HC Deb 02 March 1976 vol 906 cc1083-5
12. Mrs. Wise

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to reduce unemployment among teachers.

Mr. Mulley

I am considering, together with my Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers, what measures may be possible to limit any rise in the number of teachers unemployed.

Mrs. Wise

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many teachers are now unemployed? A recent reply from his own Department indicated that more than 5,000 were unemployed. Is my right hon. Friend now satisfied with the size of classes in schools? If not, why are any teachers unemployed at present?

Mr. Mulley

I am as concerned about teachers being unemployed as I am about people in any category of work being unemployed. The 5,000 unemployed teachers, of which 3,800 are school teachers, account for less than 1 per cent. of the teaching force. We must put the matter into perspective. Although, like everyone involved in education, I should like to see smaller classes, it is really a matter of priorities. Against the economic background and the, unhappily, very large number of others unemployed, it is not possible to meet this problem in the way that my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is the Secretary of State aware that officials of his own Department have indicated that 3,800 is an underestimate and that the figure is much more likely to be nearer 7,000, and may well double in the near future? What will the right hon. Gentleman do about that?

Mr. Mulley

The figures that I have given are those from the Department of Employment. I do not duplicate the service by trying to collect the figures independently. The figures are based on people who describe themselves as teachers. I cannot go beyond that. There is the problem that in future there may well be more unemployed teachers. As the hon. Gentleman should know, one of the difficulties—in a sense this is a problem that I welcome—is that as a result of the increased salaries and better conditions following the recommendations of the Houghton Report, many former teachers are coming back to teaching and competing for the vacancies with those who are leaving the teacher training colleges.

Mrs. Renée Short

My right hon. Friend has spoken of priorities in education. Is he not aware that the reduction in the size of classes has long been a priority of the Labour Party and has featured in practically every election since the war? Does he not further agree that another way of reducing unemployment would be to ensure that nursery classes were opened?

Mr. Mulley

A considerable number of additional nursery classes are being opened. It has been a disappointment to me that many local authorities are not taking advantage of building allocations to build more nursery classes. The only reason why we cannot employ all the teachers is that the present resources available for public expenditure do not permit us to do all the things that we would like to do.

Mr. Freud

What does the Secretary of State propose to do about the large number of qualified teachers of the disabled who are finding that local authorities are preferring to retain unqualified teachers?

Mr. Mulley

I do not have knowledge of particular instances. If the hon. Gentleman will let me know the details of instances of this sort, naturally I shall seek to discuss them with the authorities concerned. This matter has not previously been brought to my attention.