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Debate on BBC Radio 2's Jimmy Young programme
David Blunkett, Theresa May and Phil Willis
 real 28k

Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 16:23 GMT
Teacher shortages disputed
Willis, Blunkett,  May
Politicians disputed the level of teacher shortages
Politicians from the three major parties have clashed over teacher shortages.

In an election debate on BBC Radio 2's Jimmy Young Show, the Education Secretary David Blunkett was challenged by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over the government's record on teacher recruitment.

Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, accused Mr Blunkett of "failing miserably" in the recruitment and retention of teachers.


We have a desperate problem in teaching today - teachers are leaving the profession in their droves

Theresa May, Conservative education spokesperson
According to a recent survey, 50% wanted to get out within the next 10 years, he said.

"They do so because this government has heaped on them bureaucracy, initiative after initiative and overload after overload.

"They've failed to value teachers. Teachers have been told more and more what to do by David [Blunkett], how to do it and when to do it.

"Teachers need greater professional freedom and to be liberated from bureaucracy and they need to be valued for what they do," Mr Willis argued.

Morale

Theresa May, Conservative education spokesperson, said raising the morale of teachers would be the biggest challenge of the next government.


Let me ask just one question: Are there not 11,000 more ... teachers in schools in England than there were four years ago?

Education Secretary David Blunkett

"We have a desperate problem in teaching today - teachers are leaving the profession in their droves.

"We've got desperate shortages across the country, with schools finding it incredibly difficult to appoint teachers to vacancies, many schools in London only surviving because of supply teachers from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa," Ms May said.

Funding

Mr Blunkett was quick to defend the government's position, pointing out the measures the Department for Education had taken to attract more people into the teaching profession.

The starting salary had been increased by 6% to 17,000 and classroom teachers were now able to earn up to 31,000 (34,000 in London), he said.

And he said that the increase in classroom vacancies was in part a reflection of the extra posts generated by an increase in funding in education.


Teachers need greater professional freedom and to be liberated from bureaucracy and they need to be valued for what they do

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson

"Let me ask Theresa and Phil just one question: Are there not 11,000 more full-time equivalent teachers in schools in England than there were four years ago?" Mr Blunkett asked.

Section 28

Following an e-mail from a listener, the politicians were asked their views on the keeping or repealing of the controversial Section 28, which bans local authorities from promoting homosexuality.

Mr Blunkett, whose government had sought to scrap Section 28, said he had been involved in drafting sex education and relationship guidance for schools and was confident this was "the way forward".

These guidelines put marriage, family and stability at the heart of the teaching, he said.

"Young people learn that relationships are built on love and friendship, not just on a one-night stand."

The guidance did not exclude those who had a different form of sexuality, he stressed.

Bullying

Ms May said her party wanted to keep Section 28, believing most parents wanted the security of knowing homosexuality would not be promoted in schools.

The legislation did not prevent discussing homosexuality, nor did it endorse homophobic bullying or bullying of any kind, she said.

Mr Willis did not agree, saying open debate in schools was hindered by the clause.

"What Section 28 does is to actually prevent a local authority from training its staff and I think that's unacceptable.

"We would like to see Section 28 removed from the statute books," he said.

And he expressed disappointment that the Labour government had stopped short of repealing it.

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