Teacher Supply

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 3:40 pm on 18th January 2001.

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Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 3:40 pm, 18th January 2001

The Minister says that I am wrong, but the Government did not bother to dispute that at the time.

The Secretary of State referred to the Teacher Training Agency hotline with glowing praise. That was one of the main fig-leaves that he clutched when trying to protect his failures in teacher recruitment. When I phoned the TTA hotline this morning, I received a response that might explain why there have been so many more calls to the line recently. When I dialed the number, I was told that all the consultants were engaged. The Secretary of State will say that that is positive, because the service is so popular. I was then asked whether I would like to be sent a brochure rather than wait to speak to somebody. I said, "No, I would like to speak to somebody." The person I was talking to asked whether I would like to enter the queueing system. I said, "Yes", whereupon I was told, "Good luck". [Interruption.] The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities is calling this a stunt. It was quite the reverse, because I went to the trouble of finding out what the Government are doing about teacher recruitment and I found the service to be an appalling failure. The hotline is the stunt. When I had waited for three minutes, I was cut off without any response. I can assure hon. Members that I was prepared to wait for longer.

The Secretary of State said that teachers should be left to teach, but he is on record as saying that teachers should become learning managers in charge of what are now being described as bodies being put in front of a class. The trouble with bringing unqualified teachers, or anyone who is able to fill the gap, into a classroom is that it does not deliver what parents or schools want, or what children need. Parents do not want learning managers; they want teachers. Teachers do not want to be learning managers. They want respect for their professionalism, and the space to be allowed to teach.

Nigel de Gruchy of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers—a body that the Secretary of State now appears to hold in low esteem—has commented that the Government seems to have thrown in the towel— on teacher recruitment. He goes on to say that substituting adults with unspecified qualifications for teachers is a policy of despair.[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, The hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), can chunter as much as she likes from the Government Front Bench. When her former friends in the teaching unions are now describing the Government's education policy as a "policy of despair", the Government really ought to take it seriously and consider where the problem lies.

The problem exists across the country. Positions are being filled by overseas teachers. Schools are being forced to recruit new teachers from Australia over the telephone. The press in my area—the Manchester Evening News — reports, under the headline "G'day Manchester", that an army of Australian teachers is being flown in to stop the recruitment crisis. Overseas teachers consider this country a base while they do Europe. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that that is good. It is good if they stay in the long term. It is good if they are sufficiently educated and sufficiently qualified and if they know the ways of the British education system. It is not good, the Secretary of State should admit, if they have been brought here for a short period to fill a gap. It is not good—[Interruption.]

The Secretary of State can try to make a joke, but it is not good if Australian teachers or teachers from around the world come here in rapid succession and stay for just a term or a matter of weeks. Children will not have a teacher whom they can come to rely on. That is another part of the crisis, which is of his and Labour's making. We need free schools—schools with the freedom to run their own affairs and teachers who have the freedom to teach. All that the Government have to offer is bureaucracy, gimmicks and spin. It is time for a change.