HC Deb 17 October 1989 vol 158 cc9-11
7. Mr. Corbyn

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to improve the teacher supply in London.

Mrs. Rumbold

My right hon. Friend is determined to assist local education authorities in London to overcome teacher recruitment and retention difficulties.

The Department, the Inner London education authority and the London boroughs, together with the teaching as a career unit in the Department of Education and Science, will be co-operating in a Londonwide recruitment campaign. Education support grant will be available from next April for local recruitment measures to attract more mature new entrants and re-entrants. As my right hon. Friend said earlier, the interim advisory committee has also been asked to look at measures to improve supply in areas where vacancy rates are highest —especially in inner London.

Mr. Corbyn

Is the Minister aware that her reply will be of no comfort to those children who today are still without teachers, or to those parents who are concerned that their children are not receiving a proper education? Is she further aware that a survey of the London borough of Lambeth today has shown that 43 primary schools are short of teachers, that they expect to be short for the remainder of the term and that that is a common position throughout inner London?

Is not one problem the fact that the London weighting for teachers of £1,377 a year is less than half of that paid to bank staff and the lowest weighting in any public sector employment? Should not the Minister address herself to the problem of teachers' salaries, their negotiating position and, above all, the extraordinarily high housing costs? Is there not a need for decent. cheap housing to attract teachers to London so that our children do not suffer because of the teacher shortage?

Mrs. Rumbold

Like all hon. Members, we do not want children to be away from school because of the difficulties in recruiting teachers. That is why we have invited the interim advisory committee to address the problems of pay, especially in inner London areas. We are also conscious of the high cost of housing, especially in inner London, and recognise that that problem needs to be addressed. We are currently discussing that matter not only with the Inner London education authority, but with the individual inner London boroughs that will take over education responsibilities.

Mr. Bowis

Does my hon. Friend agree that teachers will be attracted to or back to the London boroughs if those boroughs come forward with schemes of excellence, as is happening in Wandsworth? Should not the pay structure be sufficiently flexible to recognise both the teacher shortage areas and teacher excellence? Should it not be made easier for teachers or would-be teachers wishing to undergo training to obtain grants for courses, whether part-time or second courses?

Mrs. Rumbold

My hon. Friend is right. The more flexible the local authorities that undertake responsibility for education are in putting together packages to recruit and retain teachers, the better. Authorities will recruit more teachers if they are flexible in their recruitment policies and allow job sharing and possibly supply teaching for certain hours in schools. It is also important to provide some sort of training for those who wish to come back into the profession.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister has referred to the increased cost of housing in London, but is she aware that in east London the problem is particularly acute because of the increase in commercial activity in docklands and the free market in housing? Since the Department of Education and Science has not given the London borough of Newham permission to build proper schools in docklands, will she ensure that London weighting reflects the full increase in the cost of housing, because if she does not, she and the Secretary of State will be depriving us not only of schools in docklands but of teachers?

Mrs. Rumbold

As I said a moment ago, that is one of the matters to which the interim advisory committee will be paying attention and it is specifically set out in its remit.

Mr. Squire

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the London borough of Havering which has employed a significant number of teachers from the EC, particularly from Germany, who are a welcome and valuable addition to its teaching staff?

Mrs. Rumbold

I thank my hon. Friend for that welcome comment. We have always recruited, and have welcomed recruiting, from overseas and I am glad to hear that the London borough of Havering has been so successful. I hope that others will follow its good example.

Mr. Fatchett

Does the Minister realise that to parents whose children are losing education in inner London at the moment her statements this afternoon will sound remarkably complacent and indifferent? Does she recall that when her Department published a survey of teacher shortages at the end of the summer vacation, the Minister said that a figure of 3,600 vacancies was "most encouraging". Most of those vacancies were in inner London, but would the Minister be so complacent if they occurred in the private sector and in the sort of schools to which the Secretary of State sent his children?

Mrs. Rumbold

At a time when we are supposed to be working hard to ensure that children have teachers, it is a great pity that Opposition Members can try only to talk up a crisis, as they did in the summer. There is no crisis in the teaching profession as a whole. There has to be urgent consideration of the difficulties in inner London which we are trying to attack. The Inner London education authority, whose responsibility it is, came late in the day to this problem.