Teacher Training (Science Graduates)

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Employment – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 22nd May 1996.

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Photo of Mr John Gunnell Mr John Gunnell , Leeds South and Morley 1:45 pm, 22nd May 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what plans she has to increase the number of applications from science graduates for training for teaching; and if she will make a statement. [29097]

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

We have introduced a priority subject recruitment scheme, being run by the Teacher Training Agency, which should attract more good students to train as teachers in key subjects such as science. The TTA's other promotional activities also place particular emphasis on science.

Photo of Mr John Gunnell Mr John Gunnell , Leeds South and Morley

Does the Minister believe that the Teacher Training Agency will reach its target of training 3,700 science graduates as teachers this year? Does he believe that there will be more science teachers in the classroom next year, taking into account those who will be promoted out of the classroom, retire, change careers or leave the profession because of disillusionment? Are we not facing a crisis in science teaching in schools, which is due in part to disillusionment with the Government as a result of their lowering teachers' status over the years?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

That hysterical outburst—[Laughter.]—is uncharacteristic of the hon. Gentleman. I am told that there are 46 vacancies nationwide for physics, chemistry, biology and other science teachers, which does not suggest a crisis of the proportions implied by the hon. Gentleman. However, the Department and I share his concern to do everything that we can to guarantee the future supply of science teachers and to strengthen the teaching of science in schools. The Teacher Training Agency is doing several different things in that area. For example, it is considering how it might develop the licensed teacher scheme to attract mature applicants to science teaching. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is an imaginative approach that could bear fruit. The School Teachers Review Body will also examine the question of the supply of science teachers when undertaking its annual consideration of pay skills. Those and the other measures that have been implemented will ensure that there is no worsening of the current position of only 46 vacancies nationwide.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

The problem is that most of the time that graduates spend in teacher training college is a complete waste. Although we have introduced measures to test pupils and the level of output in schools, should we not also consider introducing a core curriculum for teachers, particularly for junior and infant trainee teachers, in numeracy and literacy? Graduates should be taught not simply what to teach, but how to teach it. Recent studies have highlighted tragic levels of illiteracy among young people in our inner cities which are caused by poor teachers who do not know how to teach—and who have not been trained to teach—reading.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

My hon. Friend, characteristically, puts his finger on a very important point. An important part of the remit of the Teacher Training Agency, working with the Office for Standards in Education—which is helping us increasingly to understand some of the problems that my hon. Friend has highlighted—is to provide the information that we need to quantify the nature of the problem and to go ahead and deal with it.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we must ensure that teachers and those who are in teacher training have the tools that they need to do the job properly. As well as helping us to identify problems in schools and with pupils in the classroom, Ofsted is working to identify the needs of teachers. The Teacher Training Agency can then bring about the necessary improvements in that area.

Photo of Mr Bryan Davies Mr Bryan Davies , Oldham Central and Royton

I ask the Minister, calmly and without hysteria, whether he agrees that, to safeguard the number of teachers of science in the future, we must take seriously the Dearing proposals to broaden the post-16 curriculum. We must ensure that more students continue to study science beyond the age of 16 and are well prepared to enter higher education to study that subject.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman's constructive point. The whole thrust for some years—starting with the national curriculum—has been to ensure that all pupils not only gain a grasp of science, but develop an enthusiasm for it from an early age. We hope and expect that more children will want to continue their science studies in secondary school and beyond. The basic curriculum, Sir Ron Dearing's work to develop it post-16 and developments beyond that are designed to achieve that objective, among others. I am happy to share the objectives that the hon. Gentleman sketched.