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Science and Maths Graduates (Teaching)

Volume 511: debated on Monday 7 June 2010

1. What plans his Department has to attract more top science and mathematics graduates to be teachers. (801)

There is clearly a problem with a shortage of specialist teachers, as only 47% of mathematics teachers and 58% of combined science teachers have first degrees in the subjects that they teach. We need to do more to encourage pupils to study sciences and maths, and encourage graduates to enter teaching in those subjects. Therefore, we are actively reviewing the routes into teaching and bursaries, along with other incentives offered to well qualified people who want to teach science and maths.

It is very good to see my hon. Friend at the Government Dispatch Box. Will he ensure that schools have sufficient powers and funds to offer generous retention bonuses to teachers of shortage subjects, and that schools with retention problems are fully aware of such powers?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments; it has been a long time coming. We are certainly considering how schools can be further encouraged to use the existing recruitment and retention pay flexibilities which are available to address local teacher shortages in maths and other priority subjects. Head teachers already have some scope to do that, but we plan to reform the existing, rigid national pay and conditions so that schools have greater freedoms to attract top science and maths graduates, along with others as they see fit, to be teachers. Such academy-style freedoms are being debated in other place as part of the Academies Bill.

On behalf of the whole House, let me welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Mr Timms) back to his rightful place.

May I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position as Under-Secretary of State? If he keeps his nose clean and pulls his socks up, he might become a Minister of State, although I think he will have to become a Liberal Democrat for that to happen. May I also welcome the rest of the ministerial team to their posts and wish them all the very best with their responsibilities?

We agree with motivating and encouraging more graduates of science and maths into teaching. On the basis of that encouraging and motivational language, will the hon. Gentleman comment on the remarks made by the Minister for Schools, who is reported to have said:

“I would rather have a physics graduate from Oxbridge without a PGCE teaching in a school than a physics graduate from one of the rubbish universities with a PGCE”?

Would the Under-Secretary like to apologise on behalf of his hon. Friend, or at least provide the House with a list of “rubbish universities”, so that graduates from those institutions need not apply for teaching posts under this new Government?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. I will certainly keep my nose clean and pull my socks up, if that is what he thinks is required. I know the job of opposition too well: the job of opposition is to scrabble around to make trivia newsworthy, and I congratulate him, on his debut on the Opposition Benches, on doing that. I am not going to comment on that trivia, but let me be clear when I say that we have many very talented teachers in schools today. We intend to build on that and ensure that organisations outside the reach of government, such as Teach First, are given the opportunity to expand and that we support them in doing so. I am sure we can all agree that we have great universities in this country. This Government are committed to supporting those universities, as we recognise the importance of all universities, courses and degrees, which, through their rigour, increase the intellectual capability of the nation and its skills base.