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The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): In autumn, I acknowledged in the House that there was a problem and that we were taking decisive action to deal with it. The decisive action that had already been taken from March and before March last year has led to a 9 per cent. increase in the number of people in teacher training--there are 2,250 more men and women in teacher training courses. The measures that we have taken over the past few weeks have led to a dramatic improvement in the number of people seeking information or registering--[Interruption.] I do not think that that is at all funny, nor do parents or teachers. Our measures have led to a massive increase in those registering an interest, not just telephoning for information.
To get the facts straight, since the advertising campaign began on 27 December, 14,000 people have rung the teacher helpline. In one day alone--2 January, immediately after the holiday--nearly 2,000 people made contact, which is the largest number ever. The number of registrations, as opposed to mere inquiries, for further details about application has gone up from 17,000 last year to 34,000 this year. The number of people making general inquiries has risen by 100 per cent. to 73,000. There is a problem, but not a crisis. However, it is made worse by those who pretend that it is a crisis.
Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful for that full answer. However, the figures that the Secretary of State has given are wrong. Applications this year are 16 per cent. down on last year's figures. He will recall that his Government were elected on an early pledge to reduce class sizes. The Government will meet that pledge only if they recruit more teachers. The Government are presiding over an unprecedented crisis in the teaching profession. Why, in his view, do more people not want to go into teaching under this Government?
Mr. Blunkett: First, we have a good opportunity to get a few facts on the table. There are 7,500 more teachers than there were three years ago. If the Conservative Budget for 1997-98 had been continued, there would be 10,000 fewer teachers in schools in England, not 7,500 more. Of course, if that were the case, there would not be
Secondly, there is not a problem with meeting the class size pledge. We agreed that the pledge was for 2002, but we then pulled that back to 2000-01, and it will be fulfilled this September by our £600 million investment and the recruitment of infants teachers that is taking place. It will be fulfilled because we changed the law in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, although people may not remember that--the media are certainly not aware of it. From this September, carrying through that class size pledge will be obligatory.
Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton): If there is such a crisis, why has Halton seen the best improvement in literacy and numeracy results in primary schools in recent years? Is it not the case that, in the past year, the highest number of teachers has been employed? That is what this is about. We should not listen to Opposition scaremongering.
Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend is right. Obviously, there are variations across the country. There is no doubt that there is a problem with recruitment especially, but not exclusively, in London and the south-east. That is partly because we have the most buoyant economy, the most buoyant labour market and the highest level of prosperity in 20 years. That is why there are genuine challenges in recruitment in every area. I should be interested to know how many vacancies there are at Conservative party central office: quite a lot at the moment, I should have thought.
Mr. Blunkett: I agree. I would even be interested to know how many vacancies there are in the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers which, far from helping to resolve the problem, is deliberately trying to make it worse.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): Deflecting attention to teacher unions does the Secretary of State little credit. Golden hellos and golden handcuffs might make quick headlines and nice gimmicks, but pay is a major factor. I am sure that he agrees. If the School Teachers Review Body reports that a 3.5 per cent. increase is widely acceptable, it will mean a £155 net increase for every graduate entering teaching this year. That is the equivalent of 45p per day, or a cup of coffee, which gives a new meaning to Gold Blend. Does he agree that salaries are a major issue? When will he provide a real increase in salaries to make them competitive with those in British industry?
Mr. Blunkett: Of course salaries are important. However, the idea that the Government should take up the Liberal Democrats' suggestion and pay every trainee the starting salary of a teacher on level 1 would cost £296 million for graduates alone. If we took up the suggestion for all teacher trainees, it would cost just under £700 million.
Mr. Blunkett: The penny seems to have dropped several times. I hope that it might do so now with the realisation that one can do only so much with a given pound. So that the numeracy lesson gets through, I should point out that there are only 100 pence in a pound.
Mr. Blunkett: The heckler asks what I am doing. I am ensuring that between 160,000 and 200,000 teachers will receive a £2,000 uplift during the next few months. That will happen as long as the Liberal Democrat motion to stop it is not agreed to next Wednesday. The Government are committed--I commit us this morning--to accepting the School Teachers Review Body report this year. The combination of performance-related promotion and the likely pay increase will amount to an overall increase of between 10 and 15 per cent. I do not know what Opposition parties would do with the money--the Conservatives are cutting and the Liberal Democrats are committing--but I know what we are doing: ensuring that teachers are well paid and well supported and do a good job.
Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): If the Liberals are so committed to extra pay for teachers, why did their alternative Budget contain no costed commitment in that respect? Does my right hon. Friend share my puzzlement about that? The general problems of teacher recruitment are of long standing and need a long-term solution. Will he join me in condemning the Essex Conservative party, which has claimed that Essex schools are on the verge of a four-day week, when no school in Essex is operating on that basis? The director of education in Essex has explicitly said that that is not happening. Are not the Opposition trying to play politics with our children's future?
Mr. Blunkett: I take your advice, Mr. Speaker; my hon. Friend has condemned them adequately. Not only have there been no four-day weeks in Essex, but no schools are working on a four-day week anywhere in England. It is time to applaud head teachers and teachers who face enormous strain on staffing and recruitment and are doing a first-class job. No one should exacerbate that problem; everybody should join in ensuring that our children get a decent education with staff who are well supported in doing a damn good job.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): If the number of applicants for graduate teacher training was 14,224 at the beginning of January 2000 and 11,935 at the beginning of January this year, was that a rise or a fall?
Some applications, including those resulting from the recent advertising campaign, have not yet come through--that is self-evident. The simple fact is that applications have been submitted later year on year. This time last year, the number of applications was less than the year before, but the take up of places was 2,250 higher. Rather than stirring things up, a little reality from the hon. Lady would not come amiss. She must answer one question: how would she pay for the £6,000 trainee teacher salaries, the graduate teacher recruitment programme and the golden hellos?
Mr. Blunkett: You are entirely right, Mr. Speaker. It is the electorate's job to worry about that, because the £180 million that we are spending is not included in the Tories' promise of spending on education.
Mrs. May: It is the Secretary of State who needs to look at reality--and to attend a numeracy class. We now know that a fall is not a fall when it is a different figure. The Secretary of State's answers to all the questions about teacher recruitment show how complacent and out of touch the Government are with what is happening in our schools. It is no good saying that people are showing an interest in becoming a teacher some time in the future. Schools and children's education are suffering today. Children are being taught by unqualified teachers and by non-specialist teachers. In one school, children are being taught in a class of 90. Children are being sent home early, some schools have been on a four-day week and some are threatened with a four-day week. When the Prime Minister said "Education, education, education", no one knew that he meant the number of days a week that children would attend school. Schools face a crisis today; parents face a crisis today; children's education is suffering today. People have paid their taxes, now where are the teachers?
Mr. Blunkett: They are doing the job in the classroom and there are 17,500 more of them than there would have been had the Tories been in office. I liked the reference to "Education, education, education." That is three, is it not, and which Government had a three-day week? The Tory Government of 1973-74. Do not talk to me about three-day weeks--the Tory party knows all about three-day weeks.