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Schools: Teachers — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:36 pm on 24th June 2014.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 2:36 pm, 24th June 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to encourage the retention and development of experienced qualified teachers in maintained schools.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, through our 548 teaching schools and teaching school alliances we are developing a truly school-led system providing a wide range of CPD opportunities for schools across the country. This is substantially enhancing the career opportunities for teachers. Some 74% of trainee teachers now hold a 2:1 degree or better—the highest proportion ever. Teaching is the most popular career choice for Oxford graduates and Teach First is Britain’s biggest graduate recruiter. Vacancy rates are declining and 78% of new teachers are teaching after five years, which represents a considerably lower number of career changes than in many other jobs.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, while I thank the Minister for that—encouraging on the surface—reply, will he confirm that many teachers regularly work 60 hours a week and in school holidays and find it very difficult to make time to develop their own practice? Coming from a family that is richly endowed with teachers, I see these pressures close up. I believe that he gave some figures from his department showing that 74% of newly qualified teachers now stay in the profession for five years. Recent figures showed the rate as being closer to 50%, which, if true, would certainly be a terrible waste. Will the Government ensure that boards of governors and head teachers take seriously the well-being of teachers, including the need for them to be good parents to their own children, and pay attention particularly to the need for mentoring and professional development?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The noble Baroness is quite right; as I have said before, teaching is the noblest profession and, at this time in our history, is one of the most important jobs in the country. The figure is actually 78%, not 74%, and the recently reported figure of 50% is inaccurate. We applaud what teachers do. We know that they consistently go the extra mile to help their pupils. We take their responsibilities very seriously and we constantly exhort governing bodies to focus increasingly on CPD opportunities for teachers.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, does the Minister recall and agree that for many years the average academic attainment of those entering our Bachelor of Education degree courses was around, or even less than, two Es at A-level? The teachers thus qualified often do more harm than good. Will the noble Lord tell your Lordships what the Government are doing about those who are still in the system? I take the opportunity to congratulate the Government on the rest of the noble Lord’s first Answer.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

There is no doubt that teachers who may not have had a particularly good academic career can substantially raise their game through CPD. However, it is also undoubtedly true that some teachers are now dropping out of the system due to a more rigorous approach. As I say, we are seeing a much higher quality of teachers coming into the system than ever before.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that highly qualified teachers are often leaving schools through confidential compromise agreements, costing the education service literally hundreds of thousands—maybe millions—of pounds. Is this a good use of scarce education resources? Does he also agree that when compromise agreements are decided by a school they should be open to public scrutiny?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

It is a fact that many schools, rather than go through an extensive competency procedure, which can be highly contested, decide to enter into compromise agreements in order to move teachers on earlier. These often contain secrecy clauses, but I know that this area is being considered more widely.

Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, since the Minister seems to agree that good qualifications, including good degrees, are essential for good teaching, can he explain why the Government have made it legal for academies to employ unqualified people as teachers? Given this, can he assure the House that his department is monitoring the extent to which academies are doing so? How many unqualified people are now working as teachers in academies and free schools?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I am, as always, delighted that we are having this discussion about qualified teachers because, frankly, if that is all that divides the parties, we have clearly nearly reached a consensus on our extensive teaching reforms. There are, in fact, fewer unqualified teachers under this Government than under the previous Government, despite the substantial increase in academies, which are able—as the noble Baroness rightly says—to recruit them. I will write to her with the precise figures on academy teachers but, as I say, we have fewer unqualified teachers overall. It would be unwise to deny the opportunity for, say, a professional actor or singer without QTS to teach in a school, or someone with a PhD in molecular biology to teach in a school—as is the case in one of our free schools—or, indeed, a teacher from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to teach part time in a primary school.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, is it not a fact that through successive years some of the most effective teachers in some of the highest-achieving schools have not had a technical teaching qualification? What teachers need is motivation, a love of their subject and an ability to transmit that to others—not just a piece of paper.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I agree entirely with my noble friend. Studies show that holding QTS is by no means the arbiter of a successful teacher, and we must remember of course that QTS training is extremely brief. A McKinsey study highlighted the importance of personal characteristics such as commitment, resilience, perseverance and motivation—and, of course, subject knowledge is very important. Reflecting my noble friend’s comments, Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, one of the most improved schools in the country, said:

“I strongly believe that teachers are born not made and I will actively seek out teachers from all walks of life who have the potential to inspire children”.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour

My Lords, way back in the 1960s, I may have been the only person in your Lordships’ House who was an unqualified teacher. During that period, the classes I was given by the head teachers of the day tended to be those with children with behavioural and learning difficulties. Can the Minister assure the House and all those parents and grandparents of children with special educational needs that their teachers will be qualified in the expertise of teaching special needs children, not thrown to the wolves as the children thrown to me were?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I respect the noble Baroness’s experience. I think we have moved a long way on SEN teaching since the 1960s—I certainly hope and believe we have. Our policy is that all schools must have a qualified SENCO overseeing all teaching of SEN pupils. Successive Governments have invested substantial sums in developing the skills of teachers focusing on SEN, and teachers generally, on identifying and teaching SEN pupils.