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Teaching Vacancies (South-east)

4. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): How many teacher vacancies there are in secondary schools in the south–east; and if she will make statement. [14634]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): Systematic data on teacher vacancies are collected once a year, in January, as part of the annual census of teachers and vacancies. In January this year, authorities in the south-east recorded 548 vacancies in secondary schools.

Dr. Lewis: I saw some of those data: as they related to Hampshire, they showed 175 teacher vacancies in maintained schools as a whole, rising to 291 if nearby Portsmouth, Southampton and Isle of Wight are included. Might the reason for that unacceptably high number of vacancies be that, as recent research by Professor Smithers of Liverpool university shows, almost 60 per cent. of trainee teachers either never make it into the classroom at all, or resign within three years? Is that not a deplorable and unsatisfactory—indeed, intolerable—state of affairs?

Mr. Timms: Let me begin by inviting the hon. Gentleman to join me in congratulating schools in Hampshire on the achievement of 54.9 per cent. of their youngsters gaining five or more good GCSEs in the results published today. That is a very good achievement, and I certainly pay tribute to all the teachers and schools in Hampshire who have contributed to that result.

Of course, there have been pressures on recruitment in the south-east, but the rate of departure from the profession has been relatively stable. Eighty per cent. of those who enter the teaching profession and take up jobs as teachers are still in teaching three years later. The figures cited by the hon. Gentleman are not correct. Indeed, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently issued data showing that education as a profession has one of the lowest turnovers of any profession in the country.

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We are seeing rising standards, including especially good levels of achievement in Hampshire, and the whole House will welcome that.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): May I congratulate my hon. Friend on keeping a cool head during the summer, when so many people on the Opposition Benches were calling "Crisis, crisis" and predicting short-term working in schools? I urge him to continue a pragmatic approach to shortages, to consider the problems on the ground and to make the appropriate responses. The Department has been doing that; I hope that it will continue to do so and will ignore those calls about crises that do not actually come about.

Mr. Timms: I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he is absolutely right. We have always made it clear that we need more teachers. Our target is for at least an additional 10,000 over the lifetime of this Parliament. We made the announcement, and confirmed in the White Paper, that we shall write off loans over 10 years for shortage subject teachers entering the profession from September 2002. That is exactly in line with the course of action advocated by my hon. Friend and I agree with the points that he made.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Does the Minister agree that our head teachers deserve enormous credit for the work that they have done during the past few months to ensure that the crisis in teaching did not have the worst possible effect on our pupils? They deserve great credit for that, but when and what will the Government do to alleviate the pressure on head teachers, to find ways of dealing with teacher shortages and to provide real solutions to problems that will eventually show up in the quality of our education?

Mr. Timms: It is good to hear a tribute to head teachers from the Opposition Benches. I am happy to endorse the point made by the hon. Gentleman; it certainly is a tribute to the hard work of heads and schools during the summer. Many head teachers worked right through the summer holiday to ensure that their schools were operating normally—as every school has done since September. That is in contrast to the predictions of some people, including some Opposition Members, earlier in the summer.

We have taken many steps to address the difficulties in teacher recruitment. We have increased teacher pay; I have already talked about paying off student loans; and we have introduced £6,000 training bursaries and fee remission for postgraduate trainees. The result is that this year we have had a second increase in the number of people applying for teacher training—the second increase in a row—after eight years of decline. Things are moving in the right direction, but there is much more to do.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): Last year, Ramsgate school in my constituency had problems with teacher recruitment and it was joint bottom in the league table. The school resolved its teacher recruitment problems by taking a generous view of pay scales and is now fully staffed, but this year it remains at the bottom of the league table. Will my hon. Friend agree that that is entirely due to the evil and corrosive system of selective education that we operate in Kent, which condemns

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schools such as Ramsgate school to be, in effect, sink schools? Although we should not be complacent about teacher recruitment, will my hon. Friend give some thought to ordering an inquiry into selective education in Kent, so that Ramsgate can recover?

Mr. Timms: I have heard the point made by my hon. Friend and others will have done so too. Wherever there are low standards of achievement in our schools, we are providing additional support. Last year, 41 schools had less than 10 per cent. of their pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs; that number has come down to 17, which is an important step. However, there are still serious problems of under-achievement; we will provide support and help to deal with them wherever they arise.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): Will the Minister respond on the issue of teacher vacancies, which is of special concern in my own constituency, where a number of secondary schools have seven, eight or, in some cases, more vacancies? There is a crisis in schooling in Hertfordshire and many other counties in the south-east. Will the Minister comment on the recent National Union of Teachers report which, among other things, states that four out of 10 teachers leaving the profession do so because of the sheer weight of Government initiatives; they feel that that is a burden they should not have to deal with.

Mr. Timms: I have dealt with those figures already and made it clear that they are incorrect. We are aware of the pressures on teacher recruitment in Hertfordshire—one of the areas to benefit from the starter home initiative, which will be particularly helpful to younger teachers wanting to buy their first home. We have demanded a great deal from our teachers in work load over the past four years; they have delivered a great deal in response, and we should pay tribute to their achievements. Where there are pressures on recruitment, we are addressing them in the way that I have already outlined.

Religious Schools

5. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): What recent representations she has received on the issue of religious schools. [14635]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): I have received a number of representations on faith schools from organisations and the general public since the publication of the White Paper.

Tony Wright: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's answer. May I suggest that the last thing our society needs at the moment is more schools segregated by religion? Before 11 September, it looked like a bad idea; it now looks like a mad idea. We have had some splendid policy rethinks recently; will my right hon. Friend give us another one today?

Estelle Morris: My hon. Friend is concerned about divisions in society and different groups living and working in different areas; I share his concern. However, the problem is not caused by parents having the right to educate their children in a faith-based school. My hon. Friend should not land the whole issue of segregated

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communities on faith schools, as they do not cause it. However, there is an issue about bringing up our children to be tolerant and understanding and to appreciate people from different faiths and cultures. That is why I know that my hon. Friend will have welcomed the inclusion of citizenship in the national curriculum from September. There is a great deal to do but, for centuries, people in this country have been tolerant of parents' wish to have a faith-based education. That has been granted to Christians and Jews; I do not want to be a Secretary of State who denies it to minority faiths.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): Does the Secretary of State accept that no Church school in receipt of state funds should be able to discriminate in its admissions policy against children of other faiths and those with no faith at all? Given her comments on inclusiveness and comments by the Bishop of Blackburn and, indeed, Muslim associations, will she give the House a guarantee that faith schools and new faith schools will have inclusive policies and that, if necessary, she will introduce legislation to ensure that there is no discrimination on the basis of faith?

Estelle Morris: No, I will not go that far, but perhaps I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. In the case of over-subscription, it is reasonable for a faith-based school to say that it wants to give preference to those who share its faith. However, as I said to the Church of England—I pay tribute to Ron Dearing and the Church of England for their entirely inclusive attitude to Church of England faith-based schools—there is an obligation and a challenge, which are not being completely met at present, to make sure that children in faith-based schools have opportunities to meet, mix and work with people from other faith-based schools and schools of no faith at all. That change should take place. Under the new rules, new faith schools must show that they are inclusive; they could do so through admissions arrangements, which I welcome, but, if not, they must show school organisation committees ways in which they will be inclusive.

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): Many of us on the Labour Benches and beyond wish that the horse had not bolted 150 years ago, and that we had secular education, as is the case in America. However, the horse has bolted. In the communities that I represent, more than 27 per cent. practise the Muslim faith, and that number is growing. Does my right hon. Friend accept that greater damage is done by the hypocrisy that those people see reinforced when members of faiths whose numbers are diminishing have a protected right to faith-based schools, which they are denied? Does my right hon. Friend accept that that is far more dangerous for our communities than allowing people to educate their children in a regulated faith-based school of their choice?

Estelle Morris: I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not know what message it gives about a multicultural society if people who are not Christians or Jews are told that they are the only group who cannot have faith-based schools.

I take a further point that my hon. Friend makes. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) mentioned 11 September; others have mentioned Bradford and the riots during the summer. We must remember that before last year there was not one

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faith-based Muslim school in Bradford, but there were 18 in the private sector. Between 1997 and 2001, the new minority faith-based schools were independent schools that came into the maintained sector—all 13 of them. Let me be clear: I would sooner have them in the maintained sector, where they are inspected properly and teach the national curriculum and we can make sure that standards are kept high. I entirely support my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons).

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): Does the Secretary of State have any plans that could reduce the percentage of Catholic pupils at Catholic schools?

Estelle Morris: No.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments. In one of my Church of England schools, 90 per cent. of the pupils are Muslim. That demonstrates that faith schools can work. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in some areas where we extend the number of religious schools, it could lead to further self-segregation, which would fly in the face of what some of us are trying to achieve—greater integration?

Estelle Morris: I entirely respect my hon. Friend's comments. I know her constituency and I know of her extensive work with the Muslim community. She makes an interesting point. In Birmingham, as in her constituency, there are maintained schools which are 100 per cent. Muslim. Children in faith-based schools are not always predominantly from one culture or another. Whether or not there are more faith-based schools will not depend on me or on Government; such decisions will be taken locally. It is not our wish to encourage them proactively. There must be a level playing field. Until 1997, every time a religious group other than a Jewish or Christian one asked for a faith-based school, it was denied it by the former Tory Government. We have moved to introduce a level playing field. That is all I ask. Whether my hon. Friend's community has more faith schools will be up to that community and the school organisation committee.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): The headmaster and governing body of the Henbury high school in my constituency—an important secondary school to the west of Macclesfield—have expressed an interest in becoming a faith school. Although I am a strong supporter of faith schools and Church schools, can the Secretary of State clarify whether the final decision will be taken by the governing body or by a majority of the parents of children who are at the school or are likely to go to the school? If that school subsequently merges with another school, would the second school with which it is to be merged be bound by the faith status that Henbury might have achieved?

Estelle Morris: The hon. Gentleman asks me a detailed question about two schools in west Macclesfield, and I should hate to mislead the House. I am happy to clarify in a subsequent letter the details that I shall give now. My feeling is that the decision would be taken by the governing body. When a school merges, it keeps its existing status. However, it is a technical matter and I am

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not entirely confident about giving the hon. Gentleman an accurate answer now. I hope that he will allow me to clarify it in due course.

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