HC Deb 21 March 1983 vol 39 cc540-6 3.32 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Government's policies and actions to improve teaching quality in schools in England and Wales by the better use of the resources available. These are set out in a White Paper which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I are publishing today. Copies are available in the Vote Office.

Our first objective is to improve the arrangements for teacher training. Last November I announced changes in the structure of the initial training system in England which are designed to match the supply of newly trained teachers to the needs of both primary and secondary schools over the next few years, both in quality and in quantity. My right hon. Friend will soon be announcing his decision for the system in Wales.

We shall now use our power to approve initial training courses to improve their content and structure, a matter on which we are indebted to the valuable advice of our partners in education, through the Advisory Committee on the Supply and Education of Teachers, and to the work of Her Majesty's inspectors. We accept the committee's recommendation that initial training courses should in future be approved on the basis of explicit criteria. Newly trained teachers will be expected to have greater knowledge and expertise in the subjects they are to teach, as well as more practical experience, and will have to provide satisfactory evidence of classroom competence.

The training institutions will be expected to improve their arrangements for selecting students and to demonstrate that their staff have recent successful experience of teaching in school. We may now look forward to the committee's advice on the details of the new criteria and intend to apply these to new course proposals and in reviewing existing courses during the academic year beginning in September 1983.

Our second objective is to improve the deployment of teachers so that their pupils can obtain full benefit from what they have to offer. We shall record in formal letters from the Department the subjects and the ages of pupils for which new teachers have trained. We shall bring forward amended regulations to require local education authorities to have more regard to the formal qualifications of teachers, as they relate to specific subjects and age ranges, when they appoint them to particular posts; and we shall ask Her Majesty's inspectorate to keep under review the operation of this requirement.

It is also in the interest of the pupils that local education authorities should pursue positive policies in managing their teacher force at a time when resources are limited and teacher numbers must fall because pupil numbers are falling. Authorities need to use the various management instruments at their disposal in a planned and sensitive way, so that the inflow of able recruits is maintained, and so that teachers are deployed where they can best serve the pupils.

At the same time, authorities need to make it possible for serving teachers to continue their professional development through in-service training. Additional provision has been made for that in the Government's expenditure plans.

The schools depend crucially on the professional skill and commitment of the teachers. The Government believe that the White Paper provides a sound basis for enabling the teachers in our schools to serve their pupils as the nation, and they themselves, would wish.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

Everyone on the Opposition Benches favours higher standards of education and higher standards of teaching performance. Secondly, we welcome the Secretary of State's recognition that educational standards are threatened and that last year's report by Her Majesty's inspectorate showed that numeracy and literacy were at risk in primary schools and that the curriculum was being severely curtailed in secondary schools.

The Secretary of State's statement talks only of the better use of existing resources. We believe that more resources are needed and we should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us whether the Treasury will make available the funds that will be necessary to put flesh on the bones of the White Paper.

We also welcome changes in teacher training. Better selection procedures and better assessment of the capability of student teachers are obviously to the advantage of children and teachers, but we suggest that there is too great an emphasis in the Secretary of State's thinking on specialisation in academic subjects and that that does not reflect the problems that our teachers face in the classroom.

The statement refers to making training more specific so that teachers would, in effect, qualify to teach only specific subjects. That may sound fine, but how does the Secretary of State reconcile that with the fact that, because of the cuts in resources, more and more schools are faced with a mis-match of teachers and subjects because that is the only way in which they can cope with the reduction in the number of teachers?

The Secretary of State would have us believe that there are positive policies for LEAs in managing the teaching force. He says—not in the statement, but outside the House—that he wants to identify poor teachers. We want to know what he proposes to do after he has identified such teachers. Many of those teachers would accept that they need increased in-service training, but, under the right hon. Gentleman, in-service training has been reduced. According to the inspectorate's report, such training is unsatisfactory in 43 of the 96 education authorities. Induction courses for new teachers have been reduced, so that only 33 authorities are making satisfactory provision. The report says that advisory services for new and existing teachers are unsatisfactory in 47 education authorities.

The Secretary of State refers to the importance of the professional skill and commitment of teachers. Has he consulted teachers' representatives? Why has he not issued a Green Paper rather than a White Paper? Would he have treated any other profession in this way? Would he or his ministerial colleagues have announced changes in the training of lawyers or doctors without consulting those professions?

The right hon. Gentleman has also asserted that the proposed changes will bring about improvements in teaching standards. Does he accept that there will be a considerable time lapse before the changes have any effect?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if he wants to bring about immediate improvements in teaching standards in schools he should act now to improve teacher morale? Does he accept that of late teacher morale has been severely hampered by the denial of resources and opportunities to teachers by ministerial speeches that have derided their efforts and by the siphoning off of children and resources under the assisted places scheme? Does the Secretary of State accept that the best thing that he could do now to improve teaching standards would be to give the necessary resources and support to our teachers, most of whom are working hard in more and more difficult conditions, despite all the efforts that he and his colleagues are making to make their problems greater?

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman seems to have caught some of the verbosity of his colleague, the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), who is not here today. The White Paper is about teacher training. There is no need for more resources for teacher training. There is a need for better use of existing resources. The inspectorate has criticised the expertise in their subjects of a minority of new teachers emerging from teacher training colleges. That is why it is right to emphasise the need for expertise in the main subjects taught. We are not laying down that every teacher can teach only his own or her own subject. We are laying down that local education authorities should take into account the formal training of the teacher in the appointments that they make.

Mis-match has been with us for a long time. The White Paper will help to reduce mis-match, but above all there is a need for sensitive redeployment and management by local education authorities of their teaching staff. The Government have provided extra specific grant money of £7 million a year for additional teacher training. However, when a poor teacher cannot be made into a good one by extra in-service training, it is the duty of the local education authority, in the ultimate, to dismiss the bad teacher—bad teachers are a small minority in our teaching force—for the sake of the children.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The Secretary of State's objectives may be welcome, but does he realise that few people believe that they can be carried out against the background of the education cuts? Does he agree that it will be impossible for local authorities to practise the positive deployment of teachers when new jobs or vacancies are having to be filled by redeployed teachers already in the employment of the local authority? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, while it is desirable for teachers to teach age groups for which they are properly trained, it is much more difficult to do so against the background of the present cuts? How can there be more in-service training in regions where most, if not all, colleges of education have been closed, such as in the north-east of England?

Sir Keith Joseph

I repeat that the White Paper is about teacher training. At the moment there are lower pupil-teacher ratios than ever before. The hon. Gentleman speaks of cuts, but more money in real terms is being spent per child in schools than ever before and pupil-teacher ratios are at record low levels. Therefore, I deny the background to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Sir William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

Does my right hon. Friend understand that there will be a widespread welcome to this yet further step in a direction that is particularly important to parents, always remembering, as my right hon. Friend reminded the House, the large number of teachers who at the moment are teaching with great competence and skill? Does my right hon. Friend understand how welcome is the emphasis that he seems to be placing on the practical and personal qualities as well as on the academic competence of would-be teachers? Does he see a greater association of the teaching profession with the selection process?

Sir Keith Joseph

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. My answer is yes, indeed. In the White Paper we emphasise the importance of increasing teaching practice during teacher training and of associating experienced classroom teachers with the selection of student teachers.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Why did the Secretary of State not use the chance of the White Paper to introduce the mechanisms that the all-party Select Committee suggested to him, under which parents—who, after all, are not bad judges of the quality of teaching in their children's schools—would have a greater opportunity of bringing complaints to him and his inspectors? How does he reconcile paragraph 33 of the White Paper, which states that primary education teachers should have narrower specialisation, with paragraph 64, which states that they should have broader specialisation? Did the inspectorate write one half of the White Paper, while the right hon. Gentleman's officials wrote the earlier half?

Sir Keith Joseph

As the hon. Gentleman knows, parents are free to complain to the local education authorities and to the holder of my office. We envisage that primary teachers should have a broad training, since it is the practice that they teach whole classes in every subject as well as being expert in one subject in order to provide curriculum leadership in that subject within the school.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call hon. Members to ask questions on the statement until 4 o'clock and then to move on. The number who are called will depend upon the length of questions.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

Does my right hon. Friend include in the specific criteria to which he referred the need for teachers of teachers to have recent successful classroom experience?

Sir Keith Joseph

Certainly. That is emphasised both in the White Paper and may be so in the criteria that we expect to receive.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does the Secretary of State realise that many of the objectives that he mentioned in the White Paper will be welcomed by experienced classroom teachers, and that many of them think that they are 20 years too late? However, does he accept that the use of the word "dismissal" in respect of teachers who have been properly recruited and appointed under the existing system will not provide confidence and trust in his administration or in the way in which the objectives are to be attained, which should be there if our education system is to operate with confidence and in an atmosphere of consent?

Sir Keith Joseph

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's words of encouragement at the beginning of his question. Surely he would agree that it would be amazing if in a gathering of 400,000 people some were not up to the job or had become not up to the job. It is for that small minority that, in the interests of the children, in the extreme case and after full efforts with in-service training, "dismissal" is the suitable term.

Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

In the retraining process, will my right hon. Friend pay special regard to the need for modern languages such as Chinese and Japanese to be taught in schools, which industry finds useful, but it has difficulty in finding students who speak those languages fluently?

Sir Keith Joseph

I take my hon. Friend's point seriously, but it relates more to further education than to schools.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

After a casual glance I see no reference in the White Paper to multi-cultural training either in preliminary education for teachers or in in-service training. Is that not one of the most important needs in a multi-cultural society, where many of the most serious problems are in inner city schools?

Sir Keith Joseph

The emphasis is on the essentials of any education, which are a grasp of the English language, mathematics, science, modern languages and religious education as the central features in the curriculum.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

Does my right hon. Friend's excellent statement extend to, on the one hand, nursery teachers and, on the other, to teachers of business courses?

Sir Keith Joseph

Not specifically, as the emphasis is mainly on primary and secondary education. However, we are interested in the competence of the teachers to whom my hon. Friend refers and also those in special schools.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

In paragraph 87, rightly, emphasis is given to the implementatior of the Cockcroft committee report on the teaching of mathematics. With that priority, will the Secretary of State call for the papers setting out the circumstances in which the UGC fined the Heriot-Watt technological university in my constituency £20,000 for having too many engineering and mathematics students? Will the right hon. Gentleman call for those papers when it is convenient?

Sir Keith Joseph

No, Sir, because the UGC, under successive Governments, has been left to carry out its own decisions.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)

Paragraphs 33 and 42 refer to retraining and the proper deployment of teachers to make sure that the curriculum is effective. If local education authorities meet paragraphs 33 and 42 properly and effectively, will a more relaxed attitude be taken to their overall education spending?

Sir Keith Joseph

I suspect that I am being asked to agree to something to which perhaps, after further thought, I should not want to agree. Perhaps I can write to my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Renee Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

As Britain now has the lowest percentage of post-compulsory education students compared with France, West Germany, Italy, Japan and even Ireland, and the lowest percentage of students in universities—only 0.5 per cent.—what effect will the right hon. Gentleman's announcement have on this pretty disastrous situation?

Sir Keith Joseph

I contradict each of the hon. Lady's assumptions. We have nothing like the lowest proportion of post-compulsory students in training in the western world. In fact, I should enjoy sending the hon. Lady a statement—or perhaps she will table a question that I can answer—pointing out that our proportions—[Interruption.] We may be talking about different things, but the hon. Lady's assumptions are not correct.

Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, but I wish that it had been made three years earlier. Can head teachers who are totally inadequate and who allow low standards to exist in their schools, thus handicapping their pupils, be removed or retired? If so, will he make that clear to the local education authorities? I ask that because of complaints about a secondary modern school in my constituency, where for three years the head teacher allowed low standards of discipline and education that undoubtedly handicapped the children attending that school.

Sir Keith Joseph

There is no more magic way of transforming the quality of a school than by changing the head teacher in those rare cases where he or she is not up to the job. Local education authorities know that very well, and I urge them constantly to do it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. After I have called the remaining three hon. Members who have risen I shall call the Opposition Front Bench spokesman to conclude questions on the statement.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that nowhere will his announcement be read with closer concern or keener interest than in Wales, where there is great worry about the standards of education in certain schools? Will he confirm that his announcement means that trainee teachers will have more opportunities for classroom practice?

Sir Keith Joseph

I can confirm that. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales is sitting beside me, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I are associated with the White Paper.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there will be a widespread welcome for many of the proposals that he has announced for getting better teachers into schools? What more can be done to get bad teachers out of schools? Does he agree that one of the reasons for poor educational attainments and the wide variation in education standards is the entrenched security of employment for many existing teachers? Many people in initial training will look to some changes in that area if the improvements that my right hon. Friend has announced are to take full effect.

Sir Keith Joseph

It is up to the local education authorities to take action in respect of that very small minority of teachers who are letting down the children by not being up to the job.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

I welcome the greater emphasis that my right hon. Friend is obviously determined to give to pedagogic skills in teacher training curricula. How quickly can we hope to see this switch of emphasis take effect? Does he agree that it must take place quickly?

Sir Keith Joseph

I hope that most teacher training institutions will begin to put the emphasis in the White Paper into effect when they have read it.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at present there is considerable concern in Wales, where about 2,000 teachers are unemployed? His statement may well exacerbate that situation. Will the Secretary of State for Wales make a similar statement in the House on how these proposed changes will affect Wales, especially in the light of teaching in Wales through the medium of the Welsh language?

Sir Keith Joseph

I gather that there is to be no separate statement, because this is a joint White Paper.