HC Deb 20 April 2004 vol 420 cc31-52WH

2 pm

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD)

May I express my appreciation for the opportunity to introduce this Adjournment debate? The subject is timeless, but it is also highly topical, because this is the first opportunity that party spokesmen and other Members, of whom dispiritingly few are present, have had to comment on Professor Adrian Smith's report, "Making Mathematics Count". The report is of major importance not only for educationalists and schools, but for the wider economy.

The Secretary of State deserves some credit for having chosen a hard-hitting professor to examine the problem. The comments and analysis that have emerged from the report have been worryingly harsh. At the launch of his report, Professor Smith said about specialist maths teaching:

Everyone I have spoken to says the position…is a disaster…There is a dire, catastrophic crisis level shortage of specialists. That is fairly hard-hitting. The problem is clearly very serious. It is also tricky, and not easily defined and turned into one quantifiable bite. The analysis reveals a vicious circle in which a succession of problems feed on each other and are brought to a head at GSCE level, from which far too few students emerge with mathematical skills suitable for modern apprenticeships.

In addition, far too few students study the top tier of mathematics that enables them to go on to AS-level. Too many students fail AS-levels and too many do A-levels. Far too few study further maths, which is increasingly becoming the preserve of the private sector, and far too few study maths, physics and chemistry at university. The number of students studying physics and chemistry is steadily declining, and there are far too few graduates as a consequence. Of those graduates, far too few go into teaching or teaching teachers. We therefore have a vicious circle in which one shortage and inadequacy feeds on another.

I will discuss in a moment the details of that vicious circle and Smith's analysis of the problem and his suggested remedies, but before I do so, I must tell hon. Members that I took up the matter partly because of constituency concerns. I am sure that other constituencies have more mathematicians, scientists and PhDs than mine. I imagine that Cambridge or the two Oxford seats outbid Twickenham, but it has a substantial concentration of scientific institutions. For example, we have the National Physical Laboratory, a Government-owned institution and a centre for physics research in general and for metrology in particular, which is the science of measurement. When people talk about Greenwich mean time, they tend to forget that they are actually talking about Twickenham time or, more precisely, Teddington time, because Teddington is where the atomic clocks are.

We also have the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, which is a very successful example of a privatised former Government research laboratory that now does a lot of basic standards work and very high-level research. We also have large numbers of small IT companies. Consequently, the maths and science results of schools in my borough regularly put those schools at the top of the league tables, for what those tables are worth, which clearly reflects the background of many of the parents. I therefore have a local interest in the subject as well as a broader one.

I have a broader disciplinary interest in economic policy, both personally and as a spokesman in the House. I want to link this subject to the wider question of how the deficiency in maths and science education is seriously affecting our economic performance. I am very sceptical of many of the things that the Government supposedly do to support industry, which is one reason why I argued for the abolition of the Department of Trade and Industry. I have no doubt that the Government have a critical role to play in education, and in educating maths and science teachers in particular.

The economic importance of maths and science was underlined by another report that was published recently by the Science, Technology and Mathematics Council, which dealt specifically with what it calls mathematical literacy. Such concepts are a little elusive. Mathematical literacy is a broader and deeper concept than numeracy—it is not only about adding and subtracting, but about manipulating mathematical ideas such as proportions and percentages.

It is difficult to be precise about mathematical literacy. Teachers in our constituencies tell us about cases of seriously challenged pupils who consistently fail maths GCSE but go on to become market traders or bookmakers and display a brilliant understanding of the laws of probability and permutation far in excess of most PhD holders. Mathematical literacy is not necessarily formal and academic; it reflects a wider set of attributes.

The Science, Technology and Mathematics Council's study came to several clear conclusions. First, mathematical literacy is of growing importance to the economy and specifically to industry. Secondly, the need for it is moving steadily down the job hierarchy. That is a counter-intuitive conclusion because we have been brought up to think that as long as people have calculating machines they do not need to be competent with numbers. Manual workers, however, such as those working at supermarket counters, need to be increasingly mathematically literate because they need constantly to cross check and deal with anomalies, and they cannot do that unless they have calculation skills. Thirdly, the study makes the point that there is a perception that standards of mathematical literacy are falling. It does not suggest that standards are necessarily falling—that is a difficult thing to measure—but that the perception is that they are.

The study goes on to illustrate areas in the economy for which those findings are crucial; IT is an obvious example. In addition, growing industries, such as pharmaceuticals, require a large number of people from research level to technical lab assistants who desperately need to be mathematically literate but frequently are not. The study highlights the national health service as a key area and mentions the growing problems in respect of nurses who are admirably competent and excellent at caring but do not have the capacity to measure drugs or interpret graphs and numbers on screens. That is a serious impediment to health service delivery.

A lack of mathematical literacy also affects the financial services industry. Our constituents have problems with endowment mortgages and credit card interest rates, which often assume an understanding of compounding that many constituents, not to mention financial advisers, do not have. The industry is severely disadvantaged by the lack of such competence.

The economic importance was reinforced by a message that I received shortly before the debate from the Engineering Employers Federation, which pointed out that only 43 per cent. of people studying GCSEs achieve A to C grades. Importantly, that is the minimum qualification needed in maths and English to undertake a modern apprenticeship scheme. As most of that 43 per cent. go on to study A-levels, the number remaining to go into industrial work at a technical level is small and declining, and the federation is alarmed about that.

I shall now proceed to what Professor Smith said in his report. There are two key elements of the analysis: the first relates to the shortage of specialist teachers, and the second to deficiencies in the curriculum. I have already said that he considers the position disastrous in terms of specialist teachers. The disaster is manifested in both quantity and quality—the fewer the teachers, the more non-specialists are teaching and therefore the lower the quality. I shall provide a few stylised facts that illustrate the points that Professor Smith is making about the lack of quantity and quality. He points out that there is probably—it is difficult to be precise—a shortage of 3,400 maths teachers, which is 16 per cent. of all vacancies. There are also serious shortages in science and IT. In the long term, to fill that shortage, it would be necessary to recruit 40 per cent. of all maths graduates into teaching, which is unachievable given current market conditions and the alternatives available to those with maths degrees.

I acknowledge that the cup is half full as well as half empty, and progress is being made in teacher training recruitment. Last year's figures are encouraging and attempts have clearly been made to deal with the problem. However, I hope that the Government will acknowledge in an equally open spirit that they have failed to reach their targets every year. The figures from Professor Howson of Oxford Brookes university, who is one of the leading authorities on the matter, suggest that the Government will again fail to meet this year's recruitment targets.

Moreover, the problem in terms of the structure of the profession is getting worse rather than better. The age profile of maths teachers is old: 30 per cent. are over 50—a higher percentage than in any other subject—and only 15 per cent. are under 30, which is one of the smallest percentages. There are similar disproportions in science, and they are even worse in teacher training: half those involved in the training of maths teachers are over 50. There will thus be a replacement bulge in addition to the built-in problems of recruitment, which will affect quality as well as quantity.

The following are some of the examples given in the report and elsewhere of the qualitative problems associated with the lack of specialist teachers: 26 per cent. of all people teaching maths in schools do not have a qualification beyond A-level—the proportion was 20 per cent. seven years ago; the recent Ofsted analysis of key stage 3 teaching found that a third of all classes were seriously deficient; a third of entrants into science teaching have a third-class honours degree or lower; and many physics and chemistry teachers have not done maths beyond GCSE level, so the problem spreads to other subjects, too.

The most damning figures of all are in the table in the Smith report that contrasts the British situation with that of other OECD countries. The study shows that in terms of the proportion of schools that are currently suffering from a deficiency in the quantity or quality of maths teachers, 23 per cent. of British schools are affected in respect of science, as against 12 per cent. in the rest of the OECD, and 29 per cent. are affected by shortages in respect of maths, as against 12 per cent. in the rest of the OECD. One cannot make absolutely precise comparisons, but the figures in terms of competitiveness and relative comparisons are worrying.

Smith discussed the implications for the curriculum in schools and the cause-and-effect relationship. He said that the three-tier GCSE is "disastrous", and that we had completely lost the plot on. GCSE. There are too few people at the top end and pupils are not being stretched sufficiently to go on to do A-levels, let alone further maths, and at the bottom level too few achieve even the minimum standard. Smith described curriculum 2000 as a disaster because of its effect on maths. In the first year, there were large numbers of failures, which in turn meant that in the following two years much smaller numbers took the course. That will feed through the pipeline of universities and teacher recruitment for years to come.

Most serious of all is the number of people taking maths and science at A-level. Since 1997-98, the period for which the Government are responsible, there has been a fall of 20 per cent. in the number of A-level maths students. It is true that in the last year that has recovered significantly, which is a positive countersign, but there is no relief in respect of chemistry and physics, where there has been a decline of 17 per cent. and 11 per cent. respectively, with no recovery.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Coop)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I apologise for missing the first few minutes of his speech. Will he take this opportunity to correct his inadvertent comment that the majority of those who got grades A to C at GCSE—43 per cent.—would go on to A-level? In fact, the figures are much worse than that: of the 600,000 pupils who take GCSE maths, 90 per cent. drop the subject, leaving only 60,000 taking A-level. Some 90 per cent. of those drop the subject before university, leaving as few as 6,000 going on to maths degrees. Is that not the serious problem?

Dr. Cable

That was an extremely helpful intervention. Those are useful numbers, and I am sure that they are right. They reinforce the fact that the position is serious. I was trying to make a slightly different point. It is because of the small numbers getting GCSE, in addition to the limited numbers going on to academic work, that there is a shortage of people who are able to go into proper vocational training.

In conclusion, I should like to talk a little about where we go from here and what the policy implications are. It is probably useful to preface my comments by saying that there are clearly no easy answers. We are dealing with a big and complex problem. Intervention at one precise point will not solve that problem. There is a sequence of difficulties. I shall touch on several of Professor Smith's conclusions and ask the Minister to tell us how the Government view them.

The first and most radical conclusion is Professor Smith's judgment that there has to be a much greater use of market forces in respect of mathematical teaching and, by implication, sciences. He acknowledges that the Government have gone some way down this road through golden hellos and teaching bursaries, which are attractive, but only to new entrants. They do nothing for those already in the profession. He raises the possibility that if market forces were operating in this area, maths teachers might be paid £10,000 more than their colleagues.

When that proposal was made in relation to science teachers in the Roberts report, the Government rejected the idea that there should be such disparities. I can see the obvious problems in terms of staff room morale, not to mention cost. None the less, there is clearly a problem here. I should be grateful for the Minister's reaction. Does he see the proposal as the direction in which recruitment should move? Should there be a greater use of incentives and should they apply to existing teachers as well as new teachers?

Secondly, there is a whole set of ideas for recruitment, some of which are quite challenging. The point is made that whereas there is a shortage of 3,400 maths teachers, there are 7,000 other maths teachers who are not teaching maths. Some of them are teaching subjects such as IT, and pulling them out of such subjects will create another shortage. That is not a magic cure, but how big a potential is there in that area? What can be done to steer that unused resource in a more productive direction?

The suggestion is also made that maths and physics undergraduates might be used in the classroom, presumably working as classroom assistants. Given the current reaction of the teachers' unions to classroom assistants, that might not be the most popular idea around. None the less, it is unconventional and interesting and I see no fundamental objection. It would be interesting to hear how the Government see it.

The report also makes a perhaps more practical suggestion about the importance of in-service training. It makes the point that if we are to get to a position where no child has to be taught by an unqualified teacher in a particular specialism, which is what we surely should achieve within a reasonable period of, say, three months, the only practical solution is to have a great deal of in-service training. People who may not be maths or science graduates should be able to train in post. Professor Smith makes the further suggestion that people should be qualified to teach at different levels. In other words, why not have teachers who can teach up to key stage 2 or 3, not necessarily to A-level, and have more variegated standards of training and certification? That seems eminently sensible.

A third set of recommendations relates to how to encourage students to do more in maths and science. It makes the radical suggestion that GCSE maths should count double and that A-level maths should count double for university admission. One can see the obvious problems if that were extended to many other subjects but it seems an obvious practical suggestion. I do not see the fundamental downside to it. Again, the Government might want to give their reaction.

David Taylor

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. There is nothing new in that suggestion. It represents a reversion to what was common in the 1960s, when I took A-level mathematics; one could take pure and applied maths together or separately. Many chose the latter option, which is an attractive way ahead.

Dr. Cable

I followed the same path as the hon. Gentleman; I remember it well, but I struggled with the more difficult maths. The key conceptual point that we have been asked to consider is that not all subjects are equal. The radical suggestion is that subjects should be valued differently for university admission.

The report makes some radical suggestions for creating what it calls centres of teacher excellence, costing £100 million or thereabouts. It builds on the existing model for science teaching, which at least in its early stages appears to be a well-conceived initiative. If people are being sharply party political, they might ask how it will be paid for. My answer would be that the Government spend an awful lot of money on trade and industry in industrial support and tax credits to encourage the private sector to do research and science that it would probably do anyway, and that diverting a small fraction of that sum into science and mathematics teaching would be a much more productive use of taxpayers' money.

2.21 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on his good fortune in acquiring today's debate, which is on an important subject The hon. Gentleman is a distinguished mathematician; he was a professor at Nottingham university.

Dr. Cable

Of economics.

Mr. Key

Indeed. None the less, the hon. Gentleman is a distinguished mathematician. However, I bet that he is glad that he is no longer the chief economist of Shell, which is clearly short of mathematicians.

In following the hon. Gentleman's excellent remarks about mathematics, I must tell the House that I, too, have read the essential chapter 2 of Professor Adrian Smith's report. However, I do not agree with his conclusion, which was endorsed by the hon. Gentleman, of using market forces, with golden hellos and other inducements. As a former teacher, I believe that teaching is a vocation.

I spent 16 years at the chalkface, and my experience was that differential pay rates for subjects or responsibilities—perhaps for games or certain other subjects—gave rise to all sorts of petty jealousy in the staff room. That was human nature. I recall that one of the headmasters under whom I served conducted a survey and discovered that more than 90 per cent. of the teaching staff were receiving some sort of special payment. We had round-table discussions about that, and we decided that it was unfair. We agreed to scrap nearly all the special payments and to increase all salaries by a sensible amount, which was much more motivating. The professor's suggestion is the equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.

As a member of the Science and Technology Committee, I visited Culham last year. While going round a Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council establishment, we met some brilliant teachers—except that they were not teachers. They were researchers, but they were so good at explaining the principles behind their advanced physics that I wished that they were working in the classroom and not at the cutting edge of science. That is one of the dilemmas facing those who care passionately about mathematics or science subjects; they are torn between the pursuit of academia or business and basic schooling and education.

One aspect of the subject has not yet been mentioned. I would like to know what the hon. Gentleman thinks of it, and the Minister may have something to say about it. I speak of the enormous scope in specialist science subjects and mathematics for distance learning and a greater use of the internet, which has become so much more sophisticated. The work of the Open university at undergraduate level suggests a huge potential for using the internet much earlier in the curriculum—let us say from the age of five.

I shall concentrate more on science. The day after tomorrow will be my birthday. I have always enjoyed birthdays. I wonder whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, remember the coelacanth. Fossils of that fish can be 400 million years old, predating dinosaurs by millions of years. A living specimen was caught off the coast of southern Africa in 1938, and another was hauled aboard a boat near Grahamstown in 1952, just in time for my seventh birthday. My father ordained that my birthday treat was to be coelacanth and chips all round, followed by my favourite BBC Home Service radio programme—there was no TV then of course—"Journey into Space".

Now, as then, most children of that age are excited, engaged and motivated by dinosaurs and space, and recent blockbuster movies and TV series on those themes prove my point. So why is it that most young talent deserts the world of the sciences when GCSEs and A-levels demand subject choices? The issue really matters and must be addressed if the United Kingdom is to make sound judgments on ethics and investment and to compete at the leading edge of world industry and wealth creation.

The quality of public debate about genetic modification, the sources, use and abuse of energy, therapeutic cloning, reproductive fertility and a host of other issues is truly abysmal. In the difficult world of science, self-serving pressure groups have become the refuge of politicians, journalists and voters alike.

Last December, the Science and Technology Committee took evidence on nanotechnology from Professor Sir Harry Kroto, the president of the Royal Society of Chemistry. I asked him whether the lack of people in science was down to the lack of science education, and he replied:

Yes. I think it is the most dangerous thing we face at the present time is, the lack of science teachers of pre-16s. I think we have got a disaster of enormous proportions facing us. Of the number of physics teachers teaching pre-16s, 80% do not have a degree in physics and 50% do not have an A level in physics. If that is not staring a massive problem in the face in six years, I do not know what is.

Why does science lose its appeal after such a sparky embrace from our children? A glance at the website of the excellent Association for Science and Education at www.ase.org.uk reveals that science teachers are working their socks off to attract the best pupils. Is it just that science is hard and media studies are easy? That is true, but it is an insufficient excuse. That says something profound about the message that our science and maths teachers are able to pass on to pupils who they believe have the talent to move into science and mathematics at a higher level.

The Select Committee's report "Science Education from 14 to 19", which was endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), a member of the Committee at that time, concluded:

GCSE courses are overloaded with factual content, contain little contemporary science and have stultifying assessment arrangements. Coursework is boring and pointless. Teachers and students are frustrated by the lack of flexibility. Students lose any enthusiasm that they once had for science. To add insult to injury, we also need at least 4,000 more technicians, given that practical science in schools depends on them. However, we will not recruit them unless their appalling pay and conditions are improved.

We need a serious five-point plan for science in schools. First, we should adopt a coherent approach to the current dysfunctional time scale for key stage strategies and examinations, which is much criticised by science teachers. Secondly, professional bodies continue to report a serious shortfall in qualified science teachers; the hon. Member for Twickenham referred to that. Reversing that trend should be a national priority, and there can surely be agreement on that across the political spectrum, and between employers and employees.

Next, we must sort out the plethora of standards for trainee teachers, newly qualified teachers, teachers passing the threshold, subject leaders and head teachers. Again, I disagree with the conclusions of Professor Adrian Smith's inquiry, which recommends that

consideration be given to the introduction of new mathematics teacher certification schemes which award certification to teach mathematics only up to certain specified levels, eg Key Stage 3. That is just adding to the plethora of suggestions that are neither appreciated nor approved of by those who try so hard to teach these subjects.

Fourthly, we need to recognise that science teachers need less pressure and fewer initiatives if we are not to stifle their passion for the subject. Passion for the subject is the key to raising standards in schools and attracting people to those subjects. Finally, without proper professional development opportunities for teachers, standards will not be raised. The future supply of scientists will be threatened and young people will live in ignorance of the world of science.

Those who make it through school to university and who can find a science department that is not being forced to close will encounter unsustainably low levels of clinical research. The first of two challenges is the dearth of experimental medicine—testing the validity and importance of new discoveries or treatments in patients or healthy volunteers. The second is the lack of large-scale clinical trials of all new forms of health care innovation.

The Medical Research Council is now tackling that fact in partnership with the NHS and other funders, but it has many competitors for Treasury funds in the spending review process. I hope that the Minister will use all the power at his command to persuade the Treasury of the importance of that. We should all be backing him up and battling with the Treasury on that important national priority.

How seriously are the Government taking the crisis in science? In the Select Committee's recent scrutiny report on the Office of Science and Technology, which was published on 4 March, we expressed deep concern that the Science Minister is not fighting the corner of science and research at the Department for Education and Skills. There has also been poor integration of the OST's activity with that of the rest of Government—the Treasury and the DFES in particular.

Last year there were six reviews of science and research policy in government. All were conceived separately and without reference to each other. As the Chairman of the Select Committee said,

The Government wants a knowledge-driven economy but all we get is a review-driven Government. That will not do.

The problem is appreciated across the spectrum. Not long ago, Baroness Susan Greenfield invited some of us to a Royal Institution evening meeting on science education. Present were some 15 blue-chip chief executive officers, academics and politicians, to discuss what was wrong with science education. I thought that they would all come up with the answer that the problem was lack of postgraduate opportunity, lack of research facilities, lack of funding for PhDs and so on. Not a bit of it.

Whether it was the CEO of a big company like Siemens or the vice-chancellor of a university, the same conclusion was reached: what was wrong with British science was a lack of teaching in primary schools, and if we do not grasp the nettle of primary school teaching and take the long-term view—something that politicians are not normally credited with doing—we will do our country a disservice in the long run.

We all have little anecdotes about why we have suddenly become convinced on an issue. I was at a reception on the Terrace last summer for the brightest and best of our graduate scientists, who presumably all at least had first-class honours degrees, and some of whom probably had second degrees. I chatted away to three of those attractive, bright young people about—although I am not a mathematician—the measurement of things. They talked about the latest supercomputers and so on. I quietly asked if they had all used slide rules. They had all heard of them, but none had used one. Two of them had heard of log tables; none knew how they worked. Only one out of three had even heard of an abacus. I may be very old-fashioned and my birthday may be approaching rapidly, but I am happy about supercomputers, and believe very much in looking forwards, not back. However, it is perfectly clear to me, at the ripe old age of 58, pushing 59, that if we do not deal with the problem soon, we shall be letting down a whole generation of young people in this country.

2.34 pm
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Coop)

This afternoon I had intended not to speak but to listen to the wise words of others, in the expectation that the Liberal Democrats would have arranged for a rank of speakers to address us during the hour and a half of the debate. However, in the absence of any other speaker, I would hate there to be no contribution from the Labour Back Benches.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), whose commitment and enthusiasm in this area are legendary, and I would like to reflect on some matters that he raised. I disagree with him on what is to be done about the Smith committee recommendation that thought should be given to differentials in teachers' remuneration. Like the report's other 43 recommendations, it should be taken very seriously.

We are considering a culture in which it is assumed not that all animals are equal but that all subjects are equal. However, some subjects connect with the human psyche differently from those with which we become familiar as young children; subjects such as mathematics make demands on our brains that others do not. I speak as one who undertook a mathematics degree but then realised, perhaps like the hon. Gentleman who opened the debate—let us call him the hon. Member for Teddington—that there are much easier ways to earn a living.

It is hard to put it over to people not only how difficult maths can be but how extraordinarily it can develop one's personality and understanding. We should consider what motivates students. I am the father of three children, the eldest of whom is at university studying American studies for the good reason that his degree course involves his spending a year in America. It was a wise choice, and I had an interesting discussion with him over Easter about which American university he would like to go to. The question of what job he will do has not arisen, but I suspect that there will be a significant market in this country for people with a considerable understanding of American history, culture, art and so on. In any event, such subjects are clearly tremendously attractive.

My daughters, aged 12 and nine, are both pretty good at maths, but I should be surprised if they went on to study it in depth. It is my pleasure to take them on a Saturday morning to an organisation called Theatre Train, where they sing, dance, act and have a wonderful time. If someone were to ask them to compare that pleasure, and the prospect of doing those things as fledgling adults and then as young adults, with doing a lot more of what they do in their maths classes at school, I have little doubt about what their answer would be.

It is extremely difficult to get an idea of how pleasurable mathematics can be. We have a system under which people are treated as though gaining a degree will qualify them for jobs in the City and elsewhere. So long as all subjects are equal, those that look more taxing will lose out. The stronger the range of subjects and the more exciting the opportunities—such as going to America, studying Burmese history or doing any of the other wonderful things that can now be done in education—the more they connect with people's motivations to study. It becomes progressively more difficult for people to understand that there is another world beyond, of which they have little concept or experience.

David Taylor

It is difficult for those with a lifetime's love of mathematics, such as me, to understand why others do not share that affection and enjoyment. Does my hon. Friend agree with one of Professor Smith's other conclusions—that there is great potential for promoting mathematics through, for example, a national centre of excellence, regional centres of excellence and perhaps even local centres? That could encourage young people in the belief that there is huge enjoyment not in log tables and abacuses, but in modern mathematics.

Mr. McWalter

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I sign up not only to the recommendations at the end of the report that he mentions, but to all of it. We could grab this problem by the scruff of the neck and do something about changing the culture. My children tell me that the current term is nerds—people who have an extraordinary interest in things that are deeply remote from the set of "EastEnders"—but nerds and nerdish concerns are increasingly marginalised in our education system. I am sometimes thought of as rather nerdish myself; yesterday, I had the opportunity to say some words to the parliamentary Labour party that were regarded as sufficiently abstract as to cause mirth.

We must find a way of getting people to understand that "education" is in many ways a misnomer. The word "educari"—to lead out from somebody their potential for learning—is only part of the process of education. Hon. Members may know that it comes from the model in "The Meno", one of Plato's dialogues, which portrays a slave boy with the potential to have an understanding of geometrical form led out from him. In truth, education is about not only pulling out from somebody what they are interested in and what they think, but getting them to understand the world—not just the material world, but the world of ideas and beliefs—and the powerful intellectual forces that have shaped the world we have inherited.

Mathematics is a powerful part of that, yet that side of the subject is often entirely ignored in what we call mathematical education. I share an enthusiasm with my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor)—for such things as seeing scratched on a piece of paper six symbols associated with Gauss, ei[...] = -1.

David Taylor

That's right.

Mr. McWalter

My hon. Friend knows the power of those symbols. That idea—one could have the exponential number, 2.78 et cetera, raised to the power of pi, which is the extraordinary number that reflects the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, and then multiplied by the square root of minus one, which somehow could equal minus one—is extraordinary. However, most people, if they looked at that series of symbols on a page, would just turn off and say, "What's that all about?" In my view, it is one of the most extraordinary achievements in the history of mathematics.

On the one hand we have a phenomenal achievement and on the other a complete absence of consciousness on the part of even the most educated people of what that achievement really means. As I have described it, of course, it is just a series of symbols. However, let me take only one portion of that idea of Gauss—the idea of the exponential number. That number plays a significant role, for instance, in understanding the processes of radioactive decay. The equation for radioactive decay involves that exponential function.

If one is to understand how radioactive particles decay or how we deal with radiation rising from natural or unnatural processes, it is a pretty good idea to have some grasp of the concept and to understand the equation governing the process. However, most people in this country have not a clue what the exponential function is. As a result, they cannot engage in debate on or claim to have an understanding of the process of radioactive decay. Again, we come to the idea that understanding how natural processes are to be quantified is hugely difficult for most of us to take on.

The hon. Member for Salisbury—I sometimes accidentally call him my hon. Friend, and perhaps I should do that—talked about some reports of the Science and Technology Committee. We have a report, not yet finalised, that deals with issues involving how we go about trying to help with acting on the agenda of the Johannesburg summit, where there was a particular emphasis on the need to get an effective water supply to some of the poorest countries in the world.

One of the issues that came up when we spoke to the chairman or chief executive—I cannot remember his precise title—of the Natural Environment Research Council was the fact that people had taken that agenda on board and sought to act on it, which is great. People want to drill wells to service the needs of villages in some of the poorest places in the world, but with no quantification and no thought given to the fact that if they drill at point A they might give people a water supply for 100 years, but if they drill at point B they might give people a water supply for six months.

Quantification, understanding the processes and working out the shapes, geology and the porousness of rocks are all mathematical processes, some of them governed by the same exponential function that I talked about. However, if people went into such things with good will and mathematical ignorance, they could do more damage than if they tried to do nothing at all. Mathematics is part of education and of action—it does not involve only referring back to a beautiful equation of the late 18th century—which gives us the power to understand how the world is and how we can influence and change it for the better.

David Taylor

Is not mathematics also important in politics? If Ministers in successive Governments had been more numerate, perhaps we would not have landed ourselves with the public relations disaster of an education grant settlement that left some schools less well funded than they were and with a private finance initiative that is prohibitive in cost, flawed in concept and intolerable in consequence, all of which could have been calculated and predicted merely by considering the mathematics of the enterprise. Should we not be looking for improved numeracy and mathematical skills at high levels of government?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Edward O'Hara)

Order. It is fascinating to hear about the importance of mathematical concepts and their applications, but I remind hon. Members that we are talking about the supply of mathematics and science teachers.

Mr. McWalter

I am grateful to you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I strayed slightly, but I was trying to emphasise that we must give people an understanding of mathematics as a power to change the world for the good. Most young people whom I have met want to do things with their lives that will enhance the lives of others, so if people had that idea of mathematics and science we might begin to change motives. To do that, however, we must give people a motive to work through difficult or unnatural concepts.

It took 1,500 years for people to gain an understanding of how to begin to come up with a set of numbers that might describe the flow of liquids. None of those things is natural; they are huge achievements by our culture. We cannot just assume that now we have a way to produce some of those numbers, they will easily be latched on to by the average pupil aged 13 or even 23. Those cultural achievements are monumental and to change our world for the better we must find a way to communicate them and to empower people who have become the reliquaries of those achievements. If we could give people a much more positive sense of those things, we might not face shortfalls in teacher numbers such as some of those we face currently.

Mr. Key

I want to return for a moment to the example of the hon. Gentleman's family, as my younger daughter did exactly what his child is doing. She took an American studies course and went to the university of Texas, where her mind was broadened enormously, not least to the wealth of American universities and the money spent on science and maths education in such places. I want to give the hon. Gentleman some hope, following what he has said about doing the world some good. Would he care to comment on the fact that my late father studied mathematics at Cambridge and ended up a bishop?

Mr. McWalter

I cannot claim that studying mathematics always leads people to be useful to society; it simply gives them capacities that they may decide to implement. Of course I think that bishops do a good job as well; perish the thought that I would say otherwise.

I look forward to the Minister's reply to the debate. Obviously, I want to hear that he and the Department have taken the issue on board and will achieve a sea change in how we think of these matters. That would be immensely to the good of our children and their children. If we can begin to ensure that those capacities are cosseted and improved, we can enjoy the prospect of continuing to live in a successful country that not only innovates scientifically, but uses those ideas in powerful ways to improve our world.

2.55 pm
Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing this timely debate. I had perhaps not anticipated the direction that it would take, but it has been of great interest. I intend to concentrate on the title, but, funnily enough, something flashed into my mind as the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) was speaking. I recall that when I was studying for my maths A-level, which I loved and worked on at all hours, I strayed and read something that Bertrand Russell had written. He wrote that as a young man the only thing that stopped him committing suicide was his love of mathematics. I found that inspiring as an A-level student. However, I return to the topic.

We can quote all sorts of statistics. For instance, more than a quarter of secondary school maths lessons are even now taught by teachers without relevant post A-level qualifications. As has been said, we can go round and round, arguing whether the problem is to do with our uninterested pupils or a lack of inspirational teachers. An article in The Independent on 19 February succinctly illustrated the vicious circle that we face with two equations, which I rather liked. It said that

unqualified maths teachers + uninterested students = a drop in the number of people taking A-level maths", and

fewer maths undergraduates = fewer qualified teachers. I would add my own comment, albeit on a slightly different tack. The highest level of academic qualifications does not necessarily equal the highest level of teaching ability. We should bear that in my mind. I am sympathetic to Professor Smith's idea about mathematical qualifications at different levels. The inspiration that is needed at the primary school level may or may not come from people with PhDs in mathematics. I would not make a presumption in either direction.

My underlying premise is that all our children have a right to be taught by a teacher who is not only qualified, but qualified in the subject or area being taught. Equally, teachers have a right to professional development. They need to enhance expertise or subject knowledge. I find it scandalous that the most recent secondary schools curriculum and staffing survey took place after a six-year interval. Prior to 1966, such surveys were conducted at four-year intervals. Concern about the shortage of subject specialists is not new. If there is to be a timely, planned response. it is essential that decision making is based on the most up-to-date information and that clear responses are made to identify trends.

Professor Smith commented on that deficiency. He said that he regretted the fact that only preliminary findings on qualifications and age profile were available to him when he was working on his report. How can vital targets for teacher training be set without sound information, collected regularly? I understand that the most recent data are made up of responses from only about 200 schools, which account for fewer than 25 per cent. of those asked to participate.

We have heard reference throughout the debate to two important reports, one by Sir Gareth Roberts, primarily on science but covering other subjects too, and another more recent one by Professor Smith. It is interesting that although they at times approached the problem from slightly different angles, they reached similar conclusions. That is certainly true of their views on centres of excellence, although the formats were slightly different. Both reports say that we seem to have an ageing population of science and mathematics teachers—I presume that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) was a science teacher.

Mr. Key


Mrs. Brooke

I apologise.

The point has also been made that school children are not finding science or mathematics exciting. I agree with other hon. Members that it seems nonsense in this day and age that science is not exciting. With the pace of change and exciting developments, how can children be bored by science? We should question what is happening in our schools. I personally have always had a great love of mathematics, and I am not sure how we have managed to turn children off the subject.

It emerges from the findings of both the reports that we compare unfavourably with other countries in both science and mathematics. The curriculum content is vital. We heard from Professor Smith about the fiasco in 2001, which had a particularly bad effect on mathematics. It was bad that such a large number of students failed, particularly as they had already had a bad time with the AS-level. As far as mathematics is concerned, Professor Smith's recommendations to change GCSEs are quite exciting. The possibility of the double qualification that would emerge from those changes would be worth considering. There is a lot of scope for change in that area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham referred to mathematical literacy, which we all see as important. It is a basic life skill. I recall an incident in my local authority area. The weeds were growing at a great pace in the pavements, and a new EU regulation required those who were to apply the weedkiller to have a paper qualification. There was great difficulty in getting the workers through that qualification because they needed to know the proportions. If people can do such things instinctively but cannot translate them on to paper, it is nonsense that they should be required to do so. We should ask questions about our approach.

It is difficult to know how severe the shortage of teachers is. One of the surveys found that many of those teaching mathematics did not have a post A-level qualification in mathematics. However, many of those teachers may have had a degree similar to mathematics, which would mean that they would be adequately qualified. They might, for example, have a degree in physics or in economics. I have a degree in economics, and would consider myself qualified to teach up to key stage 3, although it would be helpful if I had continual development and courses to keep me up to date. We must think outside the box, and perhaps work on the fact that there are people available with degrees with a high level of mathematical content.

Mr. Key

The hon. Lady has just made a profound point. Professor Smith also pointed out in his report that 25 per cent. of mathematicians teaching in schools are not teaching mathematics, which is a huge untapped resource. Like her, I was an economics teacher.

Mrs. Brooke

I was going to refer later to the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman, but I shall do so now. I do not think that we need to worry about it too much, although research probably needs to be carried out. I know of a secondary school mathematics teacher who did not feel supported in dealing with behavioural problems in their school. The teacher then moved into a middle school and is now making an enormous contribution, not as a specialist mathematics teacher, but teaching mathematics, heading IT, and doing many other things with their skills—[Interruption.] I would give way under normal circumstances, because I enjoy talking about this subject, but I am really short of time.

Many people have identified the problems; we must now explore solutions and ensure that those solutions are the right ones. Top of my list—perhaps because of my teaching background—would be valuing teachers in general. Running teachers down and making false criticisms of them does nothing at all for the profession. I was unhappy about the recent statement made by the Secretary of State for Education to the General Teaching Council. He is quoted as saying:

It is almost hit and miss whether your classroom teacher is working rigorously and systematically to improve the classroom experience for every child. That statement worried me in many ways, not least because it is damning of the teaching profession. I found some of Chris Woodhead's comments damning of the profession in general and not necessarily reflecting the experiences to which I could relate. If we want enthusiasm and teachers to give 300 per cent.—I think most of them give more than 100 per cent. now—we need to support them and provide training opportunities.

We have also to consider why teachers are leaving the profession, as the lack of retention is affecting the supply of teachers. A recent survey by the university of East Anglia reveals why new teachers choose to stay or leave. Administration and red tape was cited by 88 per cent. of trainees as what they liked least about teaching, and it certainly does not help inspirational teaching. Poor pupil behaviour is also mentioned and, although I am in favour of inclusion, it should also involve plenty of support, which is often lacking in schools. We know that the work load is too high, and I wonder whether the resources will exist for work-load reform. Currently, about 40 per cent. of trainees leave the profession within three years. Other studies talk about the degree of stress that teachers feel. We have to address all those issues in the wider sphere of teaching as well as homing in on particular subjects.

We could be much more innovative with continuous training and development. I have mentioned the idea of those without pure mathematics or pure science degrees having enhanced training, and that should take place in school or paid time. Will the Minister consider something like a mini-SCITT—school-centred initial teacher training—scheme, in which someone with a degree has to do only three months to bring them up to the required level? We need to consider that, and I endorse what Professor Smith said. Many qualifications could be considered, but the system would have to be simple.

Monetary incentives have been suggested, and I agree about salary differentials. If we are talking about higher salaries, they should be for all teachers. If they attract more teachers, it will be all to the good because there will be more choice and higher quality teachers in other subjects. At the moment, schools in some parts of the country have barely any choice after advertising a maths job. They are lucky if anyone applies, certainly in my part of the country. where house prices are high. That is true for other subjects as well.

The economics argument, which I had thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham might mention, is that we would be giving someone an economic surplus if we paid them more that we needed to attract them, but there is an overwhelming argument for increasing salaries generally for teachers. That will drive up the number of people applying for each job, and market forces could work effectively. I know from experience that having different salaries for the same job in a school leads to a lot of differentials and unhappiness.

We could also think of other ways to improve teacher recruitment. In the last general election manifesto—that is not to say that it will be in the next one—the Liberal Democrats proposed the policy of improving teacher recruitment by paying trainee teachers a full pro-rata salary during their training year. There are many points to consider, including parity for students on the four-year courses and degrees and education qualifications going together, but the idea of training salaries ties in with Professor Smith's thoughts about using the physics and mathematics students in the classroom and paying them. A lot of work could be done on that.

Overall, we are talking about the importance of getting it right at all ages. The emphasis on primary education has to be the most important because there is no chance of stimulating and interesting children if we have not captured them early. We need to appreciate that, although we need the highest level of mathematical skills, we also need basic skills for so many jobs. People cannot take on today's jobs without the fundamental mathematical numeracy and literacy skills.

This has been an important debate. There are many questions for the Minister to answer, and he has a challenge. He must do something about this very big problem.

3.10 pm
Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing the debate, and on his lucid introduction in which he set out some of the important issues that Professor Smith and others have raised about the teaching of mathematics and the shortage of maths and science teachers.

As we are all displaying our mathematical qualifications, or lack of them, in today's debate, I must say that I, too, have an economics degree, although I confess that I did the least possible number of mathematical options available to me at the London School of Economics. So unlike the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke), I may not be considered suitable to teach up to key stage 3 in class.

The hon. Member for Twickenham was right to highlight the vicious circle of events that stem from the shortage of maths and science teachers, the poor quality teaching that our pupils will receive, the fact that GSCEs may not enable our pupils to realise their full potential, and the fact that fewer pupils will do A-levels and degrees, which will lead to fewer teachers and restart the whole cycle. He was also right to highlight the importance of numerical literacy to the wider economy. I, too, noted the article and the comments about the need for the mathematical training of nursing staff and those working on a range of topics, such as water exploration, which the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) mentioned very appropriately. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) was right to point out the need for numerical accuracy among politicians. He and I are two of the very few accountants in the House, so I have some sympathy with that point, although I may not agree with some of the contexts that he mentioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) is certainly not a dinosaur, despite his approaching birthday. He is a lively specimen, and he was right to call for the simplification of the maths and science curriculum. When the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead and I served on the Science and Technology Committee, it was clear to me that schools were faced with an overburdened curriculum and that young people lacked the time to study some of the more exciting but sadly neglected aspects of science, leading to a shortage of maths and science teachers in later years.

The hon. Gentleman reminded me of those days on the Select Committee when he vociferously pointed out the cultural reasons for the decline in the take-up of maths and science degrees. If we are to address the shortage of graduates and the consequent shortage of maths and science teachers, we must recognise that the cultural aspect is as important as the detailed recommendations of the Smith report.

It is clear from the figures that there is a shortage of maths teachers. In the 2003 teacher vacancy tables, out of 16 subjects, maths had the third highest vacancy rate of any subject and science had the eighth highest. The vacancy rates in maths and science have trebled since 1997, although they have declined significantly since 2001, when they peaked.

The number of non-degree specialists teaching maths is a problem. Some 52 per cent. of maths lessons are taught by those who have a maths degree. The situation in science is better: a high proportion of people who teach science have a science degree. From the work done by the Select Committee, however, I am well aware that there are people with biology degrees teaching physics and chemistry as well as biology in the double science award. It became very apparent during that investigation that a love of one's subject is important in passing on knowledge and information to students. If someone has a biology degree, they cannot pass on to their pupils the same love of physics and chemistry as they have of biology.

The hon. Member for Twickenham was right to highlight the fact that science teachers are older than other teachers. The age profile of maths teachers has deteriorated since 1996 and the previous census of teachers.

Given the shortage of maths teachers, what are schools doing? Part of their solution is to use non-specialists to teach, which is a problem for communicating knowledge and encouraging people to do more detailed work in maths and attain higher qualifications. The table in the Smith report which caught my eye dealt with what schools are doing to fill the vacancies for maths teachers. The report stated that 56 per cent. of vacancies were filled by either good or satisfactory appointments. In almost 11 per cent. of cases, the appointee needed support, and in just under 11 per cent. of cases, the appointee was unsatisfactory—head teachers are forced to appoint staff that they believe to be unsatisfactory to fill important maths vacancies. In 21 per cent. of cases, staff were moved to fill a vacancy for a maths teacher and no appointment was made. I suspect that those were non-specialists moving to teach maths, which is another worrying factor.

The problem goes deeper than that. There has been a recent improvement in recruiting maths teachers but there is still a disappointing failure to convert applicants for postgraduate certificate of education courses in maths into accepted trainees. The conversion rate for maths is well below that for subjects such as design and technology and religious education. The level of qualification for those being brought in to teach maths also causes concern. The Smith report states that the proportion of trainee teachers with a 2:1 and above has remained broadly constant—between 33 and 38 per cent. of the total intake. However, a lower proportion of the best graduates go into teaching maths than into IT, modern foreign languages, science, PE, geography, RE, history and English.

Why do maths and science graduates not go into teaching? In his presidential address to the Association for Science Education, Sir Peter Williams highlighted relatively low pay compared with other professions as a reason. However, the National Union of Teachers pointed out that there are other aspects, such as discipline in classrooms, to which the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole referred. Further reasons include the continued interference in what goes on in the classroom through Government initiatives and the high work load that teachers experience.

There is no consensus on the question whether to recruit more maths and science teachers by increasing pay. Dr. John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, argued against that when the Smith report was published, although I must say that the NUT recognises that part of the reason for the shortage of maths teachers is the difference in pay rates compared with the outside world. We need consensus among teachers unions before politicians have to reach consensus.

The Smith report raised important issues about methods of increasing recruitment, but the problem also lies in the retention of teachers—it is a matter not only of getting teachers through the door and on to the training course, but of ensuring that they remain in the profession. Important changes have to be made on discipline, and to the work load and the wave of initiatives. That would make the job of teaching more attractive and encourage people to remain in the profession. The Minister has many questions to answer, one of which is when the Government will give their response to the Smith report.

3.19 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing this important debate. We have had a thoughtful debate on both sides of the Chamber, and the issues have been fully aired. I pretty much concur with everything that has been said about the scale of the challenge that we face with science and mathematics in our schools. Since his appointment 18 months ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has sought to place much greater emphasis on subject specialism. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) that one thing that really enthuses teachers in their work is a passion for their subject. Whether that subject is science, mathematics or from another part of the curriculum, colleagues on both sides of the Chamber will welcome the greater focus on subject specialism.

Although I am responding to the debate, the importance of science and mathematics is demonstrated by the fact that my right hon. Friend has taken direct responsibility for leading our work in the DFES on mathematics and science. I tread with care in responding to the debate, because I am, I think, the only non-mathematician, non-economist and non-accountant in the debate. Indeed, I must confess that I gave up my maths A-level after a year. I decided to do pure maths and managed to get an additional O-level in it, but I was persuaded by my economics teacher to focus on applying to do philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford rather than on doing my fourth A-level in mathematics. I regret that because, like other hon. Members, I found mathematics exciting at school.

I have a short time in which to respond, and if I do not manage to take up all the points that have been raised, I shall write to hon. Members. In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Twickenham noted that it was timely, given the recent publication of the Smith report. He rightly emphasised the educational and economic importance of the focus on mathematics and science.

The hon. Gentleman raised the interesting issue of mathematical literacy. That is one of the issues that we must address in the maths curriculum, but it is also linked to other parts of the curriculum, such as personal and social health education and citizenship, as well as to questions of financial literacy. He gave the example of compound interest, and there are many other positive examples. He also emphasised the scale of the challenge that we face, and I in no way underestimate it. Towards the end of my speech, I shall say a bit more about that.

The hon. Member for Salisbury made an interesting speech. He started by making a powerful case against market forces, which was interesting. It was also interesting to hear my hon. Friends and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats make the case for market forces. We live in interesting times. However, the hon. Gentleman also made an important point about distance learning and about the opportunities that new technology gives us to share good practice between schools and colleges, and possibly internationally—a point that I would like to take away with me.

The hon. Gentleman set out a five-point plan, which I would like to consider after the debate. I undertake to come back to him about it.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's most important point was about the critical importance of getting our approach right in primary schools. Almost a year ago, we published our primary strategy document "Excellence and Enjoyment", which seeks not only to reaffirm the central importance of literacy and numeracy in our primary schools but to celebrate the broader curriculum. The science element of that broader curriculum is critical to getting things right.

That brings me to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter), who challenged us to make science and maths attractive not only to nerds—his expression, not mine. He is right. As he said, there is a notion that all subjects should be treated equally, and there is a really tough balance for us to strike. As the Minister with responsibility for primary schools, I am used to the opposite criticism—that we put too much focus on numeracy and literacy. People ask, "What about the rest of the curriculum?" We must all think about how to advance the basics—I would include science along with literacy and numeracy—in the context of the broader, richer curriculum. I see no reason why we cannot achieve that, but I very much accept, for all the reasons that have been set out in the debate, that we are nowhere near doing so at this stage.

My hon. Friend made a powerful, emotional case for seeing maths as a force for good in the broader social and economic context. That is one way in which we can start to address the question of how to make such subjects more attractive to children and young people of all ages.

I want to share a few statistics with hon. Members. I do not like to fill my speeches with statistics, but a few have been mentioned, and it is only fair that I give some of the good news to balance the perfectly reasonable points that were made earlier. Good progress is being made with the number of children who leave primary school having achieved the expected level, or better, in mathematics at age 11. It is still not good enough, but 73 per cent. of pupils achieve level 4 or better at age 11, which is a 14 percentage point improvement since 1998. That investment in, and support for, numeracy skills at the youngest possible age is very important, as several colleagues have pointed out.

At key stage 3, last year. 71 per cent. of pupils achieved level 5 or better—up four points from the previous year. At GCSE—to correct the hon. Member for Twickenham, who quoted a figure of 43 per cent.— I understand that the latest figure is that 48 per cent. of pupils achieved grades of A* to C. I accept that those figures are not good enough, but they represent progress in the number of 15 and 16-year-olds achieving the level that we would all expect them to reach in mathematics.

I will say a few words about teacher training and recruitment before I finish by talking about the Smith report and taking up the challenge of the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) about the Government's response to that. There are some encouraging signs, which have been referred to by Members on both sides of the Chamber, that the position of teacher vacancies generally, and specifically in science and mathematics, is improving. I accept that we still have a long way to go to make it right, but vacancy rates in science and mathematics teaching have fallen.

In initial teacher training, the position that we inherited in 1997 was that there had been a decline in recruitment. We have sought to put much more emphasis on recruiting people into teacher training generally, and particularly in shortage subjects. There has been a large increase in those going into initial teacher training and specialising in maths—about a 50 per cent. rise in just four years. There has been a more modest improvement with science places, with a 20 per cent. rise over the comparable period. It is a big challenge, as hon. Members have said, but we are at least beginning to meet that challenge with support for, and investment in, initial teacher training.

There are also employment-based routes into teaching, and there have been significant increases in the numbers going into teaching through routes such as the graduate teacher programme—again, with particular focus on mathematics and science. I am sure that that will be welcomed.

We have also created a number of incentives for maths and science teachers, several of which were mentioned during the debate—golden hellos, for example—so I will not go into them again. We are looking at ways in which we can assist with student debt for graduates who go in to teaching shortage subjects such as mathematics and science. That is of critical importance. Finally, we have the undergraduate ambassador scheme, which operates alongside the student associate scheme to enable students to get degree credit for their classroom activities in line with what Professor Smith was talking about, and upon which we have the opportunity to build. That scheme aims to recruit about 1,000 maths and physics students by 2005–06.

There has been progress, but I accept that we still have some way to go to get it completely right. We now have Professor Smith's report "Making Mathematics Count," which we welcome, as do all Members in the debate. We, as a Department, are taking it seriously and are actively considering all 44 of its recommendations, particularly how best to take those recommendations forward with key stakeholders, including subject specialist associations, and in the context of the work of Mike Tomlinson's group on 14-to-19 reform.

If we are to learn all the lessons to which hon. Members have referred, it is vital that we introduce a set of changes that can be sustained long term, so that we can ensure that maths and science are attractive subjects in our schools, and that we are able to recruit and retain the highest quality maths and science teachers for the future. I welcome the contribution that today's debate has made to taking that forward.