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Teacher Shortages (Essex)

3. Bob Spink (Castle Point): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what action he will take to help reduce teacher shortages in Essex. [89208]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): Essex has benefited from the full range of Government measures that were introduced since 1997 to improve teacher recruitment. They include training bursaries, golden hellos and extra pay flexibilities. That has helped full-time equivalent teacher numbers to increase throughout Essex from 12,580 in 1997 to 13,650 in 2002. From 2003, Essex schools' budgets will rise through the local government settlement, and there will be further increases in the following two years.

Bob Spink : Does not the Under-Secretary understand that the Government have increased bureaucracy and damaged discipline, thus demoralising teachers not only in Essex but throughout the country? Does he realise that several schools in my constituency have massive teacher vacancies? Will he consider extending London weighting to my constituency so that teachers there can be paid at least the same as those in adjacent constituencies?

Mr. Twigg: I think that the hon. Gentleman is making a plea for more money from the Government for education at a time when the local government settlement has given a 5.7 per cent. increase to the local authority in Essex, within which we are recommending a 6.9 per cent. increase, which is an excellent and healthy increase for schools in Essex. I do not underestimate the difficulties of recruitment and retention in Essex or elsewhere, but the matter is being addressed in a systematic way not only by the Government but by the local education authority. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to give his support to these positive measures to recruit additional teachers in Essex and elsewhere.

Bob Russell (Colchester): May I invite the Minister to have a friendly word with his colleagues in the Home Office about the Criminal Records Bureau, because that is one area in which the Government could help to reduce teacher shortages in Essex. As recently as last Friday, the Colchester Evening Gazette reported that

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Mr. Twigg: I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point. I will certainly use what opportunities I have to talk to the Criminal Records Bureau and to Home Office colleagues about the situation. As regards the recruitment of teachers, all that is required is that the List 99 requirements are fulfilled, so I will check that that is happening in Essex. I am sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's argument, because we want to ensure that schools are able to recruit all staff, not only teachers, and I will look into the matter for him.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): The Minister has heard the reasons for staff shortages in Essex. Those teachers will have contributed to the survey of 70,000 teachers earlier this week which found that one third of our teachers planned to resign or retire within the next five years. How much responsibility does he think that Government policy bears for this crisis in our schools?

Mr. Twigg: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has actually read the survey concerned. Yes, it does show that one in three said that they expected that they would, or probably would, leave teaching, but half of them will be retiring. They are not going to leave teaching because they are disaffected because of Government policy; they are retiring because of their age. It is absurd to create this scaremongering about recruitment and retention in our schools. What is more interesting about the survey is that it demonstrates that teachers are concerned about issues of bureaucracy and work load, and that is why we are addressing those issues. That is also why we are making positive proposals for the remodelling of the school work force, and I hope that the Conservatives will give us their support when we publish them.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) rises again, I must tell him that he must restrict his question to the county of Essex.

Mr. Green: Sorry. The Minister's response was unbelievably complacent. Teachers in Essex cite three main reasons for being fed up with their job: unnecessary paperwork, initiative overload and a target-driven culture. Those are the three defining failures of Labour education policy. Will he acknowledge that, unless he admits to teachers in Essex that the gentleman in Whitehall does not always know best, he will continue to drive teachers out of our schools and, in doing so, betray pupils and parents.

Mr. Twigg: I have not seen the survey broken down by county; obviously the hon. Gentleman has. My understanding, however, is that it shows that less than 6 per cent. of the teachers surveyed intend to leave teaching altogether. That is simply the reality, and it is a low figure. My colleagues and I are not complacent; we recognise that there are issues around teacher work load and questions of bureaucracy. That is why we are

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addressing them, and I would encourage Members on both sides of the House to support our proposals for remodelling the work force, whether it be in Essex, Kent or any other part of the country.

Pupil Behaviour

4. Mr Vernon Coaker (Gedling): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what steps he is taking to tackle poor pupil behaviour. [89209]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): We are investing nearly #470 million over the next three years in a national behaviour and attendance strategy to support schools. We are also introducing radical measures to reinforce parental responsibility.

Vernon Coaker: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and I recognise the work that the Government are doing to tackle behaviour and discipline problems in schools. Will he look at the proposal to reintroduce special allowances for teachers who work in the toughest schools—what used to be called educational priority area special allowances? Would that not be a good way of overcoming some of the problems of recruitment and retention of teachers in our toughest schools, and a way of tackling some of the most difficult behavioural problems that those schools experience?

Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend makes an important point about rewarding the unsung heroes of the teaching profession who make a real difference, often in the most challenging circumstances. Of course, he speaks from personal experience. Indeed, I have often thought that his previous career—achieving positive results with difficult children—makes him a credible future candidate for Speaker of the House, although we do not expect a vacancy for many years to come.

More seriously, our package of investment and reform to reinforce respect and discipline in our schools is ground breaking. It will provide support for heads and teachers, and achieve an appropriate balance between rights and responsibilities among our young people and their parents. We are the first Government to tackle behaviour head on, because we believe that it is crucial to raising standards in our schools.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): Will the Minister say what he feels has contributed more to the disillusionment of our young people—indiscipline in our schools, the rise of the drug and gun culture, rap music as suggested by the Home Secretary or the Government's obsession with targets, testing and league tables?

Can the Minister point to a single Government target that has improved the lot of our black ethnic minority students, who are more likely to be excluded from school; our special educational needs students, who are seven times more likely to be excluded from school; and those youngsters in our inner cities, who are failing in greater numbers under this Government than under the deplorable Government who preceded them?

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Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman does an injustice to an extremely complex issue by pointing to a particular element that causes ill-discipline, poor behaviour and difficulties that young people experience. We know that a combination of the need for better support for teachers, opportunities for teachers to withdraw difficult pupils from classes, ensuring that we have tough exclusion policies and ensuring that we have a curriculum that turns young people on rather than off is involved, but it is also true, as Members have said, that the influences that impact on young people outside the school environment, such as rap music, make a difference to their perception of their community and the society in which they live. We need a combination of measures to support teachers, enforce parental responsibility and ensure that we offer a curriculum that inspires and energises our young people.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): Will the Minister look into the deplorable situation in which Pencoed comprehensive school successfully defended an appeal on a temporary exclusion but was lumbered with a #20,000 bill? If it had gone for a permanent exclusion, the local education authority would have picked up the tab. Surely it is not acceptable that #20,000 will go into legal fees rather than books and teachers.

Mr. Lewis: Of course, we are willing to have a look at that specific issue. We recently introduced new guidance on reforming exclusion processes in our schools, but we must support head teachers, ensure that there is an appropriate balance between the interests of individual pupils and the school community as a whole and ensure that the exclusion process makes sense for teachers, pupils and parents.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I am sure the Minister agrees that bad pupil behaviour in schools is not the fault of the Government or of any political party, but it is a growing and serious problem. Having talked to many teachers in recent times, both in this country and in Austria, where I have been for a short time, I may say that part of the problem is that there are few sanctions available to teachers in order to deal with indiscipline. Without structure and discipline in our schools, the teacher cannot provide the best education for the majority of pupils. Will the Government attend to providing sanctions so that those who behave badly do not impede the education of the majority of pupils?

Mr. Lewis: A range of initiatives that the Government have introduced is beginning to tackle behaviour directly. Let me list those initiatives briefly: learning support units, learning mentors, behaviour in education support teams, curriculum reform for 14-year-olds, parenting contracts and orders, police in schools, the reform of exclusion panels, pupil referral units, full-time education for permanently excluded pupils, truancy sweeps and the fast-track prosecution of parents who do not co-operate. Not one of those interventions was available under the Government supported by the hon. Gentleman.

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