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Teacher Training

Volume 934: debated on Monday 27 June 1977

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With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the future organisation of the education and training of teachers.

When, in January, I announced the Government's decision that the number of teacher training places in England and Wales outside the universities should be reduced to about 45,000 by 1981, I said that my detailed proposals for individual institutions would be the subject of further consultations before final decisions were taken. These consultations have involved a great many people over the past five months, and I should like to express my appreciation of the great effort and enormous care that local authorities, voluntary bodies and the colleges have expended in scrutinising my proposals and making their representations on them.

This has been a difficult process, and it is not yet complete, to the extent that I am not yet able to announce my final decisions about the colleges in Wales. I hope to do so shortly. I did not, however, think it right or fair to the English colleges to delay an announcement about their future.

As a result of the consultations, I have decided to withdraw the proposal to end teacher training at five institutions, namely, North Riding College, Padgate College, Portsmouth Polytechnic, Rolle College and St. Mary's College, Newcastle. I have agreed that some teacher training should remain at Eaton Hall, as part of Trent Polytechnic. I have also decided that Bretton Hall and the Education Department of Huddersfield Polytechnic should not amalgamate, although the latter will have to be reduced in size.

I have agreed that the numbers proposed for the Inner London Education Authority should be increased by 150 to provide for the continuation of training at Shoreditch College.

These changes will be partly offset by minor reductions in teacher training places at a number of other institutions. The revised total of teacher training places for England alone in 1981 will be 43,770.

I am arranging for details to be circulated in the Official Report and the responsible authorities are being informed of the decisions affecting their respective institutions.

I should like to pay tribute to the staff concerned for their forbearance during a trying time and to express the hope that, now that final decisions have been taken, we may proceed to implement them in the same spirit of co-operation.

I recognise, Mr. Speaker, that my proposals have been severe, but I very much hope that those institutions that are to continue teacher training can now look forward to a period of stability in which it will not be necessary to make any further changes.

The Opposition, while responsibly accepting that there is a need, in present economic circumstances and with changes in the birth rate, for a reduction in the number of places in colleges of education, never envisaged or asked for the holocaust that the Secretary of State has carried out. Despite the fact that we have had some reprieves today which we welcome, may we have an absolute assurance that this will be regarded as the final solution?

Despite what the Secretary of State said about consultation, is she aware that there is widespread resentment throughout the country about the autocratic and insensitive way in which these decisions have been reached in many cases, undermining the morale of both teachers' unions and teachers themselves? Is she aware that the Church of England Board of Education is outraged at the cavalier treatment it has received from her Department in being given only 24 hours' notice for major changes in three colleges of education—Cheltenham, Lancaster and Chester? If this is the first instalment of the more open government that she promised, the less we have of it the better.

Answering the first part of the hon. Member's question, may I say loudly and clearly that we have 5,000 teachers unemployed and that the number of children in schools is expected to fall by 1·6 million between now and 1985. I am not prepared to train thousands of young people for inevitable unemployment. Any decision other than this would have been an act of political defeatism of a serious kind.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State has gone to tremendous trouble to see deputation after deputation after deputation. He was willing to see these deputations, and agreed to their coming back again if they wanted to make changes, and he spent hours seeing every single local authority deputation that wanted to see him. I cannot imagine a more thorough effort being made.

The Church of England made representations to my hon. Friend asking for an additional 100 places at St. Paul's and St. Mary's, Cheltenham. In order to do this it was ready to consider reductions elsewhere. With very small reductions of only 50 places at St. Martin's, Lancaster, and Chester College, the result was an additional 100 being found for Cheltenham. It is not my fault if the Church of England does not speak with a single voice on this matter.

The Secretary of State will have great sympathy in many parts of the House for the difficult decisions that she has had to make. It would be impossible to find unanimity about redundancies. However, is she aware that her decision to retain the college at Bradford will be very warmly received in that city, particularly because of its concentration on the multi-racial aspects of training? However, we were a little disappointed that the number of places was not increased to beyond 600.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that he is expecting his cake and the icing, too, in hoping for an increase in the figures. I put great weight on the fact that Bradford is providing training for multi-racial education, and I hope that it will continue to concentrate on that aspect.

I thank the Minister for heeding the representations about St. Mary's College, Fenham, Newcastle, but is she aware that the loss of good colleges, like Northumberland College, following closely on the closure of Alnwick, brings great concern in the area? Does she not fear that teacher training concentrated to such an extent in large diverse institutions could lead to a loss of commitment to teacher training on which the Government's policy of standards so much depends?

I regret the closure of Northumberland. It was a very good college, as were some of the others that have been closed. I wish I had been able to save every college of quality, but had I done so we would have been left with far too many institutions for the training of teachers. In the Northern Region generally, the Newcastle Polytechnic provides a substantial number of places and there is St. Mary's, Fenham, in the Northumberland area. Also we want to see a good deal of in-service education in this area. I would point out that the Northern Region will have slightly more than its statistical proportion of places.

A great many people in West Lancashire will have welcomed the Secretary of State's appearance on the Jimmy Young show this morning, but they will not have welcomed the closure of teacher training at Preston Polytechnic. How does she square this closure with some of the aspirations that she outlined on the Jimmy Young show this morning, particularly in relation to the diminution of class sizes?

I assure my hon. Friend that we had very great difficulty in relation to Preston Polytechnic, which is a very good college. The final decision was taken because Padgate College serves the rapidly growing areas of the new towns, including Runcorn, and we had to decide between the two. I might add that the North-West Region has substantially more than its statistical share of teacher-training places. It will have still more at the end of this operation. My hon. Friend should consider how difficult it would be, therefore, to give a greater share to the North-West.

The average pupil-teacher ratio in primary and secondary classes has improved steadily over the last four years and it is our intention to continue with that improvement as soon as economic conditions allow.

I thank the Secretary of State for the reprieve of Rolle College, Exmouth, and compliment the Minister of State for seeing every delegation. Is it the right hon. Lady's intention that in-service primary training for the South-West should still be centred at Rolle College, with the reduced number of places? Does she accept that the most reasonable and very logical presentation of the case made by the students of Rolle College, rather than abusive militancy, was the right way in which to lobby Parliament and to reach the ear of Ministers?

I gladly confirm that Rolle College continues as the major primary training centre in the South-West and that in-service primary training will be centred there. In-service training in the secondary field will be largely at St. Mark and St. John.

There is no doubt that the students of Rolle College did themselves nothing but good in the way in which they presented their case, which was well-argued and politely put. I might say that it was a privilege to hear it.

Will the Secretary of State accept that the consultation process could not have been more intensive and that we congratulate her? An excessive number of reprieves would mean that several more colleges would be pushed closer to the precipice of non-viability. Does she agree that it is imperative to have discussions with local authorities and voluntary bodies about ways in which the buildings can be used when the colleges close for the benefit of the education service?

We have done our best to maintain viable sizes. It is always a temptation to go about such an exercise by cutting everyone by 200 or so places and closing nothing. But that means that many colleges would be at risk for a long time. The pattern is being maintained in order to increase in-service training as soon as local education authorities come round to our view that such training should have high priority. This pattern leaves a great deal of flexibility in the final figures. We shall certainly talk to local education authorities along the lines that my hon. Friend has suggested and we want to discuss how colleges might specialise in various areas of education.

Does the right hon. Lady realise that although we have not picketed her Department, her decision as it relates to Nonington College in my constituency will be widely resented in Kent? Will she justify her decision on that college, first by reference to the quality of the specialised courses there, secondly by reference to the fact that there will now be no teacher-training college throughout the Kent Education Authority and thirdly by reference to the fact that considerable expenditure has been made on that college in the past few years?

Nonington College has had to be closed as have a number of other good colleges, but Christ Church College remains at Canterbury serving Kent.

The House will appreciate that because of arrangements between the Churches and the maintained system it would be impossible to keep a maintained college in every county without excluding Church colleges altogether from educational provision in those areas. I do not think the House would want that to happen.

In regard to Nonington and other colleges, we are looking wherever possible at the educational use that can be made of colleges which are closed. I am pleased to say that educational use has been made of a substantial proportion of the last group of colleges which were closed. We are looking to educational use, if possible, for the remainder.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is appreciated on the Labour Benches that the Conservatives would have made far more massive cuts than we have made? However, having said that, may I ask whether she accepts that there will be deep worry and concern throughout education, and especially among the teaching fraternity and local authorities? Will she give an assurance to the House that as soon as it is possible to do so those teachers and buildings which are available will be used to bring down class sizes to manageable proportions so that the education system, instead of looking down, as many people think it is at present, will look up and become better than ever?

On the basis of the figures that I have announced to the House and the projections of school populations as we now have them, it will be possible for class sizes to continue to fall if the teachers trained under this system are employed as teachers—and to fall quite rapidly. My hon. Friend will recognise that if we turn out more teachers than we can absorb, then with declining class sizes, because of the dramatic speed at which the birth rate is falling, I or my successors will be accused of great irresponsibility by this House—and, in my view, with every possible justice.

Will the right hon. Lady appreciate that it is just because her Minister of State has been so exemplary in his consultations that the last-minute adjustments to which she referred in respect of the three Church of England colleges, made without notice on the end of the telephone, have caused more resentment than I can remember, speaking with some experience of Church of England Board of Education circles? If she finds on examination that, however inadvertently, there has been a slip-up, will she on detailed matters—which, with respect, are far more fundamental than she indicated—agree that they can still be discussed?

I would be reluctant to take that course, but perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman a little more background information. St. Mary's and St. Paul's Cheltenham, are Church of England colleges within Gloucester as part of higher education in the South-West. St. Martin's, Lancaster, and Chester College are Church of England colleges within the North-West. The North-West is very considerably over-provided with teacher-training colleges and has been for a long time. The South-West is under-provided. Therefore, we took on board representations from the Church of England to the effect that Gloucestershire should have an extra 100 places to build up the South-Western provision. To achieve this two colleges in the North-West each sacrificed 50 places, which left them with 575 places, which is above average size for teacher-training colleges.

I regret any misunderstanding which might have arisen over this issue, and the fact that it has been raised by the hon. Members for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) and for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) suggests that there may have been some misunderstanding. I can only say that my hon. Friend the Minister of State listened to representations from the Church of England on this matter, and decided as he did in the light of a balance of provision throughout the whole country in respect of the Church of England and other colleges.

In view of my right hon. Friend's remark about economic viability, will she give an undertaking that colleges such as Crewe and Alsager, which are building up a remarkable reputation and which will have to suffer a cut, will not find their ultimate prospects changed by her announcement?

I assure my hon. Friend that Crewe and Alsager College will retain 900 places. It has dropped by 100 places to save another college. But there is no doubt that it is a strong college and one of the largest free-standing colleges in the country.

Will the Secretary of State clarify some figures? Will she confirm that the revised total is 1,200 fewer than she announced in January in regard to places in 1981? Will she also say something about teacher unemployment? She said today that there were 5,000 unemployed teachers, but in a Written Answer given on 16th June it was said that in January this year, at the beginning of the spring term, there were 17,500 unemployed of those teachers who left college last year. Will she reconcile those figures?

On both points I think that the hon. Gentleman's statistics are a little confused, if he will forgive my saying so.

Let me throw some light on the situation. The figure of 43,770 enumerated in my reply applies to England alone. The original figure of 45,000 was for England and Wales. We have not yet given the Welsh total, but when we do it is almost certain that the total figure will be somewhat above the 45,000 target —perhaps about 46,000 to 47,000 in all.

On the second point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, the figure I gave today was that of 5,195 unemployed teachers— that is to say, qualified teachers on the unemployment register. The earlier figure I gave for January was a figure just over 7,000, not 17,000. The fall is due to the fact that teachers have taken up posts.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her statement will be received with dismay by people in my constituency where children are being taught at a ratio to teachers that is much worse than the national average, because of the policies of the Tory-controlled councils? I can only suggest that the present diminution in the number of teachers will exacerbate the situation. Can my right hon. Friend give any comfort in suggesting any measures she can take to see that these children are protected?

I hope my hon. Friend will understand that what has happened is that the Leeds Polytechnic, one of the largest teacher-training institutions in the country, is to drop by 100 places, but that is a contribution towards keeping open the North Riding College at Scarborough which has 350 places—with the overall result that Yorkshire and Humberside will be well provided for indeed.

I wish to add that in the case of the Church College at Trinity and All Saints there has been a reduction to save St. Mary's, Fenham. We have a situation in which the overall figures are higher than the target I originally set. I repeat that the teacher-pupil ratio has steadily improved nationally. It can continue to improve nationally. I think that part of the hon. Gentleman's differences are with his local education authority rather than with my Department.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the cut from about 100,000 teacher-training places to about 34,000 teacher-training places over four years is Draconian by any standard so that this House and the profession must be sceptical about her figures on future class size? The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hatters-ley), as former Secretary of State for Education and Science, moved a vote of censure on the Conservative Government's programme, saying that our target was far too low in respect of teacher-training places. Will the Government make positive moves to help local authorities to make alternative educational use of buildings and other provision that will become available rather than merely to express the pious hopes of recent circulars, particularly bearing in mind the amount of money due to go to the Manpower Services Commission for non-advanced further educational courses?

I think that the hon. Gentleman's figure of 100,000 has not taken into account earlier operations in closing teacher-training colleges. If he takes those into account, including the closing of Alnwick Castle, Darlington, Middleton St. George, Wentworth Castle, Endsleigh and others, he will find that the figure for initial training was nothing like 100,000 when I began this operation.

Secondly, the Opposition cannot close their eyes to the dramatic decline in the birth rate, of the kind that I have outlined. To do so would be widely irresponsible.

Thirdly, the Opposition must recognise that there has been a fall in the pupil-teacher ratio, from about 28 to 24 in primary classes, and from about 18½ to 17 in secondary classes, over the past five years. That is a process that we want to continue. There is no doubt that there has been a steady fall in the size of classes over the past few years. In January 1977 there were the lowest figures ever recorded in the history of the education service in this country.

The answer to the final part of the hon. Gentleman's question is that some of the present group of colleges cannot yet have sought alternative uses. About five of the previous group of 22 colleges are to be changed to become secondary schools. Several others are to become training colleges, one is to be used by the Royal National Institute for the Blind—that is the likely user—and another is to be used in connection with the training of Libyan students studying with industry in this country. I could give the hon. Gentleman a list. He would find from that list that a substantial majority of these colleges, which are not yet ready to close, will be used for educational or near-educational purposes. We shall try to seek similar uses for the colleges in the list that I have given today.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be satisfaction that she has found agreement with ILEA about the future of Shoreditch College? I should like to ask my right hon. Friend two general questions. First, is she saying that even if there is a further substantial fall in the birth rate over the next few years the Treasury will not ask her to reduce the list of closures still further but the colleges will be used to improve pupil-teacher ratios in schools?

Secondly, is my right hon. Friend aware that this cutback in the number of teacher-training places involves a severe cutback in higher education opportunities, especially for girls? What plans has my right hon. Friend to make sure that these opportunities are presented elsewhere?

On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I am grateful for the representations that he and others, on both sides of the House, have made about Shoreditch College. I am pleased that we have been able to retain this college, because it carries out an important function in the education system.

Secondly, we are very much aware of the need to avoid further massive changes in teacher training. Therefore, our proposals have been based upon a degree of flexibility in the system that will allow us to cater for substantial changes in the birth rate, either up or down, on the basis of the present list of colleges.

I do not think that my hon. Friend would expect me to give an assurance that if, over the next 10 years, we were to see a further dramatic decline in the birthrate we could save every college in existence. We are deliberately going for a flexible system in the hope that the operation will not have to be repeated.

With regard to opportunities in higher education, particularly for girls, I must tell my hon. Friend that we are all conscious of the fact that the traditional outlet for girls entering higher education has been teacher training. We are proposing to balance the drop in teacher-training places by additional expansion in both polytechnics and universities.

Finally, we are discussing with relevant bodies the possible introduction of courses in higher education of kinds that will appeal particularly to girls—for example, business management courses combining modern languages, and other courses of that kind. I hope that we can persuade our girls to look in this direction for their future employment.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her statement will be viewed with dismay in West London where the Thomas Huxley College is to be closed? How does she reconcile that with the Government's commitment last week to a new deal for education in our inner cities? Can she say whether in-service opportunities at Thomas Huxley will be increased to soften the blow?

Regrettably, we could not exclude colleges in London from cuts occurring throughout the country. London is over-provided in terms of its national share. However, a number of colleges in London specialise, first, in training mature students—where Thomas Huxley made a considerable contribution—and, secondly, in multicultural education. We have been conscious of both those things in the decisions that we have reached in respect of ILEA.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that her statement that teacher training is to be retained at Padgate will be welcomed not only in my constituency but throughout the mid-Mersey belt? Will she also accept that we are grateful to her for having recognised the argument put forward by all the trade unions involved in the area that Padgate is serving one of the few growth points in the North-West? Those who suggested—and this applies particularly to certain sections of the Press—that the consultation procedure at the outset would be a charade have been confounded, and my right hon. Friend, and particularly the Minister of State, have carried out a tremendous exercise in truly democratic consultation.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said. I assure him that we have done everything possible to listen to the many representations made to us in what is necessarily an agonising series of decisions. As my hon. Friend suggests, we thought that Padgate served an area of new Lancashire towns which should be allowed to continue, and we put particular emphasis on the in-service training that it is likely to be able to offer that part of Lancashire.

As my right hon. Friend is still considering the future of training colleges in Wales, will she have regard to the training colleges at Barry and Swansea, as she has received strong representations that both colleges should be kept open?

My admiration for the articulacy of people from Mr. Speaker's country has never been so great as when listening to the representations about Welsh colleges of education, and the judgment of Solomon is what is called for from my hon. Friend and myself.

Order. This seems a good moment for me to intervene. There are now six Members waiting to be called. It is impossible to call everyone who wants to get in to ask a question. There is another very long statement to come. I shall call one Member from one side, and three from the other—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because there are more Members standing on one side than on the other. Sometimes it works the other way.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her statement will cause a great deal of consternation and indignation in the Doncaster area, following representations from myself and many other sources about the continuation of a teacher-training element in the Doncaster Institute of Higher Education? Is my right hon. Friend aware that that institute was created only a short while ago with the idea of creating a complex in the area to meet the requirements of a large industrial population? It is a catchment area where there are considerable difficulties, and where there have been problems of teacher recruitment. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what future she intends for the teacher-training college at Melton?

I recognise that my hon Friend regrets the ending of teacher training at Doncaster. There are many others who will share his disappointment because their institutions are to cease teacher training. However, the Yorkshire Humberside region has more than its share of the national average of teacher-training places. Secondly, because Doncaster has the Institute of Higher Education it will survive as an institute and will be able to continue in-service training. It will, therefore, be able to meet that function in the region, which is important. Many other institutions are not as fortunately placed. In such a case, if teacher training ceases the institution itself has to close.

If I may follow the question asked by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans), may I ask the right hon. Lady whether she is aware that her decision on Padgate will be welcomed by people of both political parties? Will she confirm that she sees a substantial ô for Padgate as a college of higher education generally for an area of two new towns?

This is very much a decision for the future and we hope that Padgate College will build up the higher education facilities for the whole area.

The population of Crawley new town is still expanding, its housing programme is now double what it has been in recent years and there is a special housing programme to house people coming from three London boroughs. In those circumstances, how can it be right to cut the initial teacher-training programme at Crawley College? Will the right hon. Lady reconsider her decision?

I cannot reconsider my decisions or this process would never end. The South-East Region, into which Crawley falls, and London, are very well provided with colleges. There should be no problem for those who are keen to become teachers.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her decision to cease teacher training at Stockwell College flies in the face of the facts presented by the college and listened to most courteously by her Minister of State? Is she aware that the decision involves the overturning of carefully formulated plans for the establishment of an institute of higher education in accordance with her Department's policy and will deprive the whole of South-East London and much of Kent of valuable in-service training facilities?

The position with Stockwell College was very difficult. It is part of the Bromley Institute of Higher Education, which will continue. As I said to the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) who asked about the Thomas Huxley College, the difficulty with London is that it has always had a disproportionate share of teacher-training places, and in view of the Government's intention to emphasise in-service training we have to make sure that there is a reasonable geographical spread, and that necessarily means closing some very good' colleges in London.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that the right hon. Lady would no more wish to mislead the House than would I, but her answer to my question was inconsistent with the reply to which I referred. My purpose in raising the point of order is to indicate that fact and to give the right hon. Lady a chance to say something more.

The hon. Gentleman cannot give the Secretary of State a chance to say something more, though, as it is Monday, I can. Does the Minister wish to say anything more?

Following is the information:

REVISED PROVISION FOR TEACHER EDUCATION IN 1981

Number of teacher training places in 1981

NORTHERN REGION
Charlotte Mason300
Teesside Polytechnic400
Durham New College500
Newcastle Polytechnic750
St. Hild and St. Bede (in University of Durham)400
St. Mary's, Fenham (in association with Newcastle Poly)300
Sunderland Polytechnic500
YORKSHIRE AND HUMBERSIDE
Bretton Hall350
Huddersfield Polytechnic200

Bradford600
Bingley/Ilkley
Hull College of Higher Education600
Leeds Polytechnic900
North Riding350
Ripon and York St. John College of Higher Education790
Sheffield City Polytechnic (including Lady Mabel)1,000
Trinity and All Saints550
NORTH WEST
Chester575
Crewe and Alsager College of Higher Education900
De La Salle540
Edge Hill College of Higher Education800
Liverpool Institute of Higher Education (Christ's Notre Dame and St.Katharine's)1,000
Liverpool Polytechnic1,000
City of Liverpool College of Higher Education
City of Manchester College of Higher Education1,500
Manchester Polytechnic
Padgate350
St. Martin's, Lancaster575
WEST MIDLANDS
Birmingham Polytechnic850
Coventry700
North Staffordshire Polytechnic (including Madeley)400
Newman640
Westhill420
West Midlands500
Wolverhampton Polytechnic (including Dudley)700
Worcester College of Higher Education750
EAST MIDLANDS
Bishop Grosseteste500
Derby Lonsdale College of Higher Education450
Leicester Polytechnic500
Loughborough (in Loughborough University)600
Matlock450
Nene500
Trent Polytechnic (including Eaton Hall)1,000
EAST ANGLIA
Homerton650
Keswick Hall (in University of East Anglia)400
GREATER LONDON
Goldsmiths'1,000
ILEA
Avery Hill600
Polytechnic of North London350
Polytechnic of the South Bank375
Thames Polytechnic450
Shoreditch (preferably as part of Brunel University375
Kingston Polytechnic400

Middlesex Polytechnic (including All Saints, Tottenham) 750
North East London Polytechnic100
Roehampton Institute of Higher Education 1,200
St. Mary's, Twickenham680
West London Institute of Higher Education 900
OTHER SOUTH EAST
Bedford College of Higher Education600
Brighton Polytechnic (including East Sussex College of Higher Education)1,000
Bulmershe College of Higher Education (Berkshire)700
Chelmer Institute of Higher Education (Brentwood)450
Christ Church, Canterbury500
Hertfordshire College of Higher Education700
King Alfred's, Winchester750
La Sainte Union540
Oxford Polytechnic400
Portsmouth Polytechnic300
Westminster450
West Sussex Institute of Higher Education650
SOUTH WEST
Bath College of Higher Education750
Bristol Polytechnic650
Dorset Institute of Higher Education500
Gloucestershire Institute of Higher Education600
Rolle350
St. Luke's, Exeter (in Exeter University)500
St. Mark and St. John460

REGIONAL SUMMARY

Share of 43,770 places proportional to estimated 1981 school population

North3,140
Yorks/Humberside4,890
North-West6,545
W. Midlands5,290
E. Midlands3,685
East Anglia1,640
Greater London5,865
Other South-East9,010
S. West3,705
43,770

Proposed number of teacher training places for 1981

North3,150
Yorks/Humberside5,340
North-West7,240
W. Midlands4,960
E. Midlands4,000
East Anglia1,050
Greater London7,180
Other South-East7,040
S. West3,810
43,770