Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:42 pm on 24th January 1990.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 5:42 pm, 24th January 1990

I shall not give way. It is not that I do not wish to, but many other hon. Members wish to speak. We are failing to achieve standards and targets that will give Britain the educated community that it needs. The Government have also now confirmed that they are not after all committed to doubling the number of students in higher education. The reality is that we are not attaining the prerequisite of higher education, as an insufficient number of students aged over 16 stay on at school.

There have been new initiatives on employment training, which are welcome, and it is important that we continue to develop them. However, there is no real commitment or coherence in policy.

It would now be appropriate for the Government to reconsider the idea of amalgamating the Department of Education and Science with the part of the Department of Employment that is responsible for training. I know that that has been considered by the Government, and those functions ought to go together. That is what happens in other countries, for example, Australia. If the education and training system is integrated, we shall be able to deliver the appropriate curricula and training to produce an appropriately educated work force in the future.

In training, there are many things that we can do and I shall list a few. For example, we could promote more exchanges between staff in schools and colleges and people employed in local industry and commerce, by secondment. We could encourage more technology in schools. We could ensure that teachers have more knowledge of the needs of the local labour market, and we could enable the national curriculum to contain enough flexibility to allow young people to leave school much better equipped for the rapidly changing world of work.

Perhaps the most substantial indictment of the Government's schools policy is the continuing teacher crisis caused by inadequate pay and insufficient numbers, and leading to a tragic lack of morale.

Hidden in the small print of last week's revenue support grant announcement was something rather interesting. Can the Minister confirm that the Government have, in effect, given teachers in the south-east a regional pay advantage? I do not deny that teachers in the south-east—like those elsewhere—need more pay; indeed, my colleagues and I have said so many times in the House. The adjustment in the settlement, however, will not remedy the massive problem of teacher shortages—which is most acute in the south-east, where the cost of living is higher, and most particularly in the more deprived parts of that region.

By eliminating negotiating mechanisms, the Government have limited the amount available for teachers' pay next year. Teachers in other regions are therefore forfeiting part of their pay rise in order to generate scarcely more acceptable salaries for their colleagues in the south-east. I trust that the Minister will agree that that does not constitute an adequate response to the needs of teachers in the most stressed parts of the country.

As the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) said, we are still substantially short of teachers for several core subjects in the curriculum. As is clear from the Central Register and Clearing House survey of the autumn 1989 entry for teacher training, planned entry targets are not being reached in several subjects that the Government themselves consider vital—craft, design and technology, modern languages, mathematics, religious education and science—and that is at least as true today. The cause of the shortage is not just the difficulty of recruiting people with these qualifications across the sectors. Because the appeal of teaching in the state sector is becoming increasingly reduced, given the choice, those with the necessary qualifications tend to opt for a different profession entirely.

The national curriculum is, in part, a good thing: it is wise to ensure that young people are taught all appropriate subjects. It is, however, a major headache for those who are expected to implement it. Teachers are falling behind with their work. The hon. Member for Crosby mentioned the high incidence of stress, and a report produced only today makes clear the importance of this point. Teachers have next to no time to plan, and less and less non-contact time. They are under increasing pressure as they try to deliver all the new initiatives.