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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

Not at the moment.

We all remember the Secretary of State’s infatuation with the Swedish model. He even wrote about it in The Independent newspaper, under the headline “Michael Gove: We need a Swedish education system”. He was saying that we needed free schools—eventually to be run for profit, presumably, as in Sweden—and unqualified, low-paid teachers. His praise for Sweden was effusive. He went on to say that

“what has worked in Sweden can work here.”

We do not hear much about Sweden from him now. I think I can say, without fear of being accused by the statistics authority of abusing the PISA statistics—unlike the Secretary of State, who was rapped on the knuckles for doing so when talking about the PISA statistics for this country—that Sweden has plummeted down the PISA tables after pursuing the very reform programme that the Secretary of State is now adopting in this country, including the use of unqualified teachers. Perhaps the Chair of the Select Committee, Mr Stuart, might like to look at that evidence with his Committee. Sweden is now as invisible in the Secretary of State’s speeches and articles as the Schools Minister is in this debate on teaching.

It would be helpful if the Government were willing to tell us what qualifications the teachers have in the schools that are causing concern. I have asked him about the Al-Madinah free school in Derby. On 16 October last year, in response to a parliamentary question about the qualifications held by teachers in free schools, I was told:

“Data on each qualification held by each teacher is not collected.”—[Hansard, 16 October 2013; Vol. 568, c. 746W.]

I thought that that could not be right, so on 18 November 2013 I asked whether the Secretary of State would

“publish in anonymised form the qualifications held by each member of the teaching staff at the Al-Madinah Free School” at the beginning of last September’s term. I was told:

“It would be inappropriate to publish any details until the Secretary of State for Education has concluded the next steps in this case.”—[Hansard, 18 November 2013; Vol. 570, c. 729W.]

On 6 January this year, when those next steps had been taken, I asked again for details of the qualifications. I was told that it would be “inappropriate” to publish any details of staff qualifications. On 14 January, I asked why it would be inappropriate, and received an answer simply repeating that it would be inappropriate to answer the question.

Lloyd George was once driving around north Wales and he stopped his car to ask a Welsh farmer for directions. He said, “Where am I?”, and the farmer replied, “You’re in your car.” That is exactly the method used by the Department for Education to answer parliamentary questions. The answers are short, accurate and tell us absolutely nothing that we did not already know. The Secretary of State said today that he was going to release that information, and I know that he will do so because he is a man of his word. I look forward to receiving that information tomorrow.

A YouGov poll has shown that 89% of parents do not want their child to attend a school whose teachers do not have professional teaching qualifications. Before the Secretary of State goes on again about unqualified teachers in the private sector, he might want to reflect on the fact that the latest Ofsted report shows that 13% of schools in the selective fee-paying sector were judged “inadequate”.

As our motion says, no school system can surpass the quality of its teachers. Before I finish, I want to turn briefly to the issue of the South Leeds academy. The Secretary of State has kindly passed to me the letter that he received yesterday, which he presumably solicited ahead of this debate. In the letter, the academy accepts that it placed the advert to which my hon. Friend Tristram Hunt has referred, but says that it was

“placed in error by a new and inexperienced clerical assistant”.

We accept that explanation. What it also says in that letter, which the Secretary of State did not highlight, is that the academy trust involved says that the School Partnership Trust Academies

“always seeks to employ teachers with qualified teaching status.”

It agrees with us, not with the Secretary of State. We should be employing teachers with qualified teacher status. He is wrong; we are right, and the SPTA agrees with us on that issue.