HC Deb 14 March 1968 vol 760 cc1897-902

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. loan L. Evans.]

5.25 a.m.

Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)

I contend that Mrs. Mary Wareham is an experienced and qualified teacher and should be recognised as such by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. When she was living in Malta she was educated at a grammar school, and in 1952 took the General Certificate of Education at Ordinary level in eight subjects, including English and Mathematics. Then for a year she worked as a student teacher. In 1955 she went to the Mater Admirabilis College, the appropriate college in; Malta for girls who wish to receive teacher training. At the time the college was manned by qualified British staff, and Mrs. Wareham and other students were informed that if they took the two-year course there and passed the examination at the end they would be qualified to teach not only in Malta but in Great Britain. Mrs. Wareham took the course and passed the examination in the practice and principles of teaching. I have seen her certificate, which was countersigned by the Minister of Education in Malta. Subsequently she worked for four years in Malta's primary schools.

Later Mrs. Wareham came to this country because she married an Englishman, and she settled down in Norfolk. She is a married woman with three children. When we have a shortage of teachers it seems absurd that her abilities should not be utilised, particularly when one considers that she is fully qualified. I was astonished when she first came to me and I learned that her qualifications were not recognised. I wrote to my right hon. Friend and received a surprising reply. The last paragraph read: The course of teacher training in Malta which Mrs. Wareham undertook could begin at the age of 17, whereas the contemporary courses in England and Wales were designed to start at the age of 18. The extra year in this country which would normally be spent in further study makes a significant difference, not only as regards the maturity of the student, but also in the content of the courses. Mrs. Wareham went to the college when she was 19, and I am told that a very small percentage of students go at 17. She did the full two years' course. If the Minister refuses to recognise her that must tend to suggest in some way that the course is inferior to the kind of course she would have undertaken at a teacher training college in this country, but I do not think that this is so.

Since my right hon. Friend was informed that there would be an Adjournment debate on the topic, I hope she has looked at the question again and now decided to recognise Mrs. Wareham's qualifications. If not, I ask her to consider the possibility of Mrs. Wareham's taking a shorter course at a teacher training college in this country. Is not it ridiculous that a teacher who is fully qualified in Malta and experienced for four years in Malta's primary schools should not be recognised as a qualified teacher in this country'? English was among the subjects she took at Ordinary level, and she was taught in English at her grammar school. She is fully prepared to go before an examiner or take a shorter course at a teacher training college.

Mrs. Wareham feels that she has been wronged, that she has not been treated fairly in accordance with our traditions of fairness. I believe she has some ground for feeling this. If it is not possible for the Minister to recognise her qualifications, as I hope she will, I trust that she will say that it is possible for Mrs. Wareham to be examined and tested or do a shorter course so that she can renew her career as a teacher in this country in a comparatively short time.

5.30 a.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)

I must congratulate my hon. Friend on the vigour with which he has put his case at this hour in the morning and the way he has pursued the case of Mrs. Wareham, who is one of his constituents.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate how difficult it is to determine what qualifications of those trained in other countries are equivalent to our qualifications. I should explain what recognition by the Department as a qualified teacher means and the circumstances in which it operates. Since 1945 has the principle applied that, apart from certain exceptions, all teachers in permanent service in England and Wales maintained out of public funds should be qualified teachers.

To be accepted as a qualified teacher a person must normally have successfully completed a course of teacher training in the United Kingdom or obtained a British university degree or a specialist qualification in, for example, art, music or domestic science. The exceptions are: first, a diminishing number of unqualified teachers who were recognised as such by the Board of Education before the last war; secondly, persons who are waiting to enter a college of education for training as teachers; and, thirdly, persons who can be employed at the discretion of the local authority to meet an emergency in a school or a special need. I must emphasise that the status of qualified teacher applies without distinction to teachers in primary and secondary schools. In other words, we make no distinction between the recognition given to teachers in primary schools on the one hand and secondary schools on the other. This is, as I shall show, very different from Malta.

I should like to assure my hon. Friend that we are extremely glad to have for our schools the services of teachers who have received their training overseas. From their different backgrounds, education and culture they can contribute a great deal. We are not at all insular about this. But I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that it is most important that we maintain the standards required for admission to the ranks of qualified teachers in our schools. As he will know, the various teacher organisations set very great store by this.

This means that my Department must consider the claim for qualified teacher status from a teacher trained overseas against what is required of our own people before he or she can be accepted as a qualified teacher. My hon. Friend will appreciate that a country's education system is geared to its own needs. It is true that one country may have much in common with another, but there may also be significant differences, and this is true of Mrs. Wareham's home country, Malta.

Many sixth formers in Malta will hope to enter the Royal University of Malta. When Mrs. Wareham trained as a teacher and taught in Malta, compulsory education still ended at the age of 14, having begun at the age of six. Furthermore, this was primary education, and only a small proportion of children received secondary education, and I am told that a further course at a university would have been required to teach children of secondary school age.

Teachers for primary schools in Malta were trained at two colleges, one for men and the other for women. As a result of her course, completed at one of these, Mrs. Wareham was appointed by the Ministry of Education in Malta as a teacher in schools, an appointment which was subject to termination if she married. But that is by the way.

Mrs. Wareham's claim to be accepted as a qualified teacher by my Department has been considered carefully on three occasions in recent months. Last November the Great Yarmouth Local Education Authority asked the Department whether she would be acceptable. I am afraid we had to say "No". My hon. Friend wrote to me. He thought a mistake had been made, but I can assure him that that was not so.

I grant that at the time Mrs. Wareham was a student there were certain points of affinity between her college and our own colleges of education. Her college was run by the order of nuns which conducted the Digby Stuart College at Roehampton. In order to enter her college, a girl had to have five G.C.E. "O" levels, as in this country, and the course itself lasted for two years, as was the case here at that time. A closer link was forged when external examiners from the London Institute of Education became involved in the final examinations at Mater Admirabilis, but this development did not occur until after Mrs. Wareham had completed her training.

There was, however, one significant difference—and here I hope that my hon. Friend will see the point about the age of 17. The minimum age of entry to the college was 17 and there was, I believe, a time when those concerned considered the possibility of having to lower the age of entry. Mrs. Wareham was older than this when she began her course, I believe, but the point is that the course was designed for girls of 17, and the fact that the minimum age was 17 meant that the two-year course was designed to rest on the academic foundation which that age represents. Courses at colleges in England and Wales, although also requiring five 'O' levels, required their new students to be 18 years of age.

The advice I have received is that the course at Mrs. Wareham's college was more akin to the final year in a sixth form than to the work of this kind in an English college, and part of the Malta course had to be devoted to the Maltese language and to religion as compulsory subjects, which means, of course, that there would not be as much time for the other subjects as we have in this country.

To sum up, Mrs. Wareham took a teacher training course which although lasting for two years, as did the contemporary courses in England and Wales, was taken at a significantly earlier age and led to recognition by the Ministry of Education in Malta specifically as a primary teacher for children up to the age of 14, whereas our courses are of a more advanced kind. If we gave qualification to her it would mean that she would be given qualification to teach in both primary and secondary schools.

With much regret, therefore, I must tell my hon. Friend that I am unable to revise my decision. I hope, however, that this will not mean that Mrs. Wareham will be lost to teaching in what is now her home country. She could, of course, teach in an independent school, but I do not want to stress that or to recommend that course to her. However, she is perfectly free to seek employment. She could—and this I hope she will do—achieve recognition by the Department by taking further training here. I am afraid that there are no courses available which are designed, as it were, to top up overseas training which in itself we cannot regard as completely suitable.

The normal course of training here now lasts three years, but there are shortened courses available for mature students, including people in Mrs. Ware-ham's position. Such courses are usually reduced to two years, although there are some colleges which will reduce the period of training still further to only one year in individual cases. I should emphasise that the appointment of students to such shortened courses is entirely a matter for the college authorities and institutes of education, and I could not, of course, influence a college in favour of a particular student. But I assure my hon. Friend that such courses exist.

I understand that, on the advice of the Great Yarmouth Local Education Authority, Mrs. Wareham has already approached Keswick Hall College of Education, Norwich, which provides shortened courses for older students, and that the College has told her that, although she is too late for entry next September, she should apply in time for entry to the course starting in September, 1969. This College is, I believe, within travelling distance of her home.

I am pleased that Mrs. Wareham should be thinking abount going to a college here, and I hope that she can be given very encouragement to do this. It is apparently some nine years since she last taught, and I am sure that she would find much that was stimulating and useful.

I mentioned earlier that people awaiting admission to colleges of education could be employed in the schools. This is in the capacity of temporary teachers, and requires the approval, in individual cases, of my Department. If Mrs. Wareham were offered such a temporary post, my Department would certainly give the necessary approval. This would mean that she would have to be offered a post by a local education authority, and there is no way in which I could create a position for her.

I understand that it is unlikely that the Great Yarmouth Education Authority would be able to offer Mrs. Wareham such a post. She has not, apparently, made any application to the Norfolk authority, and I could not say how the county authority might respond to such an application. What I can say is that my Department would not raise any barrier against her employment as a temporary teacher while she waits to get into a college of education, which could be one year. I hope my hon. Friend will understand the difficulties that we have been in in this, and I trust that Mrs. Wareham will became a qualified teacher.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes to Six o'clock a.m.