Future of the Teaching Profession

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:42 pm on 16th May 2000.

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Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Secretary of State for Education and Employment 7:42 pm, 16th May 2000

If we had put only the equivalent of 1p on the amount we spend on education, we could not afford the package. If we consider the measures that I described together with performance-related promotion, the uplift of £2,000 to the majority of teachers, and access to, dare I say it, the new incremental scales—the sketch writers will be enjoying a good dinner, so I will not be ribbed for using jargon, but there is no other term for incremental scales—teachers will receive substantial pay for doing a good job.

I want to pose the Opposition a simple question: when did the hon. Member for Maidenhead change her mind about performance-related pay? After the Select Committee's deliberations, when she signed up to performance-related pay, when did she decide that she no longer believed in it? Like so much Opposition policy, did she decide it when she read or heard that it would be popular for one moment in one hour in one day to say the opposite of what she had said before? Did she hope that she would mislead some people somewhere into believing that she was on their side?

On whose side is the hon. Lady? Is paying teachers well for doing a good job being on their side? Is opposing that being on their side? When asked about one's approach, whether there will be continuity and additional money and whether a school will therefore be able to pay, is it right simply to keep silent or is it better to be honest and say, "I don't agree with the Government's actions, but money will be available because I don't want you to be under any illusions and thus fail to adhere to the targets and the threshold regulations."? Some honesty is required. I am prepared to admit that there is a recruitment problem. I am even prepared to admit that we have not cracked the problem of low morale in teaching. I expect a little honesty in return.

For example, I expect some honesty about bureaucratic burdens. Yes, there is more to be done, and we shall do more. Not only the Government, but the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Ofsted and education authorities need to do more. Education authorities often duplicate what other agencies send out and add to it a note of the education authority's view of the issue.

I shall tell the House how many bureaucratic burdens have been imposed since the beginning of January. Forty-nine documents have been sent to primary schools. They include one on consultation, one on data collection, 13 on guidance and 34 for information only. The latter consist of two pages or less and simply provide information back-up on relevant matters. Secondary schools have been sent only 46 documents: one on consultation, two on data collection, 12 on guidance, 31 for information, again on topics of immediate interest. I agree that even 46 is too many, and we shall do better. However, deciding which document we do not send out is always a moot point.

Fifteen documents for action and guidance have been about teaching able children. Should we have sent them out? Further guidance has consisted of an update on literacy and numeracy. I have never managed to persuade the hon. Member for Maidenhead to say whether she supports the literacy and numeracy programme, which she constantly describes as a bureaucratic burden. Tonight, she described it as interfering with teachers' teaching. Teachers are teaching, and teaching better. They are doing well for their students. Teachers and pupils say that the literacy and numeracy programmes are working and that they enjoy them.

Voluntary schemes for key stage 1 save teachers having to duplicate work by re-inventing the wheel and they can also be drawn down from the Department's Standards website—something that never existed under the previous Government. Should we have not sent out guidance on employing disabled teachers and on performance management? The guidance is about helping people to do their job. There is more to do, but we are doing a great deal to ensure that what arrives—fewer than two and a half documents a week over 20 weeks—enables people to read and to learn if they want to. They can be in the same world as the rest of us in terms of paperwork, deciding priorities and doing the job.

What have we done? We have done terrible things to the teaching profession such as paying teachers more; providing better support; introducing the General Teaching Council; providing better pay for good teachers and the training salary of £6,000; improving head teacher training; providing administrative support for small schools, which never existed previously; providing more classroom assistants—20,000 by the end of next year; achieving lower infant and junior class sizes for the first time in 10 years; and reforming the induction and the teacher training programme, which the hon. Member for Maidenhead did not mention.

For the first time, there is a teacher training curriculum and proper induction with reduced contact time. For those watching the Parliamentary channel, contact time is time spent in contact with pupils in the classroom, which we deliberately reduced in the first year to enable the introduction of the induction programme. Funding improvements have been made for schools across the board and 17,000 benefit from the new deal for schools capital—£4.5 billion of extra money is going in this year. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is having a good laugh, but the head teachers and teachers who will receive the extra money from the Budget are the ones who are really having a good laugh. They know that secondary schools will receive between £30,000 and £50,000 and that primaries will receive up to £9,000, which they certainly would not have got were the Opposition in government. That £4.5 billion is an 8 per cent. real-terms increase, which represents the real-terms spending power for schools during the whole of the previous Parliament.

We have modernised the teaching profession and we make no apology for driving up standards. We make no apology for demanding the best from teachers or for paying the best well to do the job. We make no apology for driving hard to achieve the best way in which to teach in the classroom, but we deny entirely that we have failed to allow teachers to teach or to enable them to do so in decent conditions with decent pay and prospects. Teachers will teach, and teach well. They will ensure that all children—not only some—have the opportunity to learn and the life chances that they deserve.