HC Deb 15 February 1977 vol 926 cc235-8
9. Dr. Hampson

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a further statement on her policies towards teacher retraining courses in shortage and specialist subjects.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

One retraining course in craft, design and technology has already started and at least one other college is considering the possibility of starting a course at Easter, but I expect most of the courses to start next September. My Department will shortly be approaching selected institutions about the provision of similar one-year courses for mathematics teaching.

Dr. Hampson

Is the right hon. Lady aware that there is great concern about this matter? There are many spare places and many unemployed newly qualified teachers yet there are only 10 pilot schemes supposedly considering the possibility of running courses. When are we to get some action? At least two years have gone by in the running down of places. How will students manage to afford to take these courses if they have already been on a mandatory grant?

Mrs. Williams

There is nothing new about these shortages. They have been with us for a very long time. The previous Conservative Government never took any action in respect of these shortages. The hon. Gentleman complained when we took no action, but now complains when there is at least action.

Mr. Beith

Is there not a case for looking at some of the colleges threatened with closure to ascertain whether they could accommodate these courses? Is it not the position that religious education is being treated as one of the shortage subjects? Is the right hon. Lady aware that St. Mary's, Newcastle is an appropriate place at which such courses could be put on?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are plenty of places available in existing colleges not threatened with closure for the courses that we have in mind. Religious education is not one of the three subjects that I have specifically mentioned, but we are aware of some of the problems in that area.

Mr. Pavitt

Will my right hon. Friend consider the specialist subject of health education both in relation to retraining and training courses? Is she aware that in the prevention of illness rather than in the curing of it this sector of teacher training colleges is one of the most important and one of the most neglected in the past 10 years?

Mrs. Williams

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's concern. It does not count as a shortage subject, because health education workers go through the entire school curriculum, as I think he will agree.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is the right hon. Lady aware that there is a great shortage of teachers who are qualified in specialist and technical subjects? Will she reconsider her decision to close the Shoreditch College of Education at Egham, which provides many excellent courses of education for student teachers in technical and design subjects which are vital in our schools?

Mrs. Williams

The Shoreditch College is one of the five colleges to be discussed between the Department and the ILEA, where 2,000 places are to be allocated. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should not at this stage jump to conclusions.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Will the right hon. Lady consider appointing an inquiry to report within a limited time on the grave shortage of teachers in religious education? Will she consider including in the suggested new form of school certificate not only English and mathematics but religious education?

Mrs. Williams

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, so far as I am aware an element of religious education is already required in schools by the 1944 Act. I think I am right in saying that it is the only subject so required. The problem is that many of those who teach religious education are unqualified for the subject and have not themselves studied in that subject. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but it is not within the same sphere as those areas in which there is overall shortage.

15. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has received about the future of teachers training in Cornwall; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. Gordon Oakes

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) has forwarded representations that he has received about the proposal to cease initial teacher training at Camborne. Discussions between the authority and my Department will be held shortly.

Mr. Pardoe

Does the Minister recognise that while there is no point in training teachers for posts that the Government or the IMF will not make available there will continue to be a need for in-service training? If the Camborne teacher training outpost is closed, Cornish teachers will have to go out of Cornwall to receive their in-service training. Will the Minister take steps to ensure that Cornish teachers receive their in-service training in Cornwall?

Mr. Oakes

I would inform the House and the hon. Gentleman that neither the Government nor the IMF are responsible for the decline in the birthrate—and that is what is causing the closure of many of these teacher training colleges. With regard to Camborne, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it will still be available for in-service teacher training in Cornwall, although it will be subject to the agreement of the local authority and the College of St. Mark and St. John, Plymouth.

21. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is satisfied with the future provision for initial teacher training in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Mr. Oakes

The future provision has not yet been decided, but my right hon. Friend's proposals are designed to make the best possible provision for this and other areas.

Mr. Ross

Is the Minister aware that, unlike other parts of the country, the Isle of Wight has an increasing school population? I do not claim any responsibility for that. Is he also aware that the phasing out, as planned, of Portsmouth Polytechnic will make it extremely difficult for those in my constituency who wish to undertake teacher training, or in-service training, to get into Southampton or Winchester, because the boat services virtually cease at 7 p.m. in the winter months and people have to go around the island, which is difficult and expensive?

Mr. Oakes

On the first point made by the hon. Member, I would point out that his constituency is in many ways unique in the United Kingdom. We shall take into account what he said, but provision will be made even if the proposals for the closure of Portsmouth Polytechnic go ahead. There is provision for about 2,000 teacher training places in 1981 at other institutions that are accessible, at Southampton, Winchester, Chichester and Bognor Regis.

Dr. Hampson

I hope that the Minister will not mislead the House as to who is responsible for changing the policy on teacher training. Will he honestly admit that the Shadow Opposition spokesman on Education in 1973 moved a censure motion on the Conservative party for reducing the number of places? At the same time, in conjunction with the National Union of Teachers, the Labour Party demanded that the cuts should be restored and that pupil-teacher ratios should be improved.

Mr. Oakes

The birth-rate has been declining since 1965. I would be surprised if that censure motion in 1973 had been won. Oppositions put down censure motions but responsible Governments carry out their policies, as our Government have done.