difficulties faced by schools in the county? Instead, we went to County hall to meet the director of learning services and other senior officials to proffer our help and support in easing the difficulties faced by the director and by head teachers. Will my right hon. Friend join me in

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congratulating teachers and head teachers in Essex, who have worked very hard to manage the difficulties with recruitment that they have faced? Does he agree that, if the previous Conservative Government had invested as much money as this Government in education, we would not have those problems now?

One of the difficulties facing education in the south-east is the high cost of housing. Will my right hon. Friend consider ways of dealing with that problem when he looks at teacher recruitment?

Mr. Blunkett: I strongly welcome the very positive measures taken by my hon. Friend and her colleagues in Essex. They have helped rather than hindered the task of recruiting more teachers. My hon. Friend's question demonstrates why my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and I have been dealing with support for housing, and why, in a debate in the House a couple of weeks ago, I asked for ideas to be suggested. So far, I have not received any such ideas, but I am still open to persuasion. We will continue to look at new ideas, such as the new retention bonus, which is an accumulated bonus of £15,000 over three years which will help to retain teachers in schools facing challenges and thereby enable us to do the job of raising standards for all our children.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating staff and students at Hull university campus in Scarborough, who have made a special attempt to encourage more mature students to enter the education department for postgraduate qualifications? Will he also reserve time in his very busy diary to come and see the valuable work that is being done there? Will he say what measures he is taking to encourage more mature students to avail themselves of the opportunities to enter what I agree is the most important profession in the world?

Mr. Blunkett: I am always up for a trip to Scarborough, but preferably when the weather is a bit better and the crabs are freshly in from the sea.

I congratulate the university on its initiative. Under the graduate teacher programme, which this Government initiated, more than 1,000 mature students are working as teachers, being paid the graduate salary. We will expand the initiative to 1,600 places this year--a solution that is providing an immediate answer--with those who have experience being able to use it in the classroom.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): In Northern Ireland, the number of highly qualified students wishing to enter the teaching profession vastly outnumbers the number of places available at university and teacher training college. Will the Secretary of State consider discussing with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland--and perhaps with the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland--how the number of places available for teacher training might be increased so that the United Kingdom has sufficient qualified teachers and does not have to poach teachers from overseas, especially from areas where they are already greatly needed?

Mr. Blunkett: We welcome qualified graduates from across the United Kingdom and elsewhere to the teaching profession. We do so in particular in those shortage areas

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where, because of the new bursary system and "golden hello" payments for those entering the profession, we have seen a turnaround.

I am happy to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to those wishing to apply for secondary school teacher training. The latest figures show a very welcome uplift in the number of those seeking teacher training for secondary specialisms--1 per cent. for mathematics, 2 per cent. for English and 5 per cent for science. I would like that to be fostered right across the United Kingdom so that the uplift can be mirrored in other parts of our country.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): Will the Secretary of State confirm that, as the research by Professor Howson shows, the number of teacher vacancies in London alone is 10 times higher than official figures show?

Mr. Blunkett: No, I will not. A census has just been taken, from 18 January, and the update indicates that although there has been a drop in the number of vacancies at primary level from 0.8 per cent. to 0.5 per cent., there has been an increase of 0.1 of 1 per cent. in the number of vacancies at secondary level. That is higher in London, but is similar to the position last year, using the same vacancy definition as the previous Government used.

Mrs. May: It is no good the Secretary of State saying that the definition is the same as that used by the previous Government. Come the election, parents will not be asking what the definition of a vacancy is. They will note the way in which the Secretary of State dismissed the genuine parental concerns raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) and for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). Parents will ask, "We pay the tax, so where are the teachers?" They will ask why their children are being sent home early, taught in larger classes or taught by unqualified staff. They will ask why more newly qualified teachers are leaving the profession than four years ago, and why the Government are driving teachers out of the profession as a result of increasing red tape, mushrooming work load and burgeoning bureaucracy. They will ask why the Government are doing nothing about the growing national crisis in education.

The time has come to set the schools free and trust teachers again. Will the Secretary of State apologise to the House and to parents, children and teachers for his breathtaking complacency and the damage that his policies are doing to children's education?

Mr. Blunkett: It used to be my old friend Arthur who ranted and raved and put people off joining the Labour party; since he left, the flood into the Labour party has increased. I suspect that the hon. Lady will have had the same effect on anyone who switched on the Parliament channel this morning. It will not be ranting and raving that resolve the problem, but people, locally, in schools, and from the local authorities that she would abolish, who are helping schools to recruit and retain teachers. It will be the uplift in salaries--including the performance-related pay that the Opposition would not fund--that will solve the problem. It will be the reductions in paperwork; last term, there was a reduction of two thirds in secondary schools, and of 40 per cent. in

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primary schools. It will be enabling teachers to teach better and to achieve greater satisfaction from their successes with the literacy and numeracy programmes. It will be rejoicing in the successes of those teachers. Those are the things that will encourage young people to join the profession and existing teachers to stay--not the rantings of Opposition Members.

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