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Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 18:16 GMT
Teacher shortage a 'national crisis'
Theresa May
Mrs May opened the debate with an attack on Labour
A shortage of classroom teachers was leading to a long-term national crisis, the Conservatives warned.

Introducing an opposition day debate in the Commons, the Shadow Education Minister, Theresa May accused the government of showing "breath-taking complacency" in its failure to act.


The government has not taken the action necessary to prevent this crisis from harming the quality of education our children receive

Theresa May
And she mocked New Labour for its refusing to refer to the situation as a crisis, instead "a challenge".

But the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, said the constant talk of crisis by the Conservatives only served to damage the teaching profession and schools.

Mr Blunkett admitted there was an issue to address, but said it was only half as bad as the state of the education system under the Tories.

"You can certainly make it very difficult for schools to attract those that they need to apply for jobs," he said.

"You can certainly make it difficult to persuade young people it's a good profession to come into.

"You can do that by keeping on using the word crisis. What you can't do is resolve the problem."

'Meltdown'

But Mrs May quoted letters from education professionals warning that the system was approaching "meltdown".

"Since all those threats the government has not taken the action necessary to prevent this crisis from harming the quality of education our children receive," she told MPs.

The shadow minister also criticised the government for inundating teachers with bureaucracy.


Two thirds of teachers enjoy their job and I think that is something we should be celebrating

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrats
Even people applying for graduate teaching schemes had to fill in complex application forms up to 23 pages long, she laughed.

"A Conservative government will stop telling teachers what to do and allow them to do what they do best: teach," Mrs May said.

"We have pledged to match Labour's spending on schools pound for pound and by devolving powers and budget to schools we will ensure on average an extra 540 per pupil for every school in the country."

'Tribute to teachers'

The Liberal Democrat spokesman on education, Phil Willis - who was a headteacher until he stood for Parliament in 1997 - supported Mrs May's claims of a crisis in the education system.

He put the government's failure to recruit more teachers down to low morale in the teaching profession.

But it was a tribute, Mr Willis said, to the teaching profession that the situation had not worsened.

"Despite all the difficulties, two thirds of teachers enjoy their job and I think that is something we should be celebrating," he said.

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See also:

13 Jan 01 | Correspondents
Truth about teacher shortages
05 Jan 01 | Education
Another school shut by shortages
04 Jan 01 | Education
Teacher training applications fall
12 Jan 01 | Education
Head teachers hard to replace
18 Dec 00 | Education
Rise in teacher numbers
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