HC Deb 19 November 1974 vol 881 cc1080-2
3. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will have discussions with the local education authorities to find out how many of them have issued instructions to school not to fill staff vacancies when they occur.

Mr. Prentice

No, Sir. Local education authorities are collectively employing teachers fairly well up to quota, despite the current pressure on their resources.

Mr. Mitchell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am not quite sure what his answer means? Will he do his best to ensure that in any cuts in education expenditure made by local authorities in the forthcoming year the one thing they do not cut is the number of teachers in the schools? Is he aware that there is still a very grave need to reduce the size of classes in many schools?

Mr. Prentice

Yes, Sir. In a recent speech in Birmingham to local education authority representatives I made clear that although in the coming years there would obviously be a need for considerable economies in all local government expenditure, including education, it was our intention that newly-trained teachers leaving the colleges should find employment. That policy will be reflected both in teacher quotas for 1975–76, which we hope to announce shortly, and in our negotiations on the rate support grant.

Dr. Hampson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the bitterness and the blow to morale which occurred in the Leeds area where the Labour-controlled authority proposed precisely this policy? Is he conscious of the fear that there now is in the teaching profession, particularly that when the large extra number of teachers—an extra 4 per cent.—from the 1972 intake come on to the market there will be considerable teacher unemployment as local authorities, with the financial difficulties they face, pursue this very policy of not filling vacancies?

In contrast to what hon. Members on the Government side have said to us in the past two years about the so-called inadequacies of our teacher training target, as contained in my right hon. Friend's White Paper, is the Secretary of State now going to reduce the 1981 target for teacher training in this country?

Mr. Prentice

As I made clear in the speech in Birmingham the teacher training target will be reviewed, but it is still to be with the intention of reducing the size of classes. What I said in Birmingham was deliberately designed to give some comfort to those who have the sort of fears expressed by the hon. Gentleman. In other words, despite the very difficult situation that all local government services will face financially in the next year or two, we shall safeguard the employment prospects of newly-trained teachers.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech spoke of the need for local authority manpower to be restricted to existing levels. Nevertheless my announcement exempted the teacher force because of the importance of improving the pupil-teacher ratio and finding employment for these new teachers.

Mr. Flannery

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Draconic cuts in education spending, initiated by the Tory Government, have bitten deeply into local authorities' plans? For example my own authority, which is very enlightened, is seriously thinking of having to give extra holidays at Christmas to save money. Will my right hon. Friend seriously consider restoring the cuts, because they have bitten so deeply into education locally?

Mr. Prentice

In fact, education expenditure this year is slightly above expenditure last year. The cuts to which my hon. Friend refers were cuts in what had been proposed as the original expansion of education expenditure. We face the same situation as we look ahead. There will be some growth in education spending—I shall be answering a Question on that shortly—but because of the economic situation it will not be as much as my hon. Friend and I would like.