Parties play hard in teacher numbers game

18th May 2001 at 01:00
ANY advance on 10,000 ? Labour and the Liberal Democrats entered a bidding war for the parent vote this week, with each pledging more teachers in the classroom, writes Nic Barnard.

Labour made a promise of 10,000 extra teachers in England's schools - one of its five key pledges - but not in Wales where the party is promising instead extra cash for buildings.

The Lib Dems promised to match that, then add another 3,500 primary teachers to create an average class size of 25, and employ 5,000 more secondary teachers.

Labour faced claims this week that its pledge does not go far enough. An increase of 10,000 would be less than in its first term, which saw a net increase of more than 11,000 teachers, mostly in the past year. But a party spokesman said: "This is just a minimum target."

And if it is to cut secondary class sizes after a decade of steady increases, then extra posts are likely to be at the expense of redundancies in primary schools where pupil rolls are falling.

Secondary rolls are on the rise. In five years' time, some 100,000 extra students will require almost 6,000 more teachers just to maintain present pupil-teacher ratios.

That alone would eat up more than half of Labour's increase - and the rest could vanish if schools do nthing more than fill posts where supply teachers are now plugging the gap.

But some 9,000 primary teachers will be surplus to requirements by 2006. So a pledge of 10,000 extra teachers across the system could mean 19,000 more bodies in secondaries - if there were primary redundancies. A spokesman indicated this week that Labour would try to juggle the two.

The Lib Dems said they would keep on those 9,000 primary teachers, and add another 3,500 to create class sizes of 25 and give all primary teachers at least two hours preparation and marking time.

But the move would be funded by an extra penny on income tax. Labour and the Tories accuse the centre party of spending the proceeds of that penny - some pound;3.1 billion a year - many times over.

In Scotland, Labour promises another 1,000 teachers. But Welsh schools are angry at being left out. Labour in Wales is pledging instead to spend pound;290m on school buildings - in effect, carrying out the National Assembly's existing building programme. The assembly is not up for re-election on June 7.

A Welsh Labour spokesman said: "We haven't got much of a teacher shortage in Wales. The biggest problem facing Welsh education is the very poor state of buildings. There are a lot of very old schools."

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