HL Deb 05 February 2001 vol 621 cc932-6

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to resolve the shortage of teachers and the difficulty of recruiting suitable headteachers.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, we acknowledge that there are shortages in some subjects in some parts of the country. However, there are more teachers than for a decade and the number of trainee teachers has risen for the first time in eight years. We have also seen a threefold increase in the number of people applying to train as headteachers. The proposals for teachers' and headteachers' pay that my right honourable friend announced last Friday will help and should be welcomed in those schools where shortages exist.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply and I welcome the good news it contains. However, how do the Government intend to tackle the underlying problem of low morale among teachers? In recent years that has led to a 50 per cent increase in the numbers leaving the profession for other employment. Furthermore, two-thirds of all vacancies for headteachers in inner London alone have had to be re-advertised two or occasionally three times; even then, some vacancies still remain.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the noble Baroness has put a wide-ranging question to me. The priority given to education by this Government right across the range of policies for which they are responsible is perhaps the most important element here. That priority should help to raise teachers' morale. Substantial additional investment is being made in education at every level. Furthermore, the changes being made by the Government, including bringing in a large number of teaching assistants to support teachers in the classroom, should also help, as will the pay increases announced last week.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the greatest incentives for young teachers is knowing that they are going into classrooms which are in a good state of repair with smaller class sizes? Does she further agree that the support of the General Teaching Council and the National College of School Leadership will genuinely help to raise the morale and professional development of teachers?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Setting up the National College of Leadership has demonstrated to headteachers the importance that we attach to them. Every piece of educational research shows how important—the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, will be familiar with this—the quality of headteachers is to the quality of our schools. As I said in my initial Answer, there has been a substantial increase in the number of people applying to be headteachers. Long may that continue.

Lord Naseby

My Lords, is the Minister aware that her Answer to my noble friend had an air of corn placency about it? Although there has been a small upturn in the recruitment of ordinary teachers, there is still a vast shortage, not merely a spatial shortage, in certain parts of the country. Has not the time come when we should encourage our sixth-formers to think more positively about going into teaching? Do the Government have any proposals to encourage sixth-formers to look more positively at teaching and perhaps to give them some financial encouragement?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I do not think I said anything in my initial Answer that was at all complacent. I acknowledged that there are shortages, but they are not right across the country and in every subject; for example, we do not have a shortage of teachers in primary schools. Of course we should do everything possible to encourage able and talented young people to come into teaching, which is an enormously important profession. It is also an honourable profession. That is something that we should be saying again and again; we should all talk up teaching. In our sixth forms, we are providing information about the challenges of teaching for a young person who wants to work with young people and we are providing all the necessary information about improvements in pay. We need to bring in not only those at the sixth-form stage but young graduates and older people. The Government are operating on all those fronts.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, given that there are some subjects in some secondary schools where recruitment is difficult, does the Minister have any information on the relative recruiting difficulty of the secondary school system in general as compared with the several hundred specialist schools which have been set up in recent years?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord any figures. I shall be happy to go back to my department to find out whether there is any less of a problem so far as concerns teacher supply in subjects such as science, technology and modern languages in the specialist colleges. As a result of the decision to pay teachers in shortage subjects—such as maths, science, technology and modern languages—a £4,000 bonus, if you like, after their induction year, we have seen a substantial improvement in the numbers coming forward.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is not only pay but an overload of paperwork and prescription that is causing problems in recruitment and retention in the teaching profession? Is she further aware that since May 1997 her department has set 4,585 targets, which require a total of more than 300 million items to be monitored by schools and local education authorities, often on a quarterly basis? Does she not feel that this is bureaucracy gone berserk?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I accept that some teachers may find excessive the amount of paperwork that they have been asked to do over successive years. It is for that reason that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made a commitment to cut the number of documents going to our primary and secondary schools by a third and to reduce by 50 per cent the number of pages through which teachers—for the most part headteachers—have to wade. I hope that that is helpful.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is continuing concern at the shortage of male teachers in schools, particularly in primary schools? Can she say what action the Government are taking to remedy that position? Can she further say what is the trend? Is there a trend towards a greater number of male teachers coming into schools, or is there a continuing decline?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Government are concerned about the number of male teachers working in our primary schools, which is largely where there has been a shortfall in the number of men coming forward. There has been some reduction in the overall number of men teaching in our primary schools. The Government are concerned to encourage young men—and, indeed, older men who are looking for a career change—to come into teaching, especially into primary teaching. The measures that I have mentioned already, particularly pay increases—men appear to be more affected by levels of pay in professions of this kind than women—should have some impact.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, having read the debate in another place on teacher shortages, I can say that there is complacency in the department about this issue. Across the country and across the sector, particularly in primary and secondary schools, many full-time posts are not being filled. In the subject areas, many whole subjects in secondary schools are going without specialist teaching. The Chief Inspector of Schools said recently that all of this is beginning to have an effect on standards. Does not the noble Baroness agree with that?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I do not agree that the Government are complacent. We are taking a huge range of actions to ensure that we have enough people coming forward to teach in our schools, to ensure that we retain teachers and that fewer teachers leave the profession. The overall vacancy rate is less than I per cent; it is about 0.8 per cent. I do not want to be complacent—it would be far better if there was no vacancy rate whatever —but the number of teachers in our schools qualified to teach a particular subject is going up rather than down. However, we must continue to work to keep the vacancy rate at the lowest possible level.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, has the Minister considered the impact of these very welcome rises for schoolteachers on the recruitment of university teachers? A teacher in a secondary school with one year's postgraduate and five to seven years' teaching experience has the prospect of a considerably higher salary than a university teacher with the equivalent rate and three-years of debt-laden graduate work. Does not the Minister think that this will have an adverse effect on the recruitment of the next generation of university teachers?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I do not know. I suspect not. The pool from which people who want to be university teachers are drawn—that is, graduate students who have completed PhDs—is different from the one from which primary and secondary school teachers are drawn. I hope the noble Lord agrees that it is vitally important that we have enough good, high-quality teachers who are committed to the profession working in our primary and secondary schools. Without that, we shall not reach the standards that all universities want to see when they are recruiting from secondary schools at the sixth-form stage.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, can the noble Baroness give the House any good news in regard to the numbers of teachers of modern languages, particularly Spanish and Portuguese? These languages have traditionally trailed behind German and French in spite of the fact that Spanish is a global language. Can she further say whether there is any imbalance on a regional basis in the numbers of such teachers?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I said in an earlier reply that the numbers of teachers of modern languages have improved as a result of the Government's intervention to pay teachers in shortage subjects an additional £4,000 after they have completed their induction year. I cannot comment specifically on the situation with regard to Spanish and Portuguese teachers. I shall write to the noble Baroness on that issue.