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Teaching Quality

Part of Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day] — UNHCR Syrian Refugees Programme – in the House of Commons at 6:41 pm on 29th January 2014.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education) 6:41 pm, 29th January 2014

It has been a good debate, although bizarrely one in which we have not been graced by the presence of the Government Minister responsible for teaching. Why is the Schools Minister not here? Is it an authorised or unauthorised absence? Will he be fined, as many parents are being fined around the country, for playing truant? We know that he is deeply conflicted about whether teachers in taxpayer-funded schools should be qualified. Last time we discussed the issue, I likened him to Odo the Shape-Shifter from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, but now having dissolved back into his bucket he seems to have re-emerged as the Invisible Man. The truth is that we have a part-time Schools Minister who is absent because he is performing his other job in the Cabinet Office of trying to hold the coalition together. He should be here in the House, answering for his policies in the Commons—even if he does not agree with his own policies, which when we last checked appeared to be his position.

The Government once tried to convince us that they understood the importance of teaching—they even released a White Paper with that title—but everything that they have done in office has been about an ideological obsession with structures and an easy headline about numbers of academies and free schools. They have undermined and neglected the teaching profession, alienated hard-working qualified professional educators and sent the morale of the profession into the cellar.

Last year, a survey conducted by YouGov found that 55% of teachers described their morale as “low” or “very low”. That figure had risen from 42% in just eight months. Sixty-nine per cent. said their morale had declined since the 2010 general election. Only 5% thought that the Government’s impact on the education system had been positive.

It may be that, for some of the lunatic fringe that the Secretary of State has employed as special advisers, those figures are fine because in their view teachers are just Marxist troublemakers, but they could not be more wrong. When YouGov asked teachers their voting intentions at the last general election, 33% said they would vote Tory, 32% Labour, and 27% Lib Dem. Actually, teachers—I think I am the only member of either Front Bench in either House who used to be a school teacher—are a politically moderate, sometimes conservative group of swing voters. However, the Secretary of State has worked his magic on them with his advisers. That important group of middle-class swing voters now says in the latest poll on teacher voting intentions by YouGov that the support among teachers for the Conservatives is down from 33% to 16%, the support for Labour is up from 32% to 57%, and the Lib Dems—actually, if their Minister cannot be bothered to turn up, I cannot be bothered to read out the figure. Let us just say that they are now neck and neck with the Greens and behind UKIP.

Teacher morale matters. Teachers’ professional status matters. The OECD has said in its PISA reports that schools in countries with high teacher morale

“tend to achieve better results”.

Teacher morale matters, not just politically but, more importantly, for the education of our country’s children. So why does the Secretary of State not understand that, by undermining the profession with his “anyone can teach” dogma, he is undermining standards in exactly the same way as they were undermined in Sweden?