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Teachers

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 4 February 1975

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many newly qualified teachers he expects will seek to enter the profession in 1975–76; and if he is satisfied that they will be recruited, in view of the planned reductions in the year 1975–76.

About 36,000 are likely to seek first appointments in maintained primary and secondary schools. Many local education authorities have not yet settled their staffing plans for 1975–76, but preliminary indications are that authorities collectively will take up the teacher quota in full.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware of the great public disquiet which has arisen in Leicestershire at the county council's decision or proposal to reduce its 1975–76 education budget by £4 million? This will mean that as a direct consequence the gross intake of teachers into the county schools will be reduced by 350 next year, with a consequential reduction of two teachers per school, together with a reduction in the nutritional content of school meals.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of those actions in Leicester? Is he prepared to introduce emergency legislation to appoint education commissioners to look at local authorities to ensure that their educational standards do not go below the acceptable level?

No, Sir. I have no immediate plans to appoint education commissioners. However, I have made it clear to all local education authorities that we believe that the additional teachers available should be found employment during the coming school year. The quota was designed to achieve that. The replies we have received so far suggest that whereas 11 local education authorities wish to employ fewer teachers than their quota, 28 want to employ more than the suggested quota. The rate support grant figure was arrived at with the education component designed to achieve the full employment of the available teachers.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the method by which the Leicestershire County Council holds down its rates is a matter for the elected members of the county council?

Yes, Sir. It is a matter for me, and indeed for the House, to take a view nationally of the standards of our education system. I have expressed the view very clearly, I thought with the support of both sides of the House, that the community should find employment for the additional teachers available, find the money to employ them and, therefore, achieve an improvement in the staffing ratio.

How can my right hon. Friend justify the cutting back in teacher training in an area like my own in Bedfordshire when there is every indication that over the next few years the school population will rise, irrespective of what happens in the rest of the country, and where a number of children this term have already suffered from short-time schooling?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the teacher training plans in one locality are not designed simply to provide teachers for that locality. Looking at the national situation, it is clear that we shall have a school population falling off in numbers in the years ahead. We are trying to achieve a sufficient supply of teachers to improve staffing ratios, at the same time trying to avoid the risk of teacher unemployment, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) has just referred.

Would not it assist the situation if the right hon. Gentleman took up the suggestion made by the Conservative Party that teachers' salaries should be carried by the Exchequer as a short-term measure?

There are strong arguments for and against that proposal. My own view is that I am against it. But these matters, along with other aspects of local government finance, are being studied by the Layfield Committee, and there will be no question of a change in Government policy until its report is received and considered, even if then.