Children, Schools and Families Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 11th January 2010.

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Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families 4:18 pm, 11th January 2010

I said a moment ago that we would legislate for a licence to practise that would give teachers the same professional standing that there is for doctors and lawyers. We are discussing with teachers and head teachers the details of how that will operate, and the Bill provides a framework power to introduce it. It is essential to ensure not only that we match professional development and support for teachers with a light-touch way of operating it for the vast majority, but that we are clear that where there is underperformance there is an obligation on the school to ensure that bad teaching is addressed. We are starting to introduce the licence to practise in September with newly qualified teachers and returning teachers who have been out of the profession for some time. Our aim, over time, is for it to apply to all qualified teachers. Some people have expressed concerns-on one side of the argument, that it will be too heavy-handed and therefore make life difficult for teachers, and on the other that it will be too light touch and will not ensure that there is sufficient action in the small minority of cases where teaching is substandard. We need to get the balance right. We will have to discuss that in detail, and the views of the Children, Schools and Families Committee would be very welcome.

There is an alternative vision, some of which we heard about earlier in the regular interventions by the shadow schools spokesman, and which stretches across several different areas of the Bill. On catch-up support, there is a refusal to match our guarantees to primary school and year 7 pupils. On qualifications and the curriculum, there is a commitment to scrapping the national curriculum. On teachers and head teachers, there is a promise to end key stage 2 tests and to break promises on pay and conditions. On school improvements, there is a policy of removing the role of local authorities and expecting parents to have the time and know-how to set up their own schools or to get private sector firms to come in to run schools and make profits while allowing other schools to wither or decline, and watching as some young people are relegated to a second-class education.

There is also-we have not heard it yet, but I am sure that we will in the speech by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath-a continuing scepticism about whether the rise in standards that we have seen over the past 10 years is real or is due to the dumbing down of our exams. I say regularly in this House that the introduction of Ofqual, our independent standards regulator, is a very important protection against dumbing down and easier exams, but time after time those claims are refuted-although, as we saw in the Queen's Speech debate on the subject, when I asked the hon. Gentleman a few exam questions on maths and science, he turned out not to know the answers. That is partly because the questions were quite hard. The question is, though, has he done any revision? Should we allow him to do a retake? Very briefly, I have two quick exam questions for him. First, two whole numbers are each between 50 and 70. They multiply-

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