HC Deb 27 February 1990 vol 168 cc123-4
4. Mr. Jim Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to attract qualified teachers back into teaching and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

From April 1990 I am making education support grant available to 45 local education authorities to support expenditure of £4 million over two years for recruitment of qualified teacher returners and mature new entrants to teaching. In addition, the work of the teaching as a career unit is to be expanded, and that unit's conferences and published advice to LEAs on returners will be provided in the spring.

Mr. Marshall

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, despite the fact that I am an Opposition, not a Conservative Member. Does he consider, however, that the comparative failure to attract sufficient teachers back into the profession shows, first, the continuing pressure on teachers caused by the introduction of the national curriculum, and, secondly, the low morale that is endemic in the profession as a result of a continuing lack of resources and comparatively small salaries?

Mr. MacGregor

Considerable numbers of teachers are joining and returning to the profession each year. According to the provisional figures for 1987—the latest figures available to me—the number is approaching 30,000, of whom more than 16,000 are re-entrants. But I agree that this is an important matter. Not least because of the demographic downturn in the number of school leavers, there will clearly be competition from all employers. As a high proportion of qualified teachers—for entirely respectable reasons—are not currently teaching, they will comprise a significant element of the profession in the 1990s.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of ensuring that teachers overcome their fears of the national curriculum. That is one reason why I am making the money available it is intended to enable teachers who are not teaching at present to keep in touch with developments.

Mr. Dunn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the south-east national pay scales and national pay bargaining are a tremendous disincentive to the recruitment and retention of teachers? Does he agree that it is time to move towards a position where schools set the salary levels that they wish to offer, if they are to retain and attract teachers?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend will have noted the considerable increase in flexibility locally and in schools as a result of the interim advisory committee's recommendations this year, which the committee described as far-reaching. I greatly welcome that increased flexibility, which is one of the many merits of the report. It will go a considerable way towards achieving my hon. Friend's objective.

Ms. Armstrong

The Secretary of State will know that we lose more women from the work force for longer periods than do our European competitors. According to an Equal Opportunities Commission survey last year, the main reason is the lack of adequate quality child care. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that there are sufficient nursery places so that women teachers can confidently return to the classroom?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Lady is right to focus on this important group of people. About 250,000 qualified teachers between the ages of 31 and 44, most of them women, are not teaching for perfectly respectable family reasons. It is important to attract them back into teaching. A range of measures is require: supportive and flexible working conditions, flexible pay, part-time work and job share opportunities, together with the child care provision that the hon. Lady described and the access to in-service training that I described. That is important and I am keen to encourage it. I had a meeting recently with the National Union of Teachers at which we discussed its good pamphlet on the subject. I agree with the vast majority of the pamphlet's contents