HL Deb 02 May 2001 vol 625 cc691-3

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the distinction between the current training grant paid to Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) students and a training salary.

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

My Lords, training salaries are the bursaries paid to postgraduate trainee teachers attending institutions in England, which my right honourable friend announced on 30th March last year.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she not think that it is somewhat misleading to refer to the training grant as a salary when it carries neither national insurance contributions nor any pension element? Is she aware that, on the basis of a 40-hour week, the grant works out to be less than the minimum wage? Does she not therefore feel that it is wrong to refer to the grant as a salary? Doing so gives a very misleading impression.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the term "salary" has been used because the £6,000 is paid in monthly instalments like a salary. It is of course formally a bursary. I do not think that anybody has been misled. Not a single letter making a claim to that effect has been received in my department by my right honourable friends who are responsible for policies on teachers. The £6,000 has been hugely welcomed by the teaching profession—by those who are already teachers, because it will help with the recruitment of more teachers, and by those who are considering becoming teachers. We should view the grant in those terms.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, the shortage of teachers, I think it is agreed, has reached crisis proportions, as any perusal of the advertisements in newspapers demonstrates. Have the Government any plans to extend the support they give to PGCE students to include those studying education at university? That would proportionately advantage those who intend to teach in the primary sector where the crisis is as serious.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, we need to look at the figures in a calm and rational way. There is always concern when there are vacancies. There has been a net increase of 12,600 teachers in England since January 1998. There are now more teachers in our schools than at any time during the past 16 years. We have just had the biggest single increase in the total number of teachers for a quarter of a century. Those figures should be welcomed. Only last week in this House I said that there had been a 24 per cent increase in the number of applications for students wishing to do PGCEs. The latest figure shows a 26 per cent increase. The increase for secondary schools, which is where the most serious shortages are—I stress that to the right reverend Prelate—is 30 per cent. We are en route to seeing an improvement in the general position concerning teacher recruitment and teacher supply.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Minister's response does not answer the particular question that the right reverend Prelate asked. I shall press it in a different way. Why do the Government help PGCE candidates but not bachelor of education candidates, who make an important contribution to teaching in our schools?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the focus up to now has been on PGCE students, partly because that route is becoming more popular with increasing numbers of students who come into our universities and enter the teaching profession as graduates. That has been our focus also because, as I just said, the most significant shortages occur in certain subjects in secondary schools. The normal route for the vast majority of secondary school teachers is to complete a degree and a one-year PGCE course. The Government are looking at ways in which we can provide further support for those who take the route of undergraduate education.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, despite the increase in the number of applications, it is a fact that the number of vacancies in secondary schools has doubled over the past year and trebled since 1997? Although the number of applications has increased, the number of acceptances of potential maths teachers on to PGCE courses has fallen in the past year. Maths is a shortage subject.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the latest figures show that there has been an increase in the vacancy rate. The Government are concerned to do as much as we possibly can to reduce that rate. However, I stress that larger numbers of teachers are now coming into the system. There are now more vacancies, partly because there are far more posts. There are more posts in the system because the Government have been able to provide schools with an average increase of £540 per pupil per year, which is a substantial increase. That is allowing head teachers to create more posts in our schools.