HL Deb 06 April 2000 vol 611 cc1413-6

3.9 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether there have been increases in the number of (a) students training to be teachers of mathematics, science and modern languages and (b) persons recruited from other professions to be teachers of those subjects.

Lord Bach

My Lords, for mathematics and science, where we introduced "golden hellos" from September 1999, postgraduate recruitment in 1999–2000 rose by 19 per cent and 4 per cent respectively. Recruitment to modern language teacher training, for which "golden hellos" were not then available, fell by 11 per cent. However, the £70 million package of measures to boost recruitment to initial teacher training which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment announced on 30th March should help to bring about a step-change in recruitment to teacher training across the board.

As to part (b) of my noble friend's Question, I regret that information on the previous professions of trainees is not collected centrally. However, between 1994 and 1998, the latest years for which figures are available, the percentage of secondary trainees aged over 24 completing initial teacher training in those subjects, and who may therefore have held previous employment, rose from 53 per cent to 57 per cent.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, my noble friend will know that I tabled this Question before the new incentives were announced last weekend. Indeed, my Question may have had something to do with that, although I doubt it. My noble friend has spelt out the new arrangements which include substantially increased incentives. Does that mean that the previous incentives which he mentioned did not attract the number of graduates to these subjects which the Government envisaged? Is he aware that these very welcome improvements will need to be continually assessed if we are to avoid a shortage in these very important subjects? Can he say whether the teacher unions have been consulted on these matters?

Lord Bach

My Lords, my noble friend's interest in this subject is well known to the House. Whether it was this Question or earlier ones which led the Government to take the view that they did on Thursday of last week, I cannot tell him, but congratulations are due to him in any event.

Of course there will be continual assessment of these matters and, as far as concerns the teacher unions, their initial reaction has been generally favourable. It would perhaps assist the House and my noble friend if I were to go into just a tiny bit more detail as to what the Secretary of State said.

Noble Lords


Lord Bach

My Lords, I am glad that I have support for that. Seventy million pounds for teacher training recruitment for next year was announced on 30th March; £6,000 for all postgraduate secondary trainee teachers; £6,000 for all postgraduate primary trainee teachers for 2000–01 only; and a further £4,000 "golden hello" for shortage subject teachers. That is a pretty good package and the House as a whole should receive it well.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that about 19,000 or 20,000 schools are primary schools and that, predominantly, the teachers who train for primary schools come through the Bachelor of Education degree, which is a four-year course? Does he further agree that it is very unfair to the teachers who have come through that system that they not only have to pay tuition fees for the fourth year but postgraduate students have those fees waived and postgraduate students also receive a £6,000 hand-out and a further £4,000 hand-out if they take a job at the end of that training? Is it right that some teachers should be treated in that way when the predominant number of teachers who teach in our primary schools are treated so unfairly?

Lord Bach

My Lords, we recognise the value of a diversity of routes into teaching, including undergraduate and postgraduate entry. But to ensure an adequate supply of the subject specialists, who are specially needed in the later stages of secondary education, teaching must be able to attract the best graduates. That is why the Government have adopted the policy that they have. We have to make the best and most efficient use of funds available. Shortages are greatest in secondary teacher training. Most secondary teachers qualify through the postgraduate route. However, in the present buoyant economic circumstances, competition to recruit the best new graduates is fierce.

It is on that basis that we think that the way in which we have treated this problem is fair. But I have to say that the noble Baroness certainly has a nerve. For years the status of teachers, whether primary or secondary, was downgraded, so that the noble calling of teaching became somehow a second-rate occupation not comparable to other more lucrative employment, whatever its value. We are determined to bring that state of affairs to an end. That is why we have done what we have. We have come a long way. It is not possible to put right in three years the damage that was clone over 18 years.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is not an answer to the question that I asked.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, numbers are of course important but 30 also is quality. Is the Minister satisfied with the standard achieved by recruits to teaching as measured by, let us say, A-level scores or degree results; and are those standards rising?

Lord Bach

My Lords, we cannot be entirely satisfied, but standards are rising.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, can the Minister say wnether, despite last year's "golden hellos", it is still the case that we are losing more specialist physics and chemistry teachers than we are gaining by recruitment? Is it still the case that a disproportionate number of those who are being recruited have third-class degrees in scientific subjects and mathematics?

Lord Bach

My Lords, we are determined to raise standards, and I think that the noble Baroness ought to give what has been announced an opportunity to work to see what is the answer to her question.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, do these incentives and improvements mean that the Government will now be able to introduce more foreign language teaching at the primary stage? That is the best way to learn, as our foreign partners have found.

Lord Bach

My Lords, the Government certainly support primary teaching of modern languages. We very much hope that what we put into effect will assist that.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, last month the DTI published two reports on science teachers and technology matters. They were prepared by the Council for Science and Technology and are excellent reports. What are the Government going to do about putting their recommendations into effect, particularly in terms of continued professional development of both primary and secondary school teachers, so that they have the confidence to put forward their fast-moving subject well and with inspiration to boys and girls in our schools?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the noble Baroness has asked a very important question. I should like to write to the noble Baroness setting out in full what the Government propose to do about those reports.