HC Deb 08 July 1986 vol 101 cc154-6
4. Mr. Alan Howarth

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what measures he intends to take to improve recruitment of teachers of mathematics and science.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I am working on a range of measures with the education service and with industry. I will publish a consultation document tomorrow.

Mr. Howarth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important single cause of our present shortage of mathematics and science teachers lies in the negative attitude to salary differentiation on the part of teachers' union representatives on the Burnham committee over many years? That is the principal reason why our school leaders are now, on average, two years behind their German and Japanese counterparts in mathematical attainment, with all the handicaps that that means for them personally and for our economy. Is my right hon. Friend aware that his determination to grasp the problem and build on the initiatives taken by his predecessor will be greatly welcomed?

Mr. Baker

I shall certainly be building on the initiatives taken by my predecessor. The shortage of mathematics, physics and technology teachers is a grave crisis for our country. It has been arising for a long time. The consultation document that I shall be publishing tomorrow puts forward eight different proposals. I hope that when it has been considered by the education world and by industry there will be even more proposals. One of them is the point that my hon. Friend has addressed, the question of differentials, and whether, as there is a shortage, that should be recognised in the pay. This matter must be addressed by ACAS. I take note of the point made by my hon. Friend in recognising that some differential should be paid to encourage more people to teach in these subjects.

Mr. Dalyell

Is Sir John Mason of the Royal Society right in saying that only 40 or 50 teachers of physics will go into teaching next year? Have the Government, in their preparation of the paper, clone any projections for 1992, when a lump of physics and mathematics teachers are due to retire and the number of schools requiring mathematics and physics teachers will begin to increase rather dramatically?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman will see that in the consultation document we set out the number of applications by graduates who want to take courses in teaching physics and maths. I agree that we must find ways of attracting more people into teaching physics and maths. Various ideas have been put forward to involve industry and to try to encourage people who have a mathemathical and tehnological background who want to retire early to come back and possibly teach in our schools. Surrey county council has approached the chambers of commerce and the rotary clubs to see whether they can help in that regard. I also want to involve people who retire from the services early who now have a strong technological background. I have met former officers and noncommissioned officers who are teachers in computer studies. We must explore all methods to attract more people to that area. We must also persuade children, even at the primary school level, to take an interest in these subjects so that there is a steady flow through the educational stream.

Mr. Gerald Bowden

Has my right hon. Friend heard of the scheme known as SMILE — the secondary mathematics individual learning scheme that is used in inner London schools? Has he seen a recent report in the Daily Telegraph that children taking the CSE examination were asked to estimate the cost of providing food, housing and welfare for the world and to compare that with NATO and Warsaw pact military expenditure? Is that the sort of question that should be asked of children? Is it any surprise that mathematics is at such an appallingly low standard in inner London schools? Is it any surprise that no teacher of calibre can be recruited to those schools?

Mr. Baker

I have seen the examination paper in question, and I deplore the fact that an examination paper appeared in that form. —[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it has nothing to do with mathematics; it is all to do with politics. I deplore the fact that politics has been dragged in in that way. I have written to the chairman of the examinations board asking him to look into the matter.

Mr. Freud

We are pleased to hear that the Secretary of State acknowledges that the reasons for the shortage of science-skilled teachers can be found long before the teacher training college stage. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that paying one set of teachers more than another will create divisions in the teacher force? Will he bear in mind the failure of the £1,000 bounty for teachers who were to go into mathematics and science?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman was a little quick in calling it a failure. It is not £1,000, but £1,200, so he is only 20 per cent. out. The bursary to students entering postgraduate teacher training courses from this September is £1,200. I hope that more students will be persuaded to take it up. Pay differentials do operate, recognising merit, quality and responsibility. That may well be a way forward towards recognising the shortages that exist.

Mr. Radice

It is common ground that there is a major crisis of teacher supply in mathematics, physics and technology. I welcome the consultative document which the Secretary of State is to publish tomorrow. In view of the crisis and the need to act swiftly—which I think the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges — should he not now call on industry, which is always rightly asking our schools to raise their standards, to organise an immediate programme of secondment of qualified people to our schools?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman will find that there are various proposals in the consultative document which deeply involve industry. For example, GEC will find work for teachers in its factories for four or five weeks in the year. That is a step forward. The hon. Gentleman speaks of a crisis, but I hope he will recognise that it is not a crisis of the Government's making.

Mr. Sheerman

It is always someone else's fault.

Mr. Baker

In 1977 the Labour Government started a series of incentives, some of which have not worked. Over the past 30 years previous Governments have tried to solve the problem. For example, in the late 1940s some people were let off national service if they decided to teach mathematics and physics. This long-term problem requires urgent action. The document contains many proposals, and I hope that the country will consider them seriously.