HL Deb 20 November 2002 vol 641 cc365-8

2.36 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

asked Her Majesty's Government:

For which subjects there is a shortage of teachers and what action they are taking to remedy any shortage.

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

My Lords, the Government have introduced measures to promote recruitment in all subjects, with special incentives for teachers of mathematics, science, modern languages, technology and English. Three years of rising recruitment to training and, this year, a 5 per cent fall in the number of secondary teacher vacancies have resulted. Moreover, our proposals for school workforce remodelling will enable schools to use their existing teachers more effectively by providing better support in the classroom.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I appreciate the work that my noble friend has just announced that is being done on some shortages and that there has been some success, but does she agree that in some subjects—which will vary, from time to time—we are likely to see shortages for some time to come? Is that not bound to affect the working and success of specialist schools, about which the Government are so madly keen? What happens to the status of a specialist school that loses most or all of its staff? Finally, will my noble friend confirm that specialist schools receive a one-off grant of £100,000 and £123 for every pupil? If so, does not the current criticism that they are creating a two-tier system of education appear to have some substance?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, that was a wide-ranging question. Perhaps I may deal first with the shortage subjects. I have been careful to check the figures. Vacancy numbers fell in all of those subjects: in mathematics by 20, in science by 18, in modern languages by 55, in technology by 20 and English by 40. That is good news, but, as always, the Government are not complacent and are keen to do more to ensure that more teachers enter and remain in the profession.

On my noble friend's second point, yes, we provide specialist schools with additional resources. With those rights come responsibilities to work closely with other schools in the area and with primary schools in particular. We do not accept that that is a two-tier system; it is about diversity in the system to ensure that we fulfil the talents of all our children.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, I am sure that we all agree that the Question concerns much more: it is about esteem in the public eye. The Government are unable to teach the nation that on their own. Nonetheless, are the Government aware of the extent to which urban schools, in particular, have difficulty recruiting teachers in a whole range of subjects, including religious education?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords., we recognise the difficulties faced by some of our urban schools. I am pleased that that the teacher vacancy rate in London is now 2.7 per cent, which is down by 500 vacancies on last year. We recognise that RE is a subject where we must do more. In fact, recruitment to training in RE is up 3 per cent on last year, if we take into account the graduate training programme. I hope that that is some good news for the right reverend Prelate, but we are of course considering the matter.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, are there any signs yet that the employment of teaching assistants in schools will help to enhance the teaching profession, such that students who might and ought to be attracted to the teaching profession will be?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, makes an important point about the value of teaching assistants. We are beginning to see signs that teachers recognise that we are trying to ensure that they are there to teach and that teaching assistants—many schools have good teaching assistants in place—enable them to be supported in both their administrative and other duties within the classroom.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, does the Minister recall that on 7th February she gave an undertaking in an Answer to a Question of mine that a curriculum staffing survey would take place that would ascertain how many teachers were teaching subjects for which they were not qualified? She said that it would take place shortly, and further clarified that "shortly" meant "soon". However, is she aware that, since then, Mr Miliband, in a response to a Question from my honourable friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said that that was not the only way to tackle the matter? Will the Minister clarify what the Government are doing? Is the survey taking place and will it, as she said in February, be published early next year?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for asking that question. I indeed promised that we would be able to publish the results by Easter 2003. We are on target to meet that pledge. The survey date is tomorrow.

Lord Renton

My Lords, as English is the most important subject for school children to master, will the Government ensure that there are sufficient well-qualified teachers to teach them English as it should be taught?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point. It is part of our literacy strategy to ensure that we teach children high-quality English to enable them by key stage 2—by the age of 11—to use that backdrop, if noble Lords will forgive the use of that expression, to develop in the secondary curriculum. That is why we support additional resources for teachers who are willing to teach English. As I said in an earlier answer, the number of vacancies in English has dropped by 40.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, is the Minister familiar with the recent study by Liverpool University, which showed that more than 30 per cent of those completing teacher training did not enter employment as teachers during the 12 months after they left college? Will she comment on the extent to which those figures suggest a serious wastage of talent?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the figures for students going into teacher training who do not end up in teaching are, as I understand it, reasonably comparable with other courses. Of course, we want to make sure that students who complete the course come into our education system and provide that quality of experience for our children. We are always looking to ensure that the training that teachers receive and the opportunities that they have when they come into schools enable them to be retained in the system. That is an important point.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree with the National Union of Teachers, which has just produced a survey showing that there is chronic instability in schools? The number of teacher vacancies is vastly understated because of the number of temporary teachers and teachers on extremely short-term contracts. What percentage of teachers are temporary? What percentage of teachers are on a contract that lasts no more than one term?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the number of supply teachers in schools has fallen by 2,100. Tomorrow, we are conducting the survey that I described, and it will give us more detailed information on what is happening. I have carefully considered what the NUT has said. We must be clear that our teacher numbers include some staff without qualified teacher status, as they did under previous governments. The increase in teachers with qualified teacher status since 1997 is 12,000, including full-timers and part-timers. We would take issue with the figures that the NUT has published.

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