Jeremy Corbyn has accused the Prime Minister of being in “denial” about a shortage of teachers in British schools.
The Labour leader said recruitment and retention problems were damaging children’s education – but also costing £1.3 billion a year as staff on expensive agency contracts were drafted in.
“The problem is that classes sizes are growing and there’s a crisis of teacher shortages as well,” he said at Prime Minister’s Questions.
“I’ve been talking to many teachers … with increasing numbers of teachers leaving the profession will the Government now accept that there is now a crisis of recruitment and of retention in this profession?
David Cameron replied by criticising Scottish Labour’s proposal to put a penny on the basic rate of income tax.
“There are 13,000 more teachers in our schools than when I became prime minister. If he worries about teacher recruitment, perhaps he can explain this. How is it going to help – his party’s proposal to put up the basic rate of tax, starting in Scotland?” he said.
“I don’t think recruiting teachers is simply about money, it’s also about having a good school system, but it certainly won’t help if we listen to Labour and put up people’s taxes.”
Mr Corbyn replied: “He seems to be in a bit of denial here. Ofsted and the NAO all confirm there is a shortage and a crisis of teachers. Ensuring there are enough excellent teachers in our schools is obviously fundamental to the life chances of children.
“70 per cent of head teachers warned they’re now having to use agency staff to staff their classrooms – isn’t it time the Governemnt intervened and looked at the real cost of this: damage to children’s education but also £1.3 billion spend last year on agency teachers?”
On Friday Allan Foulds, the president of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned that the UK was in the grip of a “national crisis”.
In his address to the association’s annual conference Mr Foulds said the exodus of people from the profession was jeopardising the Government’s aim to improve standards.
“We are in the midst of a teacher supply crisis. I think it has the potential to jeopardise standards in schools,” he said.
A study reported by the Independent in October last year found that retention problems were particularly acute amongst science specialists – despite a government emphasis on so-called “STEM” subjects.
69 per cent of science teachers had considered leaving the profession in the last six month, according to the YoUGov poll for the think-tank LKMco and education firm Pearson.
Figures released by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers last year found that around four in ten teachers were quitting the profession after gaining their Qualified Teacher Status.
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