HC Deb 23 April 1991 vol 189 cc891-2
9. Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to reform the training of teachers in reading methods; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Fallon

We have asked the——

Mr. Bill Michie

What about my question, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

I shall call the hon. Gentleman next.

Mr. Fallon

We asked the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education to conduct an inquiry into how students are trained to teach reading, and to advise, before the end of the year, on whether any amendments are needed to the criteria used for course approval and whether further guidance should be given to institutions. My right hon. and learned Friend commissioned that inquiry in response to public concern and in the light of the professional advice received from Her Majesty's inspectorate and others. We see action on teacher training as one of the keys to the problem.

Mr. Riddick

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is appropriate that education questions should be on the Order Paper today, as it is Shakespeare's birthday? Does he agree also that the Prince of Wales was speaking for millions of parents when he voiced frustration at those educationists whose experiments in the teaching of reading have done so much to fail millions of pupils? Will he ensure that the inquiry that he has just announced is not subverted by those same educationists in his Department, local authorities and Her Majesty's inspectorate?

Mr. Fallon

I certainly agree with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Teachers must be taught how to teach reading, which are the most effective methods and, above all, that teaching skills cannot be acquired simply by children browsing through books—as some of the shadowy education experts appear to believe. That is one purpose of the inquiry.

Mr. Andrew Smith

Will the Minister apologise to the people of this country for the Government's neglect of the teaching of reading in the past 12 years and for their abandonment, in 1988, of the national monitoring of reading standards? Does he accept that the Secretary of State and his predecessors have approved every teacher training course into which they are now launching an inquiry? Is not that a classic case of political buck-passing? Will the Minister and the Government accept responsibility where standards are inadequate and make way for a Labour Government who will put reading standards first?

Mr. Fallon

I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman was coming to the Dispatch Box to apologise for the incompetent performance of authorities such as the Inner London education authority, which ran schools like Culloden primary school in Tower Hamlets until April last year. This Government have introduced the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, have revised the criteria and have now asked it to conduct an urgent inquiry into the methods of teaching reading.

Mr. Soames

What conclusion does my hon. Friend draw, and what implications are there for the training of teachers, from the excellent articles that appeared in The Mail on Sunday recently about the failure of teachers properly to teach children at Culloden school to read?

Mr. Fallon

It was parents who first raised the alarm at Culloden school. However, rather than attacking the messenger, I should have hoped that the head teacher and governors of the school would concentrate on the report by Her Majesty's inspectorate and the finding that, in more than two thirds of the classes in that school, the standards of reading were poor.

Mr. Speaker

I apologise to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) for misreading my Order Paper.