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In January 1986 local authorities in England reported 359 unfilled posts in mathematics, 407 in science and 201 in craft design technology. Although the vacancies amount to only just over 1 per cent. of posts in these subjects, I am nevertheless concerned about the supply. I have taken several measures, including the allocation of £16·5 million next year, in support of in-service training for teachers of these subjects.
Does the Secretary of State agree that those figures are an indictment of seven years of a Tory Government who pledged themselves to improving the country's economic performance? If they do not provide sufficient science, mathematics and other technological subject teachers, they never can improve our economic performance. What plans does the right hon. Gentleman have to end the process of cuts in universities, polytechnics and teacher training institutes, which is at the root of the problem? Does he agree that in-service training cannot solve the shortage which has been caused by the lack of educational training places for universities and other institutions of higher education?
The hon. Member could not have been in the House earlier when I announced confirmation of the increase in polytechnic funding for next year. He should also be aware that I have increased the numbers for initial teacher training in primary and secondary schools by amounts as high as 20 per cent. for the next three years.
I completely reject the suggestion that the shortage of teachers in these subjects is a recent problem—it goes back to the 1940s and 1950s. For a time in the 1940s and 1950s, young boys who were intended for national service were relieved of that duty if they studied these subjects.
Is the Minister aware that a survey of 97 secondary schools in the city of Birmingham showed that about one third of mathematics teaching is done by those who have either weak or no paper qualifications in that subject? Does he accept that this gross shortage denies proper opportunities to thousands of students to acquire vital skills in these subjects? The establishment of the city technology colleges will cream off the better qualified to what are likely to be better-equipped institutions and better-paid jobs. That will make the situation even worse.
In the first part of his supplementary the hon. Gentleman made a good point. I agree with him that, although the vacancy rate for such teachers is just under 1 per cent., it does mask the problem that many teachers are not qualified in and trained for teaching these subjects. This is not due to a lack of opportunities. The opportunities are there. This year we have introduced a £1,200 bursary for graduates who want to train in these subjects. I am glad to report that applications for initial teacher training in physics and technology have improved significantly since that announcement.
Applications for teacher training in physics have increased by 9 per cent., and craft and technology applications by about 20 per cent. That is well above the rates we need.
I echo a previous supplementary from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). Is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of village schools of excellence do not have any particular staffing problems and, in the circumstances, will he think twice before abolishing them?
In the last few months, I can assure my hon. Friend that I have visited many village schools with small numbers of children in them — 15, 20 or 30. They provide excellent education. I wish to make it absolutely clear that it is not the Government's intention to close such schools. In many cases they provide an essential ingredient to hold a community together.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way to improve the critical situation regarding physics and mathematics teaching is to encourage better links, including financial, between industry and teaching? Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that in Norwich there is already evidence of industrial support for the new city technology colleges? That is good and it is the right way to proceed.
I welcome the support of my hon. Friend. Norwich was not on the initial list, but if people come forward in Norwich and want to establish a technology college, I should be happy to look at the application.
Industry links are very important with regard to the teaching of mathematics and physics. Many companies are already helping. Plessey, GEC and BP have given bursaries of one kind or another. Some authorities are approaching their local companies to see whether any executives wish to go back into teaching.
Does the Secretary of State not recognise that we will not begin to solve the teacher shortages until there is a long-term deal for the profession? Although I regret the decision of one teachers' union to restart industrial action, is it not the case that the Government's dithering, highlighted in today's press, is adding to the uncertainty? When is the Secretary of State going to come clean and tell the House how the teachers' dispute will be solved?
The current position is that the employers and unions are to meet under ACAS in Nottingham on the weekend after next in yet another attempt to resolve the two-year-old dispute. Since the Coventry meeting in July, the Main report for Scotland has been published and the Government are considering its implications, which are exceedingly complex. While all that is taking place, I utterly condemn the action of NAS/UWT in threatening further disruption next week. It is not the Government who will be blamed for the lack of agreement. The parties have not yet reached an agreement.