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Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): With regard to the graduate programme, will the Secretary of State explain why a lady constituent of mine has been refused access to a teacher training course? She has A-levels in English and history, and a second-class honours degree in anthropology. She wishes to teach history at a secondary school. The refusal was based on the claim that she could not guarantee that her degree in anthropology had a 60 per cent. history content. My constituent is eager to get into teaching, but is being prevented from doing so by Government bureaucracy.
Mr. Blunkett: I would not dream of trying to deal this afternoon with every application to an institution or for school-based training. I emphasise that school-based training is available, so the surveys from institutions, to which the hon. Member for Maidenhead referred earlier, do not add up to the total picture.
However, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) referred to a constituency case. I can tell him that what makes the difference is the course content. Leaving her A-levels aside, if her anthropology degree had sufficient history content to enable her to train to teach secondary school specialists, there would be no reason for her not to be accepted.
Conservative Members cannot have it both ways. The hon. Member for Maidenhead chided the Government because she said there were too many people--and she read from the National Union of Teachers letter--who were being asked to teach subjects that they were not equipped to teach.
Mr. Willis: Is the right hon. Gentleman not being a little disingenuous here? Is not the reality that the Teacher Training Agency and the training programmes need to be dramatically reviewed? The nonsense of someone going through an undergraduate course, obtaining a degree and then not being considered appropriate to be trained in a specialism is insulting.
Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful for another sensible suggestion. I can confirm that we are reviewing circular 4/98. We believe that common sense should be applied. However, common sense means that people have to have sufficient course content, whatever their degree, or take conversion courses. Let us agree that common sense is common sense. If we can get people with the expertise and the background to do the job in specialist subject areas, we should--it is in everyone's best interests.
One instance was raised in the press recently. Someone took a psychology degree but did not indicate in the form that she filled in to apply for a maths course that she had undertaken sufficient course content in statistics and maths. It was not surprising that the institution did not know that that was the case.
Mrs. May: On the maths content of courses for those who wish to undertake teacher training, will the right hon. Gentleman look at the availability of maths courses? I have had a case of a lady with a first-class degree in English who was told that she needed to improve her maths to go into teaching and then found it difficult to get a suitable course that would provide that training for her.
Mr. Blunkett: We will examine the position immediately on this and any other instances that right hon. and hon. Members wish to raise. However, we introduced the tests for maths, English and information technology to ensure that whoever people are, whatever degree they have taken and whatever course they have been on, they are equipped to do the job in the classroom. Quality first, second and third has to be the hallmark of where we are going in order to continue what the chief inspector of schools identified last year, and what I hope will be identified and continued by the new chief inspector in his annual report in February--that the quality of teaching and of teachers has risen substantially over the past four or five years.
Mr. Derek Twigg: The hon. Member for Maidenhead advised me earlier what my constituents would be saying to me about education at the election. However, I see my constituents on a regular basis between elections, and they tell me that they see a rise in quality and standards.
Mr. Blunkett: How could I possibly disagree with that? It is a consequence of improved teaching and teachers in the classroom, and I thank them for it. Ultimately, the correlation between improved standards, increased levels of test results and qualification at GCSE and A-level is a result of the improvement in teachers and in the teaching in the classroom. The two go together. Paradoxically, some people are glad to have an improvement and want to reward teachers for it while others find it difficult to believe that improved teaching leads to improved exam results. They suggest that the results must somehow be fiddled, that statisticians do not have the qualifications to do the job accurately and that independent statisticians cannot be trusted. A party that says that about those who are delivering the nationally assessed and independent statistical data is not fit to be in government.
Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central): As my right hon. Friend refers to the position 10 years ago, will he confirm to the House that the teacher vacancy rate in 1991 was approximately double the present rate? As someone who, as a chair of education, was dealing with a recruitment crisis for teachers in inner London just before that time, I do not recollect that any practical assistance whatever was offered by the then Conservative Government to help us to deal with that problem.
Mr. Blunkett: I confirm that the number of vacancies in 1991--when, as my hon. Friend will remember, we were in the throes of the recession that followed the 1988-89 boom--was 5,500. I mention the boom and the consequent recession because at the time there was a dual problem in recruitment. With the artificially created boom in 1988, London and the south-east experienced the most enormous rise in house prices--as anyone who was around at the time will remember. We continue to feel the effects of that. However, cuts in teacher training took place throughout almost all the 1980s--especially in secondary teacher recruitment and training.
It was precisely at that time that we needed expansion, however. That is why there are fewer teachers in their 30s and early 40s at present than there would otherwise have been--a point to which the attention of the House has been drawn previously--and we should not have the current gap, which I acknowledge, between new entrants and the over-45s.
In the economy at present, 1.1 million more men and women are in work than four years ago. There is low inflation and continuing growth--with prosperity leading both to demand on housing in areas of high employment and, of course, to demand for labour and thus competition for the attention and recruitment of young people. That is a simple fact.
If we were not expanding the teaching profession, the problem would not be so great. Increased investment in education leads to increased demand for teachers--as does the reduction of class sizes. That increased demand
There is thus an economic factor. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards has pointed out, the last thing we want is to be able to recruit in a recession, but to be unable to match the expansion in resource investment with an expansion in the teaching profession.
That is the position we face. In England alone, an extra 7,000 plus teachers have been in the classroom--in post--since 1998. We know that there is a major problem, but we also know that simply to repeat the word "crisis" will do nothing to resolve it. We have endeavoured to take steps to make it possible to change the position.
We introduced the golden hello scheme, first, for specialist subject areas, and reversed the decline in recruitment for teachers of maths, languages and science--although problems remain. As long as we are recruiting almost 50 per cent. of all maths graduates for teaching, there will continue to be a major challenge.
We extended the scheme with the new graduate salaries--£6,000 for nine months' training--and added the golden hello of £4,000 for those who actually take up teaching. We introduced the graduate teacher programme under which we are prepared to pay people £13,000 for undertaking that work-based route. We are extending the school-based, initial teacher training programme that many people are convinced will offer a way forward in the future.
We shall not stem the problem, however, unless we persuade both mature students and new entrants that teaching is a first-class profession. As I pointed out to one union leader two days ago, it must be in the interests of the teacher unions--competing in the run-up to the school teachers' review body--to sell to the world out there that teaching is a good job to be in. If they do not, the pressure on their members will increase, not decrease, because the more we can recruit, the more easily we can lift the burden from existing teachers. They will not have to cover if the cover is there. They will not have to cover if sickness absence does not increase. It is in everyone's interests to get this right, which is why we need ideas.
On 27 December, we introduced an advertising campaign. Admittedly, it has not yet transferred interest into applications, because it takes weeks for people to submit applications and for those to be processed. That is why I was right in saying, at Education questions this time last week, that comparing one date with a different date in the previous year would lead to a misunderstanding about the level of applications. It did, because applications, as attested to by the graduate teacher training registry this week, are 10 per cent. up on this time last year.