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Teacher Vacancies

Volume 174: debated on Tuesday 12 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what were the latest estimated number of teacher vacancies in schools; what were the similar figures for the same month in 1976 and 1979; and if he will make a statement.

In January 1989 there were 3,116 full-time teacher vacancies in maintained nursery and primary schools in England, and 2,424 in maintained secondary schools. We hope to be able to publish the 1990 survey results shortly.

No figures exist on teacher vacancies in 1976, and only secondary schools' figures for 1979. In January of that year there were 2,600 full-time vacancies in maintained secondary schools in England. Where we can make a direct comparison between secondary school vacancies in 1979 and 1989, we find that there were rather more vacancies in 1979.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and I addressed a packed meeting opposing vicious cuts in education and in the supply of teachers in January 1969 when the Labour Government were in office?

The hon. Member for Blackburn was then president-elect of the National Union of Students.

By 1976 those of us who were running schools had to trawl the area to get teacher bodies to put before classes because there was such a shortage of teachers under that Labour Government. Will my hon. Friend the Minister assure me that everything possible will be done to ensure that the national curriculum goes ahead with a sound supply of good teachers to implement it?

My hon. Friend speaks from his experience of the responsibility of running a school during the very difficult period when the previous Labour Government were cutting public expenditure. The House should heed what my hon. Friend said and we certainly do.

No one should pretend that there will not be formidable difficulties in recruiting all the teachers whom we need during a period in which the demand for highly skilled manpower in the economy is growing and the number of people entering the work force is falling. That is why we have been introducing a range of measures targeting the problem. They include bursaries to attract teachers to train in shortage subjects; new routes to qualifications for graduates and mature entrants; support for distance learning courses and specific grants to support recruitment strategies for local education authorities in areas that face shortages.

Is it true that there are about 1,300 teacher vacancies in London? Is not it also a fact that one reason why it is difficult to attract teachers to London and to retain them there is the price of property and rents? Does not the Minister accept some responsibility? Has he told his ministerial colleagues responsible for housing that if they had not destroyed the local authorities' house-building programme in London, perhaps the teacher shortage would not be quite so bad in the capital city as it is?

London indeed faces exceptional problems in recruiting and retaining teachers. That is why we have directed special efforts towards helping the local education authorities in London and we shall continue to do that. On the hon. Gentleman's point about housing, I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was able to support the purchase of former Inner London education authority property by the London teachers' housing association.

Is the Minister aware that there are particular problems in the recruitment and retention of teachers in London and the south-east? Will he undertake to inquire whether the Government intend to introduce regional pay or school-centred pay bargaining as a way around the problems that we in the south are experiencing?

Following the advice of the interim advisory committee, in the last three years the Government have introduced an extended range of flexibilities to enable employers, whether local education authorities or governors, to introduce greater differentials to take account of local difficulties in recruitment and retention which labour conditions and the cost of living in London and the south-east impose. About 175,000 teachers, a high concentration of them in London and the south-east, are now in receipt of incentive allowances. As a result of this year's pay settlement, there will be increased discretion for employers to award extra income and extra supplements.

Is the Minister aware that the Government will find it difficult to deal with the growing crisis of teacher shortage when—for the second consecutive year—they have imposed a cut in teachers' real standard of living? Is he further aware that the collapse in teacher morale, the fear of job losses through the introduction of LMS—local management of schools —and the events at Davenant school in Essex, where parents are being charged £50 to pay the teachers, will do little to help teacher morale but will simply create a situation in which more teachers will leave the profession and more parents will become demoralised, all as a result of the Government's stewardship of the education system?

The hon. Gentleman should blush when making such references to pay. Under the last Labour Government, teachers' pay rose by 6 per cent.—[Interruption.] That is a fact. Under the Conservatives, the real value of teachers' pay has risen by 30 per cent. Every time the hon. Gentleman and his Friends seek to portray the teacher supply situation in the lurid terms that they love to use, they exacerbate the problem. It would be good to hear from Opposition Members some recognition of the fact that in schools in, for example, some of the inner London boroughs, superb work is being done by teachers. Those local education authorities are working with might and main to recruit and retain the teachers they need and to give children better opportunities.

As for what has happened at Davenant school, my information, which is not complete, suggests that there was nothing in the LMS formula which would have required that school to shed teachers. Indeed, I imagine that as a result of the fund-raising efforts that the school community has undertaken it will find itself usefully better off.