Teacher Recruitment

Oral Answers to Questions — Children, Schools and Families – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 30th June 2008.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Member, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 2:30 pm, 30th June 2008

What steps he has taken to recruit more teachers of (a) mathematics, (b) science and (c) modern foreign languages.

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Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families

There are significant financial incentives for students taking a postgraduate certificate of education in priority subjects and courses to improve subject knowledge in mathematics, physics and chemistry. Transition to Teaching will encourage more career changers to teach mathematics, science and information and communications technology. Teach First's expansion will allow more top graduates the opportunity to teach shortage subjects in challenging schools. We have trained 4,000 new primary teachers with a languages specialism to support the development of language teaching in primary schools, which is expanding fast.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Member, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

That is a good general answer, but the Minister will know that a report published today states that we have a reduction by more than a quarter of applicants for teacher training in physics. We know that about 25 per cent. more physics teachers are already leaving the profession than are joining, that a quarter of all state schools have no qualified physics teacher, and that in the inner cities half have no such teacher. Is the only answer in the short and medium term that schools should now recruit abroad for the specialist teachers whom we need?

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Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families

I have seen the claims made by Professor Smithers this morning regarding the shortage of physics teachers. The combination of the higher bursary of £9,000 and a £5,000 golden hello when people start teaching will certainly help. The expansion—the doubling—of Teach First over the next five years, announced by the Prime Minister last week, will add to that. The £140 million investment in science, technology, engineering and maths, and the improvement that we are just starting to see in the take-up of physics A-level will be important. Over the medium to long term, I therefore certainly do not see it as a necessity for people to recruit physics teachers from abroad, but in the short term individual schools in local authorities will have to do what they need to do to ensure that we have the necessary specialisms in our classrooms.

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Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Member, Environmental Audit Committee, Member, Children, Schools and Families Committee

On foreign language teachers, does the Minister agree that it is not just a question of financial incentives, and that we have a much bigger cultural problem? As long as our national debate is dominated by anti-European and anti-foreigner sentiments—driven, it has to be said, by the Conservative party—there will always be a difficulty in recruiting modern foreign language teachers.

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Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families

We are focused on reducing the decline in language learning in secondary schools, which is why I was particularly pleased that on Thursday, we were able to publish statistics showing that the take-up of primary school pupils studying a language has gone up from 70 per cent. last year to 84 per cent. The figure was only 44 per cent. in 2002, so we are starting to make progress with younger children, who more easily take to learning a language, as part of addressing a decline over a number of years at secondary level.

Such attitudes towards Europeans and other foreigners have, I hope, been compensated for by the excellent football that we have seen in the past couple of weeks in the European championship, and by people in all our communities joining other Europeans who live among us in celebrating their various teams. I was very pleased to see the result last night.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Schools)

Does the Minister accept, however, the basic premise of today's report from the university of Buckingham on the supply of science and physics teachers, referred to by Simon Hughes: that the drive in schools towards general science at the expense of the three separate sciences—biology, chemistry and physics—is the underlying cause of the 10-year decline in the numbers taking A-level physics, which have fallen from 29,000 in 1997 to 24,000 last year? Only a quarter of comprehensive schools teach the three separate sciences. Does he agree with us that every child should be entitled to study the three separate sciences to GCSE, regardless of his or her performance at key stage 3 and regardless of the idiosyncrasies of particular school governing bodies?

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Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families

We certainly want every child who achieves level 6 in science at key stage 3 to be able to study the three separate sciences as an entitlement, and we are working with schools with science specialisms to deliver that. I am pleased that we are beginning to see an improvement in the numbers taking and achieving A-level physics, as well as maths and further maths, which are so closely allied to the study of physics. That is reversing the long-term trend away from science. My hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor mentioned an anti-foreigner culture: well, there is certainly an anti-science culture in much of our media. We need to address that head on and, perhaps through the science diploma, show people the exciting routes into a range of jobs that require maths and physics. For example, if people want to design computer games, they need A-level physics.

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