Nothing has more impact on children’s achievement at school than the quality of the teaching that they receive. We are raising the bar for new teachers, helping existing teachers to improve, and, when teachers cannot meet the required standards, making it easier for head teachers to tackle underperformance.
As my hon. Friend says, far the most important factor in the quality of teaching is the presence of our dedicated teachers. Will he consider widening access to taster sessions for potential teachers, both to attract more good people to the profession and to give more people a chance to decide whether it is really for them before committing themselves to a BEd or a PGCE?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Teaching Agency’s new school experience programme for people who are considering teaching maths, physics, chemistry or a modern language at secondary level provides precisely the opportunities to which he refers. It gives participants an opportunity to observe teaching and pastoral work, and to talk to teachers about day-to-day school life. More than 800 people have benefited from the programme so far, and many more placements are planned for the future.
Last week I listened with interest to a Radio 4 programme about the use of synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading in schools. It was clear that there was a fundamental difference between the philosophies relating to education and teaching methods which had not yet been resolved. Does the Minister accept that until we solve that problem, we will not overcome our fundamental problems in education?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Getting reading right in primary schools is fundamental to children’s future education. That is why we have introduced match funding for primary schools—£3,000 per school for new training and materials—and why every six-year-old will undergo a phonic check this June so that we can ensure that we spot the children who are struggling with reading. We are determined to end the scandal of one in 10 boys leaving primary school with a reading age of seven or less.
We should celebrate and support the best teachers in our schools. Is the Minister aware of research by the Sutton Trust which shows that if a below-average teacher can be raised to the average, the impact on the lifetime earnings of that teacher’s classroom can amount to more than £250,000? The importance of teaching is critical not only to our society, to our culture and to social justice, but to the economy. What more can the Minister do to improve the quality of teaching?
My hon. Friend, who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, is absolutely right. We are doing a huge amount to raise the bar both for entry to the teaching profession and for continuing professional development. That is what is behind the whole teaching schools programme. Already 218 schools have been designated teaching schools, which promote peer-to-peer training. The Government are determined to restore the centre of academic life to our schools.
The quality of teaching is indeed the single most important determinant of a school’s success, and it is vital that we attract the very best teachers to the most challenging schools. Schools already have significant flexibility when it comes to pay. Does the Minister agree that regional pay would make it harder to attract the best teachers to the most challenging schools?
I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s question. We have asked the School Teachers Review Body to consider the issue—[Interruption.] Yes, those independent experts are examining the issue of regional pay. We will submit evidence to them, as will the trade unions, and they will report to the Government in September.
Graduates with first-class degrees in shortage subjects receive higher teacher training bursaries than those with second-class degrees. Is there any research evidence showing that those with a first-class degree are better teachers than those with a second-class degree?
There is evidence that teacher subject knowledge has a direct bearing on the attainment of pupils. There is also a correlation between the degree classification and the propensity of trainees to finish their course. There is also evidence from around the world that the highest performing education jurisdictions are those that take their trainees from the top 10% or top quarter of graduates.
The Minister will have read the OECD’s recent report showing that teacher status, pay and professional autonomy are key to teacher success and the learning of pupils. The Prime Minister tells us that we should follow the lead of countries with excellent records in this regard, such as Finland and South Korea. What is the Minister doing to increase teacher pay and professional autonomy?
The entire academies programme is built on the autonomy of the teaching profession; that is the essence of the programme. We want a well-rewarded teaching profession in order to attract and retain the best people, and we are determined to achieve that. Of course, because of the legacy left behind by the last Government, which the hon. Lady supported, we are having to take some very tough decisions right across the public sector. Despite all the problems left by the previous Government, however, in education we have maintained spending on schools at flat cash per pupil, and in addition to that we have the pupil premium, which amounts to a significant sum of money.
We have already allocated a number of places in the graduate teaching programme for service leavers, and we are working with the Ministry of Defence on schemes to encourage more service leavers into teaching through graduate and undergraduate processes. The skills and experience members of the armed forces have are crucial to raising standards in our schools, and we are determined to tap into those skills.