HC Deb 08 June 1976 vol 912 cc1178-81
5. Mr. Luce

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many qualified teachers are unemployed.

Miss Margaret Jackson

3,533 unemployed school teachers were recorded at unemployment offices in England and Wales in March.

Mr. Luce

Will the Government now get their priorities right? In view of the monstrous waste of teacher talent and the urgent need to reduce the size of classes, why on earth do the Government not reduce the £328 million subsidy on school meals by the small amount required to employ all those teachers?

Miss Jackson

One of the difficulties in deciding on priorities is the lack of advice that we have from the Opposition on all these matters. The Opposition simply say that all expenditure should be cut, but they have no real alternative priorities. The question of how many teachers are employed is not solely the responsibility of my Department. The Government have set the rate support grant at a level to give authorities enough money to maintain staffing standards, but the responsibility for how that money is spent rests with the education authorities. Since the Opposition defend the rights of local authorities, it is hard that they should criticise us for not exercising more control.

Mr. George Rodgers

Does my hon. Friend agree that investment in education is as important as investment in industry? Is it not disgraceful that massive numbers of teachers are liable to be unemployed in the coming months? Will she persuade her colleagues that other spending, particularly on defence, would be better devoted to education?

Miss Jackson

I agree that investment in education is as important as investment in industry, but difficult decisions have to be made. We cannot say that there are 25 areas on which it is tremendously important to spend money and that we will spend that money on all those areas; there is not enough money, and priorities must be decided. I regret that situation as much as my hon. Friend, but since the money is not available words will not produce it.

Mr. Freud

Will the Minister give an estimate of the average unemployment benefit paid to the 3,533 teachers who are unemployed and say how it would compare with using those teachers to teach smaller classes?

Miss Jackson

The hon. Gentleman obviously does not have much experience of unemployment, or he would know that unemployment benefit, in the first period, is wage-related. The figures that he asks for would depend on the number of new teachers and the length of experience of others. I cannot, therefore, give him the figures, but if he wants some kind of average figure I shall attempt to obtain it. As to a calculation of the balance of cost, it is always possible to make such calculations, but they rarely fall on the side of the cut. Restraint on public expenditure nevertheless has to fall somewhere, and some of it, to my regret, has to fall here.

Mr. Ward

What steps are proposed to enable the quick retraining of some unemployed teachers to fill the shortage that exists in some subjects, which will not be filled at all without changes?

Miss Jackson

My hon. Friend is right. My Department is considering what steps can be taken to retrain teachers in subjects in which there is a shortage.

Dr. Hampson

When the Minister says that teachers cannot be exempt from harsh economic realities, what does that mean to teachers who are due to come out of the colleges in future years? Does she agree that the demoralistion of colleges is being made worse by uncertainty about whether the target is still 60,000 or is down to 45,000? Is it not wrong that this cat-and-mouse game should continue?

Miss Jackson

If one had a crystal ball one would make precise predictions, but I am not able to say what the level of unemployment is likely to be in the future. At present, it is less than 1 per cent. of the teaching force, which is lower than the general unemployment rate. We do not make such forecasts, because factors change. Wastage among teachers has been substantial, and this is the most difficult time to make any prediction for the coming year. But I hope to have a clearer picture in the coming months.

Mr. Wigley

Is it not monstrous that student teachers who were positively encouraged to go into colleges should find the outlook so bleak? Will the Minister consider introducing conversion courses in the third year of students' training, so that they can follow other necessary careers, such as speech therapy?

Miss Jackson

To retrain in the final year of a course is a new idea. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about that suggestion. We are doing everything that we can, given the distribution of powers between central and local government, to encourage education authorities to employ teachers fresh from training college. We are anxious about the matter, but we are doing as much as we can.

Mr. Cryer

Does my hon. Friend not agree that investment in people by way of smaller classes, which would take up unemployed teachers, is an urgent and better priority for the Labour movement than any investment in death-dealing nuclear weapons that the Opposition support? Does she agree that local authorities, particularly those that are Conservative-controlled, should get their expenditure priorities right? Will she guide them to cut out such things as public relations officers and 100 per cent. grants to direct grant schools and, as in Bradford, the junketing, dinners and lunches splashed around by Tory authorities?

Miss Jackson

I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is not the essence of the Opposition charge against the Government that they have succeeded in doing two things—raising teacher unemployment to record levels whilst at the same time creating a record shortage in specialist subjects such as mathematics, science and the crafts? Does not that justify the charge in today's issue of The Guardian that the Secretary of State is guilty of incompetent complacency?

Miss Jackson

I am more than a little astonished that the hon. Gentleman should dare to make that point, since a number of newspapers have recently said that it was during the existence of the previous Administration that the places that now produce unemployed teachers were planned. The previous Administration have also been open to the charge that it was their failure to take account of a planning target and to make this public that contributed to, if not created, the present situation.

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