Government plans to tackle teacher shortages in key subject areas came under attack from all sides of the lords yesterday. Among critics were former Labour education secretary Lord Glenmara and leading Labour academic Lord Peston.
Education minister Baroness Blackstone said over the long term the government hoped to tackle fundamental issues of recruitment and retention of teachers of mathematics, modern languages and
science, as outlined in its green paper.
funding recruitment advisers, based in local authorities, who will work with schools in difficult recruitment areas to generate creative strategies targeting local recruitment needs'.
She reassured Labour peer Lord Dormand, a former chief education officer who welcomed the short-term approach, that the teaching unions were being consulted.
But Lord Glenmara, who as Ted Short was deputy leader of the Labour party and education secretary, warned: '...many of us who have been in touch with teachers all our lives believe that payment by results is the worst possible way to recruit more teachers and to train those we already have. That was abandoned 80 years ago after it had thoroughly demoralised the whole teaching profession'.
Lord Peston said the UK was exceptionally good at mathematics and science. It had, for example, a disproportionate number of Nobel prize winners in chemistry. To achieve that sort of result in the future
the government needed to look ahead in the long term to see from where the teachers needed to produce the great scientists and mathematicians of the next century would come.
'It bothers some of us that policy - not particularly of this government, but generally - has lived totally in the short term as regards education', he said.
Cross-bencher Lord Quirk, former vice chancellor of London University, suggested recruting teachers in the short-tern from the European Union, especially Germany, where all teachers were well-equipped
in English and where there was an over-supply of teachers from its universities and training colleges.
Baroness Blackstone said while the government welcomed teachers from the EU, it would be wrong to become overdependent on teachers from abroad. The current teacher shortages should not be exaggerated: there were less than 2,500 unfilled posts or approximately 0.7% of the total teaching force.
But Lord Pilkington of Oxford said rhetoric rather than practicality had governed the minister's answers which did not address the fact that while there was a relatively small shortage, it was in crucial subjects such as languages and mathematics. Her answers did not reflect the full enormity of the problem which had been pointed out by Labour peers.
Baroness Sharp of Guilford said that well over 60% of those recruited to teach physics and mathematics had a third class degree or worse. 'This is a question of motivating and inspiring our young people in schools. If we do not do that, the problem will become self-perpetuating', she added.