Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:14 pm on 21st February 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 2:14 pm, 21st February 2001

My Lords, I, too, am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for giving the House the opportunity to discuss this important topic. I am grateful also for the contributions of all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that teaching is at the centre of everything that we do in education. I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that we have to pay tribute to our teachers for the excellent work that they do right across the country in our primary and secondary schools. But, like the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, I fear that when we pay tribute to teachers, when we praise them, when we say how much we appreciate their hard work and the efforts that they are making to raise standards in schools, it does not get much coverage.

It has been a stimulating debate, although some of the claims that have been made are not supported by the evidence. I am sure that all noble Lords who have contributed would expect me to respond on behalf of the Government by providing accurate facts rather than ones gleaned from the newspapers, which, as we know, do not always report accurately.

The January 2000 official census and surveys carried out by my department at the beginning of the autumn 2000 and spring 2001 terms show that the number of vacant teaching posts remains below 1 per cent. Saying that is not in any way to suggest complacency. I have confirmed that fact to noble Lords because it is important to keep the difficulties that we face--there are undoubtedly difficulties--in context.

The Government do not deny that some schools find it difficult to recruit teachers in the numbers and of the quality that they would like. Quality is as equally important as numbers. It will be high quality teachers who will do the jobs that need to be done to raise standards in our schools. That is especially true of schools in challenging circumstances and higher-cost areas; and, as noble Lords have reminded us, in certain subjects too. I have acknowledged this in your Lordships' House before and I do so again, but it is important to maintain perspective.

It is also important for governments to try to act as early as possible to address emerging problems. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for acknowledging that there are some parts of the Green Paper she is able to welcome. She also welcomed some of the steps we are taking to deal with the problems of teacher recruitment and retention. We have taken decisive steps to prevent recruitment problems turning into a recruitment crisis.

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of some of the steps we have taken in the past year alone to recruit more people into teaching. Last September, we extended our successful "golden hello" scheme. Previously, maths and science graduates received £2,500 during training and £2,500 on taking up a teaching post. These incentives resulted in a 9 per cent increase in the numbers recruited into initial teaching training in these subjects in 1999-2000. This year most graduates--whatever their subject--will be eligible for a salary of £6,000 while they are training.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for explaining her ideas, which included the payment of training salaries. The Government have introduced training salaries, albeit not at as high a level as the one proposed by the noble Baroness. We consider that to be rather unrealistic for someone who is not qualified. Those training and completing their induction years as maths, science, technology or modern language teachers can receive an extra £4,000.

These initiatives and the new funding we have made available to support school-based training have reversed eight successive years of falling recruitment to teacher training. There are now nearly 2,300 more people in initial teacher training than at this time last year. Of these, more than 1,000 students are doing school-based training and working as teachers while they qualify. More than one-third of these are in shortage subjects.

In August, my right honourable friend announced a dedicated package of measures to promote teacher recruitment in London. This included money to double the number of school-based training places in the capital and to support 350 returners to teaching through refresher courses. Earlier this month, my right honourable friend made more funding available to extend this scheme to an additional 500 returners in other parts of the country.

On 12th February, the Government published a Green Paper setting out proposals for the longer-term development of school education. We are now proposing a scheme to help new teachers in shortage subjects who enter and continue in employment in the maintained sector to pay off their student loan debts. We are also looking at options for providing extra support for undergraduate training and at proposals to open up new routes into teaching. The Green Paper seeks consultation views on some of these new options, including: providing a training salary; waiving fees for trainees on fourth-year BEd courses leading to qualified teacher status; paying a salary for fourth-year trainees working in schools; and allowing the award of QTS to exceptional fourth-year students, who can then be paid as teachers before the end of their first degree. So a number of proposals are being taken forward.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, questioned ITT recruitment targets and said that they had consistently been missed. We know the challenge. That is why we are taking action. This has resulted in recruitment against the target improving. The shortfall was 14 per cent in 1988-99; 9 per cent in 1999-2000; and 7 per cent so far in 2001. As to next year, applications are not down, as the noble Baroness suggested--quite the reverse. Data published earlier this month indicated that graduate applications are up by 12 per cent compared with the same time last year. Within that, science applications are up by 20 per cent and technology applications by 53 per cent. In quoting those figures, I do not want to be accused of complacency. What I am doing is setting down for the record exactly what the position is so far as new recruitment is concerned.

I turn now to our proposals for tackling shortages. Some of the measures I have already described--for example, the expanded graduate teacher programme--offer immediate help to schools as well as encouraging entry to the profession in the longer term. The Government are helping in other ways, too. In November, a special unit was set up within the DfEE to offer help and advice to schools and LEAs with recruitment problems. In the few cases where it has been called on, it has been extremely effective.

Last month, my right honourable friend the Minister for School Standards announced proposals that will make it easier from summer 2001 for overseas-trained teachers to work in schools. For those who want to develop longer-term careers here, a new programme will be set up to allow up to 450 experienced overseas teachers a year to gain qualified teacher status. She also announced funding to raise from 66 to 85 the number of recruitment strategy managers working within LEAs to develop planned solutions to local teacher supply needs, rather than having to react when a crisis occurs.

I turn now to pay. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and others that pay is not the only thing that matters to people who enter the teaching profession; however, I agree also with the noble Lords, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach and Lord Hanningfield, that pay is important. I thought the most amazing contribution to this entire debate came from the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. I never thought that I should live to hear a Tory spokesman deriding the whole idea of performance-related pay and of rewarding teachers who are doing a good job, and citing the National Union of Teachers in support of her argument. It really was an incredible experience.

All this is on top of our programme of reforms to improve and modernise the teaching profession. I shall not dwell on the proposals for teachers' pay announced by my right honourable friend on 2nd February. They are subject to consultation. However, I would note that, besides increasing pay for all teachers by more than inflation for the third year running, without staging, the proposals take particular account of how financial incentives can help schools to recruit and retain teachers; for example, the three London weighting allowances have all been increased by almost 30 per cent. We have heard contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and others about the particular problems in London. That reference to 30 per cent is not a typing error in my speech. London weighting has increased by almost 30 per cent--more than 10 times the rate of inflation. Moreover, schools will be freed from all restrictions on their ability to offer recruitment and retention allowances. That includes the new fifth allowance, the value of which is over £5,000. Schools can pay the allowances as a single payment of up to £15,255 to teachers who stay in challenging jobs for a specified period.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, asked for a fundamental review of teachers' pay. That is exactly what we have been doing. We have undertaken a review over the past two years and we have come up with some very substantial improvements. Perhaps I may reiterate: teachers' pay has been increased by more than inflation for the second year running. We plan a further increase for next year. Pay over point 9 is now 20 per cent higher than in 1997, and will be 25 per cent higher from next year. Starting pay for most new teachers is now 11 per cent higher than in 1997, and will rise by a further 9 per cent next year. I do not want to bore the House will too many statistics, but it is important that we set on record what we are doing in this respect. We are also giving substantial pay increases to head teachers, who have also been mentioned in the debate. Nor is it true, as was claimed from the Liberal Democrat Benches, that there has been a reduction in teachers applying for headships. As a result of the changes that the Government have brought in, there has been a substantial increase in the past 12 months in people coming forward wanting to be head teachers.

Many speakers referred to the issue of bureaucracy. I want to reassure my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen who asked for some reassurances that we would reduce burdens on teachers. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, made a great deal of this. However, I remind the noble Lord that he was once an adviser on education to a previous Prime Minister. I think the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, was very even-handed in what he said about the importance of governments of all political complexions avoiding putting too great a burden on teachers. It was the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who had to sort out the mess that derived from an over-prescriptive national curriculum under which schoolteachers were burdened with thousands of documents.

I think we all agree on the need to strip out bureaucracy from our schools. We must allow teachers to concentrate on teaching and preparing lessons, and allow heads to concentrate on providing the leadership and strategic vision that we want to see in schools. We are determined to remove unnecessary paperwork and burdens from the classrooms. That is why we have pledged that we shall this school year cut by a third the number of documents and by a half the number of pages that we send automatically to schools. Last term, primary schools were sent 490,000 pages of material, which is a reduction of 1,170 pages compared with the same term last year. Moreover, secondary schools also received a substantial reduction in the number of pages sent to them.

This is why next year's standards fund, which goes live in under six weeks, has been radically simplified. We have put an end to all the bidding and claiming involved with that fund. All the grants are now allocated by formula, and returns have been kept to a single sheet of paper to be updated just three times in the cycle. We are also allowing schools to transfer money between most of the grants to target the areas of greatest need, and allowing them to carry over funds to the end of the school year. Monitoring is carried out against existing targets and audit. It will be by sample. The only doubts that I have heard expressed by schools are that it cannot be as simple as it sounds. However, I offer my personal guarantee that it is as simple as it sounds.

To make life easier for classroom teachers, we have put model schemes of work on our website. These are entirely voluntary, but allow teachers either to use them immediately or to customise them to meet their specific circumstances. We are now planning to launch a series of web-based specimen plans further to simplify the process of lesson preparation; for example, we have joined forces with the Cabinet Office on a project to cut out unnecessary paperwork. Bureaucracy did not come out of nowhere. The major workload factors--the national curriculum and Ofsted--are a legacy of the previous administration. We are working, and have already worked, to reduce the burden that they left on our schools.

The issue of inspection is also part of this debate, although it is one that has attracted rather less coverage from noble Lords than some of the other subjects. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for admitting that the Government have listened in this area and for acknowledging that they are taking action to reduce some of the impact that burdensome inspections can have on our schools. Ofsted has strengthened its advice to schools against over-preparation for an inspection. Its guidance to inspectors now makes it very clear that demands on schools--for example, for pre-inspection paperwork--must be kept to a minimum. Again, I hope that that move will be welcomed.

I turn now to teachers leaving the profession. The measures that the Government are taking to help to recruit more teachers, and to encourage serving teachers to stay, are substantial. Noble Lords will be aware of reports in the media, and of the claims that have been made by some participants in this debate--for example, by the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Seccombe, among others--that teachers are leaving the profession in droves, and that more teachers are leaving than are joining. Again, the facts are somewhat different.

The official census in January of last year showed that there were almost 405,000 teachers in England and Wales--that is 7,400 more than in January of 1999. So how can it be that more teachers are leaving than joining the profession? I should remind the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that it is quite untrue to suggest that those extra teachers are all to do with reducing class size in our infant schools. More than half of them are working in secondary schools. Indeed, the latest data available suggest that the rate at which teachers leave the profession has remained relatively stable over recent years. However, that is not to say that we do not want to reduce it; of course we must do so. I believe that we shall bring forward more sensible policies if we do not overstate the problems and come out with over-the-top "facts" that do not stand up to the evidence.

Of course the Government want good teachers to develop long-term careers in the profession. To encourage them to do so, we are listening to teachers' concerns, and acting upon them. I should also like to correct a remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, regarding what my right honourable friend David Blunkett said. He did not say that schools are heading for breaking point; he said that teacher training had been approaching melt-down, but that that had been averted by government action to introduce training salaries. I do not disagree with that; indeed, I have been at pains to recognise the problem, to put it into perspective; and to support the action taken by my right honourable friend.

Perhaps I may conclude by saying that teacher shortages are not an invention of this Government. In January 1991, 5,500 teaching posts were vacant in England and Wales--almost twice as many as in January of last year. There were appalling shortages in primary schools in the early 1970s, but my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath talked about shortages in the profession many years before that time, at the beginning of his teaching career.

Only a handful of schools have resorted to reduced hours this year because of recruitment difficulties. However, in all those cases, the schools were back to a full timetable within days. Although I am by no means complacent, I am confident that the major reforms that we have put in place, together with the plans described in my right honourable friend's proposals for teachers' pay and in our Green Paper on schools, will help further to ease the pressure on teacher supply over the coming months and years.