HL Deb 18 February 1988 vol 493 cc755-7

3.14 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what fraction of teaching posts are currently vacant in maintained schools in London and the South East, and whether these vacancies are attributable to the relatively low level of teachers' salaries.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, in January 1987, 1.9 per cent. of full-time teaching posts in maintained secondary schools in the South East and London were vacant, or filled by temporary appointment only. This is the latest figure available, and it dates from before the Government introduced the new pay structure last year. Teachers' vacancy rates have for a number of years been higher in London and the South East than in other parts of the country.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer to my Question. I should like to pursue that matter further and ask whether she can confirm a story in this week's edition of The Times Educational Supplement that the evidence given by her department to the interim advisory committee on teachers' pay indicated that it would like to see some additional funds earmarked to meet the difficulties in the South East, but that those funds would have to be found by paying teachers in the rest of the country at a rate lower than the rate of inflation and that therefore their incomes would fall.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I can neither confirm nor deny the report in The Times Educational Supplement. London allowances have for many years been paid to teachers working in and around London. The Government asked the interim advisory committee to consider other regional variations in salaries. Its report is due by the end of March. Therefore, any comments made in advance of its publication are pure speculation.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is it not a fact that the London allowance in no way compensates for the extra cost of accommodation and housing in London and until that matter is put right there will continue to be a grave shortage of teachers in the area?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, yes. The evidence suggests that the higher level of vacancies in the South East is due to the price of housing rather than rates of pay. However, a similar pattern of vacancies can be found in other professions.

Lord Morris

My Lords, am I right in thinking that many of the shortages are in the specialist disciplines? Will Her Majesty's Government do anything to find the special skills that are required to fill the vacancies that she mentioned?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government have launched a wide range of initiatives designed to remedy the shortage of teachers in certain subjects. Those initiatives include a bursary of some £1,250 for trainee maths, physics, technology and craft design technology teachers. There are also many other initiatives, including training such as two-year B.Eds and part-time courses using distance learning. There is nationwide publicity with the new regionally based unit—the Teaching as a Career Unit—to promote teaching as a career; and £16.5 million has been set aside in 1987–88 for in-service training for teachers teaching shortage subjects who are perhaps not properly or fully qualified to do so (the so-called "hidden" shortage). So there are a number of ways in which the Government are making an effort to tackle the problem.

Baroness David

My Lords, will the Minister tell us what is the percentage of vacancies in London and the South East in the shortage subjects, such as science and languages?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I do not have those figures at present. I do not know whether they are readily available but, if they are, I shall write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, does the Minister agree that insecurity and uncertainty about the Government's intentions over the last year in regard to the ILEA has been enough to deter teachers from applying for posts in the capital?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Lord on that question. However, we have now removed that uncertainty.

Lord Peston

My Lords, were I to ask the noble Baroness whether she would also favour the use of the market mechanism to deal with the shortage subjects, which has also been reported in the education press, would her answer be that that also is speculation?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, yes.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it is perhaps unwise for the Government Front Bench to assume that Bills will pass unchanged through Parliament?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I was of course speaking of our intentions. By putting forward our proposals we believe that we have removed a great deal of the speculation and uncertainty that has arisen.