HL Deb 30 November 2004 vol 667 cc376-8

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

What developments there have been in the rate of retention of mathematics teachers in secondary schools, especially in their first five years of service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, the rate of retention of maths teachers has improved and is currently better than that of teachers of other subjects. As a result, only 1.4 per cent of maths teacher posts are vacant—a situation that is significantly better than it has been for several years.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and congratulate the Government on the efforts that they have made to attract and retain mathematics teachers. However, is the noble Lord aware that the report written by Professor Smith last year and the surveys underpinning that report indicated that something like 20 per cent of those teaching mathematics in schools had no qualification whatever in mathematics and that a further 10 per cent had very weak qualifications? In view of the fact that approximately 50 per cent of those who are initially recruited into teacher training—currently they number just over 2,000—fall by the wayside and do not end up in the classroom, are the Government really seized of the problem of mathematics teaching in schools?

Lord Filkin

Yes, my Lords, we are, and that is why we made what I believe was a very strong response to the report to which the noble Baroness referred. It is a response which needs to take place at a number of levels. We need to try to encourage more pupils in schools to see maths as a foundation for many careers and for many important life skills; we need to encourage more students in schools to take maths A-level; and we need to encourage more teacher trainers to see maths as an important subject.

We have introduced a range of initiatives to try to attract more people into maths teaching and, as the noble Baroness had the grace to acknowledge, they have been particularly successful. However, we are not complacent that this is a job done in any sense whatever. In short, while many people are apprehensive about mathematics, there is an increasing demand for mathematics skills in our society. Of course, in part, that bids up the price of people with maths skills, and one hopes that that will encourage more people to enter the profession.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether any research has been carried out into the additional remuneration that has been given to certain mathematics teachers and whether that has encouraged people to go into mathematics?

Lord Filkin

Yes, my Lords. Our assessment of the situation is that the two forms of additional encouragement—the first being bursaries of £6,000 to encourage people with maths degrees to go into teaching—have increased the number of people who are prepared to consider teaching as a good career. Those bursaries are matched by what are called £4,000 "golden hellos", which seek to retain people in a teaching career once they have entered it. I think that the figures that I summarised in my response show that that has worked in part because, compared with other professions, more people who enter teaching with a maths degree stay for three years or more. The differences are not massive, however, and therefore I think that we have further work to do in this respect.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, as has been indicated already, before we can retain, we have to recruit. I have two questions. First, given that our colleges and universities are training 35,000 new teachers each year, why do more than a quarter of those new trainees never end up teaching? Secondly, what are the Government doing to encourage alternative routes into teaching—notably, perhaps, the Job-based Graduate Training Programme, which I am told is especially effective with regard to scarcity subjects such as maths and foreign languages?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. That programme has been particularly successful. At a common sense level, it allows people, who may have had other careers after university, to enter the teaching profession by working in a school, teaching and undertaking their teaching development in situ. It is called the Graduate Teacher Programme, and, if I recollect correctly, about 5,000 teachers a year are going through it.

The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, is also right to say that we have more to do. We are doing better in terms of the proportion of students who are reading maths at university. From recollection, the figure has gone from about 6.2 per cent to about 7.9 per cent in 10 years. More maths graduates are coming forward, but we could still do with considerably more. I agree with the noble Lord that this is by no means completed business.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, seven months ago when I asked a question about the awful figures on adult numeracy, the then Minister said that the Government had ambitious targets. Seven months later, have those targets been achieved, missed or abandoned altogether?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to say that the Government have ambitious targets. That is one of the curses that we bear as Ministers—for good reason, because they stimulate our performance. I do not explicitly know to which target she was referring, but I shall give her a headline. If I recollect correctly, in the current year, 2004, 74 per cent of 11 year-olds reached level 4 in mathematics. That was a 15 per cent increase, compared with the situation in 1998. So there is significant progress there. Unfortunately my lip reading is not as good as it should be, so I cannot understand the supplementary question.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, I said "adult".

Lord Filkin

My Lords, they will become adults before long.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, can the Minister say how well are we doing in maths teaching compared with other countries? I understand that we no longer appear on the OECD comparative tables for achievement in mathematics because the Government did not supply the appropriate information.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the noble Baroness is not correct. The Government are not the supplier of the appropriate information; essentially, that comes from schools and the Office for National Statistics. We shall have to wait until those results are published in a few days' time to see what the PISA results show. Our evidence is that the successful progress that I sought to outline is genuine and in recent years we have moved forward very strongly on our maths competency. We believe that comparatively we are a strong performer in that respect.