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House of Lords

Wednesday, 24th January 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.

Mathematics and Science: Teacher Recruitment

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to deal with the shortage of teachers of mathematics and science.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, there is no overall shortage of teachers in these subjects, nor within teaching nationally. Vacancy rates are at an all-time low. However, mathematics and science are priority subjects for the teacher recruitment work of the Teacher Training Agency, in recognition of the greater difficulty in attracting teacher training students in these subjects and the planned growth in intakes over the next few years.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, that is indeed a strange Answer considering that the Teacher Training Agency has recently stated that there is a fall of 21 per cent. in the number of graduates applying for the teaching of mathematics and 41 per cent. fewer for the teaching of physics. Despite what the Minister has said, does he agree that while all subjects are important, mathematics and science are particularly important for this country for progress and competitiveness? Have the Government received any representation from the TTA about what it says is a very substantial shortage?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord should listen to my Answer slightly more carefully. I said that there was no shortage at present but that we are not complacent about the future. That is why we have set some very demanding targets. With the demographic changes, partly within the teaching profession but also in the growth of the number of children coming forward in the next few years, it is obvious that we are going to need many more teachers in those subjects and in other subjects generally. I did stress that there has been a fall in recruitment and that again is something we are concerned about. We are in discussion with the Teacher Training Agency, which has a number of initiatives in order to try to improve the numbers and to improve recruitment of teachers, particularly in maths and science.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the immense problem of teaching maths in primary schools? In secondary schools we have a number of well-qualified maths teachers but I have heard many primary school teachers described as "mathsphobic". Is the Minister aware that the number

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of primary school teachers with the TCSE in maths is very low? Are there plans to tackle this immensely important problem?

Lord Henley: My Lords, that we do have concerns as regards primary and secondary schools is fairly clear. As I made clear at the beginning, there is not a shortage at the moment. There is a reasonable number of maths and science teachers. According to the most recent survey, there are about 38,000 teachers with maths qualifications within schools, but only 62 per cent. of them are actually teaching the subject. I suspect that that is a matter which the schools themselves can address to make sure that the right people are teaching the right subject.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, did my noble friend see the article in the Sunday Telegraph 10 days ago where it was shown that at least one maths teacher was appointed for ethnic and political correctness reasons rather than because of having experience of mathematics? Does he agree that that can hardly be conducive to properly teaching people mathematics?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I very much hope that the political correctness that we see in a number of local authorities does not extend to appointments on such grounds. Obviously we hope that if schools or local education authorities were seeking maths teachers they would seek teachers with the appropriate qualifications.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, can the Minister explain to the House the division of responsibility as it now obtains between Her Majesty's Government and the Teacher Training Agency for the tasks of, first, forecasting and, secondly, providing new ITT places in mathematics and science?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we make various forecasts of the changes that are likely to happen both, as I stress, in the number of children and in the structure of the teaching profession. The noble Lord will know that there are quite a number of teachers coming up to retirement at the moment and therefore recruiting poses certain problems for the future. That is why we have increased the target for recruiting and asked the Teacher Training Agency to look at various means by which it can encourage more people into the teaching profession, whether as late entrants or whatever, especially in certain priority subjects such as mathematics and science.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that mathematics is a subject which is innate in some people but rather less so in others? Is that not a very good reason for extending selective schooling in order to find more of those who have that innate ability?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend. I suspect that we on this side of the House are united in our belief that there is nothing wrong with selection and a great deal to be said for parental choice.

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My noble friend will be aware that there are divisions to some extent, if I may put it mildly, within the party opposite.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, can the Minister give more information about what he described as the initiatives being taken at the moment? Presumably they are being taken in conjunction with the Teacher Training Agency. Will the Minister also bear in mind that whatever the initiatives are, there is quite a time lag between convincing pupils to take a mathematics course at university, followed by teacher training, and their arrival at a school?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the Teacher Training Agency is promoting a number of initiatives, including a project for taster and returner courses targeted on shortage subjects and under-represented groups in the profession. It is promoting Teaching as a Profession, which is a programme set up in September 1995. It is having discussions with specialised maths and science organisations. I could go on. The simple fact is that there is no one easy solution to the problem which is coming in the future. That is why the Teacher Training Agency is pursuing a raft of different courses.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there seems to be a shortage of maths teachers within the party to which the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, belongs in so far as, as yet, the mathematicians of his party have been unable to cost the programme that it is offering to the general public?

Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend makes a valid point.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is it not clear from the results at GCSE A-level which have been published recently as between one school and one local authority area and another that there is a wide difference between the quality of teaching in these respective schools? In those circumstances, has not the supply of mathematics teachers been maintained by lowering standards?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point to the wide range of standards that exist within LEAs and within schools. That is one of the reasons we introduced the performance tables. They have done more than virtually anything else to raise standards. Interestingly, if I may briefly make a political point, they were opposed at the time by the party opposite and, I believe, the noble Lord's party as well.

Lord Annan: My Lords, is it not the case that what matters is not so much the quantity of teachers, which I gather is satisfactory, but their quality? What schemes do the Government have for retraining teachers who are already teaching mathematics and science, sometimes, if I may so put it, very inadequately because of the fact that they have been conversions from arts subjects and have been more or less drafted in to teach mathematics and science?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as I think I made clear earlier, it is a fact that there are quite a number of maths

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teachers who are not teaching maths subjects. It is obviously right that schools should ensure that people are teaching the subjects they are trained to teach. I can also confirm that money is available for in-service training and, where necessary, teachers can be given refresher courses of one kind or another to improve their skills.

Vehicles for the Disabled: VAT Rating

2.45 p.m.

Viscount Ingleby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it remains their policy that VAT should not be charged on motor vehicles designed for disabled people when purchased by a disabled person for his or her own use or by an organisation serving the needs of disabled people.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, before I answer the Question perhaps I may congratulate the noble Viscount on his return to us and wish him every success.

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