Labour warns of acute teacher shortage

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The Independent Online
Labour has warned that teacher shortages could soon reach crisis level. The numbers training to teach early years and primary education are falling despite government plans to offer nursery education to all four-year-olds next year, according to figures released to the party. The figures also show that in secondary schools the numbers teaching maths, science and English have fallen continuously over the past decade.

At the same time, the number of pupils in the system is growing. Last year, there were an extra 100,000 children in school, and a similar increase is expected in the coming year.

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, said the school population was set to rise by 3.5 per cent in the next five years. "The Conservatives' failure to plan properly for our children's future has created a ticking time bomb in terms of a future shortage of suitably qualified teachers in key subject specialisms," he said. "No wonder the Government have allowed the voucher scheme to operate without a qualified teacher being in charge of designated nursery education provision."

Mr Blunkett's figures, supplied in answer to a parliamentary question, show that the number of new students entering primary and nursery teacher training dropped from 16,600 in 1992 to 13,600 in 1995. Government targets for recruitment, which were set at 12,100 last year and were easily met, have been cut this year to 11,500 and are set to rise to 12,200 next year.

In maths, the number of qualified teachers dropped from 47,900 in 1984 to 38,100 in 1992, while in English the number dropped from 54,600 to 40,100 over the same period. In science, there were 49,600 teachers in 1988 and 46,200 in 1992.

Mr Blunkett has accused the Government of failing to act to solve the problem, which is bound to become more acute as pupil numbers rise. At the same time, more teachers are opting to take early retirement - 11,500 in 1994-95. There is also a very high drop-out rate among teacher-training students, with 21 per cent failing to complete Bachelor of Education courses and 13 per cent dropping out of post-graduate training courses.

However, a spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment denied that there was any problem with recruitment. "Schools are having no difficulties in recruiting teachers. The vacancy rate is the lowest it has ever been. At the same time, the number of classroom assistants is rising. There is no teacher shortage," he said.