HL Deb 24 October 2001 vol 627 cc970-3

3.4 p.m.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many teacher vacancies were recorded at the beginning of the autumn term.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, a telephone survey of 1,500 schools taken in September indicated that there were about 2,000 vacancies in maintained nursery primary and secondary schools.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Does she agree that the situation is rather worse than that indicated by her response? A large number of vacancies have been filled by teachers who are being asked to teach subjects for which they are not trained. Ultimately, that will not help to raise standards and certainly is not good for children.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I should make it clear that the definition we used for this purpose covered full-time appointments that had been advertised for at least one term. That should be put on the record so that the point is made absolutely clear.

The noble Baroness will know that we have not collected information on the shortage of teaching provision by subject since 1997, when we learnt that 82 per cent of secondary school lessons were being taught by those with appropriate qualifications. We are investigating whether we should now conduct a further survey, bearing in mind the need to ensure that we do not increase the load on teachers. Although we know that vacancy rates are high in certain subjects—maths at 2.1 per cent and ICT at 2.8 per cent—teacher shortages for the rest of the main subjects stand at under 2 per cent. We have looked carefully at the applicants coming into PGCE and other courses this year, recognising that there has been an increase in applications for those subjects where previously we had shortages.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the survey conducted during September showed that there are over 1,000 teacher vacancies in primary schools? In view of that, and in view of the continuing problems regarding the retention of teachers in primary schools, can she explain to the House why this year the department has seen fit to cut by 600 the number of training places available for primary education?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the figure for primary school teacher vacancies is indeed 1,000, which represents 0.6 per cent of the places available for teachers. We are not complacent. Some 6,000 more teacher training places are now being provided than was the case 10 years ago. Furthermore, we have introduced a raft of measures, including school-based training places for mature graduates who wish to change careers. The number of such places available has been trebled to 2,250. We have funded 1,800 refresher courses per year to cater for returning teachers. We have put in place welcome-back bonuses, we have changed the rules on pension schemes and we are allowing more time for teachers trained overseas to study for their UK qualifications. All of these measures form part of the strategy to attract and retain teachers.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, has the Minister given any consideration to the enormous problem of teacher vacancies in London, in particular as it relates to housing? Teachers cannot afford housing in London. Has she considered whether the old tied house system might be a help in London? The tied house system helped 19th century education. Teachers cannot afford to live in London and it is no use simply employing Australians.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the teacher vacancy rate in London currently stands at 4.3 per cent. I agree with the noble Lord that that is above the average and is thus a matter for concern. We have put in place the starter home initiative for teachers. I am not sure whether the teachers I know well would fancy the idea of a tied house, but certainly teachers are very interested in the starter home initiative, which will help some 3,500 teachers to buy their first home this year.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that reducing the burden of bureaucracy would help to attract more people into the teaching profession? Over 70 documents have been issued to schools since teachers returned after the summer holidays. In view of that, does the Minister further agree that the burden of paperwork is still far too heavy? The department has not yet succeeded in appropriately reducing that burden.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that a review is currently being undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers, in conjunction with the teaching unions, to look at the levels of bureaucracy in schools. There are three aspects to the bureaucracy burden: first, the DfES—although we do endeavour to reduce the burden; secondly, local education authorities and others; and, thirdly, many teachers undertake roles that have nothing to do with teaching. Examples of that are: collecting in money; filling paint pots; and answering the telephone. We need to find different ways of reducing the bureaucratic burden on teachers. Increasing the number of support staff in schools is important and we are committed to doing that.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that 2,000 vacancies for a profession employing some 450,000 people does not seem to be a high vacancy rate, especially when compared with some other industries and services? In the context of this Question, what progress is being made to attract more men into the teaching profession, in particular into primary school education?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct to point out that the vacancy rate of 0.6 per cent compares favourably with the latest government statistics showing an average vacancy rate of 1.5 per cent. Nevertheless, every teacher not in place in a classroom has a dramatic impact on the children so affected. I would not wish to underestimate that problem. It is certainly true that there are issues in regard to men coming into primary education, although there are more issues about men coming into early years. If the noble Lord has been watching the TV advertisements that we have been putting out recently, he will have seen that we have specifically produced role models of young men coming into early years as a way of attracting them.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, in this time of an acknowledged deficit of full-time teachers, to what extent are supply teachers filling the gap? To what extent are our children not being educated?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, supply teachers play an important role. We are working with supply teacher organisations to increase the qualifications and training of supply teachers. There is no doubt that for some schools there are real difficulties. I do not wish to under-estimate that. We are doing all that we can to increase the numbers of people returning to the profession, coming into the profession and staying within the profession. I have outlined some of the measures. I would be happy to outline more, but I do not wish to take up the time of the House today. We hope that all these measures together will address the problem.