HC Deb 04 March 1986 vol 93 cc135-6
4. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he is satisfied with the numbers of physics and chemistry teachers entering secondary education.

Mr. Chris Patten

No. The Government are particularly concerned by the sharp reduction in recruitment to physics training courses in 1985, and the potential impact on the numbers entering teaching next autumn. The more modest decline in interest in chemistry teaching could also be of concern if the trend continues.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at least one major British pharmaceutical company has told me that it would be prepared to release members of its scientific staff to teach in local schools if that would assist in the shortage? Does he welcome that initiative, and, as this is Industry Year, will he give some encouragement to it?

Mr. Patten

I give great encouragement to such initiative. Now that the dispute is, we hope, behind us, we should be able to get on with talking to education authorities, industry and others about how we can crack this long-standing problem.

Mr. Dalyell

In the light of the reports by the Institute of Physics and Sir Alec Merrison, well might the Government be concerned. What is the figure for physics students going into teacher training? Is it in single figures for the whole of Britain, as has been rumoured? What action will the Government take to put this deplorable and dangerous situation right?

Mr. Patten

I am happy to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the number is not in single figures, but in three figures. For those taking PGCE in 1985, the figure was 255—

Mr. Dalyell

For next year?

Mr. Patten

For 1985. That figure is still a great deal too low. The figure is not in single figures for next year either. I do not have the figure, but I shall let the hon. Gentleman have it. I am aware that the problem is extremely serious, and it is one which we must tackle by radical and imaginative gestures. I hope that it will be easier to do that now that the dispute is behind us.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

I am pleased that my hon. Friend is aware of the seriousness of the problem, but does he agree that the shortage of physics teachers is leading to a serious imbalance in higher education and that many universities, including the University of East Anglia in Norwich, are reporting a surplus of highly qualified applicants in subjects like accountancy, while there is a shortage in vital subjects such a physics?

Mr. Patten

I am aware of that. The education service consumes its own smoke, and that produces precisely the kinds of problems to which my hon. Friend referred. We must look imaginatively at in-service training and retraining of people with other qualifications.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is it not true that one of the reasons why people are not entering schools to teach these subjects is that the pay is not good enough? These people recognise that they can earn more in industry. What will the Minister do about that?

Mr. Patten

We want to see a better paid and better motivated teaching profession. I hope that serious negotiations will now start to create a career structure for teachers which better rewards teachers with responsibilities and with skills that are in short supply.

Mr. Holt

My hon. Friend rightly expressed the Government's concern over the shortage of physics and chemistry teachers, but does he share my misgivings that there is not, according to information from his Department, one teacher in the public sector teaching Japanese in what is Industry Year? What does my hon. Friend's Department intend to do about that?

Mr. Patten

Since my hon. Friend last raised that point with me, I have looked into the matter with great concern. However, I have not yet produced the teachers that he would like to see, but I shall report back to my hon. Friend on this matter.