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Schools: Reforms — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:43 pm on 29th January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour 2:43 pm, 29th January 2015

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I remember that when I was Schools Minister, some years ago now, he came to see me with Lord Ron

Dearing to ask whether I would give the green light to the first pilot UTC in Stoke. I was delighted to do so and I am delighted to see how successful those institutions are. Incidentally, I agree with the noble Lord about ending the national curriculum at 14. I was also amused by his “intelligent hand”. Perhaps in this digital economy, it is intelligent digits that we need as much as a whole hand. I want to talk today about three things: academies, world-class teachers and that topical subject of grit.

First, on academies, I had some responsibility for those in the past when working with my noble friend Lord Adonis. We were seeking to target interventions where communities had been failed for generations by local authority schooling. The academies sponsored, in those days and still now, by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, are good examples of those. But in the last few years we have seen academies scaled and, most recently, have had the report from the Education Select Committee saying that they make no difference. I pay tribute to the other Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, who might have been in his place, in that he has at least rescued the academies programme from where it might have gone in trying to scale so fast. Given what has happened to some of the very large chains such as AET and E-ACT, that he has tried to scale some of that back is testament to that.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Nash, would agree that in the end, the heart of a successful academy programme is, as I remember from my time, getting the governance right. That is why I think that this Government have made mistakes in trying to scale so quickly, because we are not yet able to see the reforms to governance at scale which we need. One of the things that the next Secretary of State, which I obviously hope will be a Labour Secretary of State, will have to deal with quite quickly in May is how we ensure that every school in this country has strong governance arrangements.

The Government also started their time with a White Paper entitled, I think, “World-class teaching”. Here I refer your Lordships to my entry in the register of interests, in particular my full-time employment as the managing director of online learning at the TES. Clearly, the TES has considerable interests in teacher recruitment, and now in online learning. One thing that that White Paper did was to set up the School Direct system for recruiting and training teachers. There was logic to that in terms of transferring over the thinking behind training for hospitals but it was in many ways trying to solve a non-existent problem, in so far as we were recruiting teachers well up to that point.

Last year was the third year in which we have been underrecruiting teachers. We now have an accumulated 6% deficit in the number of teachers that we need. If you go to the shortage subjects, there is a 67% shortfall in the physics teachers who are being trained and an 88% shortfall in maths teachers being trained. This is reaching crisis levels, particularly if you are seeking to recruit in the more peripheral coastal areas of this country, to which we are rightly paying some more attention given the underperformance of white working-class children. It is really hard to recruit maths teachers into some of those schools. We are simply not recruiting enough.

Add to that now the expansion of international schools, who really value English-trained teachers. It is projected that in the next five years there will be another 370,000 teachers needed by international schools around the world, and probably a third of them would ideally be recruited from this country, according to those employers. That will make another demand on teacher supply, so the biggest problem which the next Secretary of State will inherit is teacher recruitment. The next Government will need to look at more realistic allocations for School Direct and give the universities more security for their departments of education, which some of them are withdrawing. They will need to revive qualified teacher status—a cause which my honourable friend Tristram Hunt has been championing in the other place. They will also need the big TV advertising campaigns that motivated and inspired many people in the past. Every time we have had this problem, TV advertising has solved it in the end by motivating people to become teachers.

However, I welcome the current interest in CPD. Building on the legacy of “Baker days”, we need to ensure that CPD is done more rigorously across all schools. A recent survey commissioned by TES from YouGov showed, shockingly, that 13% of secondary schools are not spending anything on CPD at the moment. We also found that only 25% of classroom teachers have any training plan for their own development. That is a shocking waste of teaching talent and it should be put right.

Finally, I want to talk about grit. I very much enjoyed listening recently to a New York writer called Paul Tough, a great name for someone talking about grit. He talked also about the F-word—failure—and that if you are going to inculcate resilience and character as part of your education process, you need to introduce a tolerance of failure to strategise and learn from failure. That is not something that comes easily into our education system.

In order to incentivise us all to do more around character and grit, we need to embrace the forms of assessment that work well in respect of those characteristics. I am appalled that, on 17 December last year, the department revealed plans to downgrade, in the next set of performance tables, skills-based qualifications centred on personal effectiveness, including the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness awarded by ASDAN, of which I am a patron. Worse than that, the Secretary of State said that she would use her powers under Section 96 to revoke approval for qualifications which assess and certificate student personal effectiveness. That qualification is highly successful, particularly in the niche of very disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs. Even schools in which all children have been using the qualification have been outperforming others in GCSE results. That has been academically reinforced in a study by the University of the West of England. Will the Minister please ask the Secretary of State to write to me and, at least, offer me a meeting to discuss her ill advised decision which will make it illegal for any school to use public funds to carry on with that valuable qualification?

The next Secretary of State should address these ongoing issues and, in particular, governance, teacher recruitment and grit.