HC Deb 03 December 1998 vol 321 cc1041-52 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Government's consultation on the reform of the teaching profession. This statement relates to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will report separately in the new year.

Over the past eighteen months, the Government have shown their determination to raise standards. Children are learning to read effectively in the new literacy hour. Infant class sizes are falling for the first time in a decade. We are rapidly expanding specialist schools and developing education action zones. We have tackled failure whenever and wherever it exists and we are providing £19 billion of investment to improve education across the United Kingdom over the next three years. That money for reform and modernisation is to give our children opportunities denied for far too long.

Teaching is at the heart of our drive to raise standards. Good teachers are our most precious asset in raising aspirations and achievement. That is why today I am proposing a fundamental step forward for the profession. Our first objective is to develop a new career structure that will recruit, retain and reward the teachers we need.

Under the present system, after seven years, a good classroom teacher earns around £22,500. Further reward is paid only for responsibility, rarely for performance. The Government believe that must change; that is why we are proposing two new pay scales for teachers, separated by a new performance threshold. There will be a tough new appraisal system. Up to the threshold, teachers would progress as now. To cross the threshold, teachers will need to demonstrate high and sustained levels of achievement and commitment. Heads will appraise and review teachers' progress, underpinned by external assessment. That will ensure credibility and consistency.

Success in crossing the threshold would mean an initial salary increase of up to 10 per cent., or around £2,000 a year, and access to further pay steps on the higher scale, based on appraisal of performance. Teachers could then either take on more leadership responsibilities or concentrate on high performance in classroom teaching. Over time, we would expect a majority of teachers to be of a standard to cross the threshold.

Our second objective is to strengthen school leadership. Good heads are the key to success. We need to develop strong leaders, reward them well and give them the freedom to manage. Successful heads who have turned around the most challenging schools could earn up to £70,000 a year, with strengthened appraisal and the option of fixed-term contracts. We also propose to set up a national college for school leadership, drawing on the best that education and business have to offer.

We also want to reward staff for teamwork in raising standards. Our new annual school performance bonus would provide a significant number of schools with a financial reward—payable as a bonus available to all staff—for improved performance achieved year on year and for sustained good results.

Our third objective is to have a well trained profession. We are establishing the General Teaching Council, and have introduced a curriculum for initial teacher training—with Ofsted inspection—and the induction year for newly qualified teachers. I can announce that we intend to go further by introducing a new national test for all trainee teachers in numeracy, literacy and information technology. Additional help in achieving the standard will be available for mature entrants.

It is vital that we attract the best graduates into teaching to ensure that our most outstanding teachers can move quickly up the profession. Industry and the civil service have fast tracks. We plan to introduce a fast track for teaching to enable good new teachers to make rapid progress. All teachers should keep their expertise up to date. To help them to do so, we are investing in better training in literacy, numeracy and information technology, and in improving the quality and availability of teachers' professional development. A pilot scheme of individual learning accounts will encourage all school staff to invest in their skills over and above Government funding. We will enable more training to take place out of school hours, to minimise disruption to pupils' education through over-reliance on supply cover.

Our final objective is to provide better support for teachers in the classroom. From the investment in repair and renewal through to the learning grid, we are committed to creating the classroom of the future. Today I propose a new targeted fund to improve the working environment for all staff, giving teachers access to the equipment that they need.

The teacher of the future will also make better use of the talent of support staff in schools. Many teachers already use teaching assistants to help with literacy and numeracy, or to support children with special needs. Over the next three years, we will fund at least 20,000 additional qualified teaching assistants with improved training, qualifications and opportunities. We are also keen to see the use of undergraduate and postgraduate students earning while learning, together with those from the wider community.

We also want to support small schools in sharing facilities, technicians or bursary support. I can announce today that a new small school support fund will pilot new ways of working together. It will benefit many rural schools.

The Green Paper contains radical and modernising proposals that will help to transform the standards and status of teaching in this country. It is about something for something. For the first time in years, a commitment has been made to invest and reward teachers in return for a new professionalism. That will mean greater individual accountability, more flexibility and higher standards.

We intend to consult widely with teachers, parents, local authorities and governors, for whom we will provide support and expert guidance to help them implement our proposals.

The vision of a world-class service for our children in the next century is one I believe we all share. Good teachers and support staff are the key to achieving that vision. It is to prepare for that new century, to celebrate the value and worth of our teachers, and for the sake of our children, that I commend these proposals to the House today.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

May I begin by putting it on record that the Opposition believe in proper rewards for good teachers, and that we agree with the Secretary of State that we are not recruiting and retaining enough good teachers? It is a problem that needs to be tackled, but it is also a problem that has got significantly worse during the right hon. Gentleman's stewardship. Does he recognise that many teachers attribute that fact to the bureaucratic burdens that he has imposed on them?

How does the right hon. Gentleman expect to recruit more people to the teaching profession if he does not treat them like professionals, instead denouncing them as "sneering cynics"? Now, he wants to test them for basic literacy and numeracy. Will he estimate how many of the teachers who are currently being recruited would fail his new test? What has happened to the advanced skills teachers scheme, which only this morning the Prime Minister put at the heart of the Government's proposals? Perhaps even the Secretary of State could not face relaunching it yet again. On 30 March, he claimed that there would be 5,000 so-called super-teachers. Will he confirm that, so far, only 50 have been ecruited?

The Secretary of State talks about paying teachers properly. Teachers would regard it as hypocritical of the Government to launch this exercise today and then fail to implement the recommendations of the pay review body, which are due next year. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure teachers that he will accept its recommendations in full? Can he confirm that his Department wrote recently to that body to urge it to hold down teachers' pay; and will he place in the Library a copy of his correspondence with it?

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a new threshold for a new structure of teachers' pay, but how quickly will a teacher reach it? How long will it take for the majority of teachers to cross it? He says that he wants to strengthen school leadership, but he well knows that there has been a disastrous decline in the number of teachers applying for the national professional qualification for headship. Does he agree that the reason is that they are all too busy responding to his instructions and initiatives?

We need better ways to encourage top-quality graduates into the profession, but the right hon. Gentleman's fast-track scheme is a vague plan, which gets five paragraphs in a 72-page document. Will he confirm that his fast-track scheme applies only to a small percentage of the 450,000 members of the teaching profession? As the Prime Minister might say, these are policies for the few, not the many.

Once more, the Secretary of State puts his trust in plans and targets, rather than the professionalism of teachers and the judgments of parents. Does he know what is already happening to his grand plans in practice? Only yesterday, I came across a school that has set targets in its educational development plan which are lower than its current level of attainment. Is the Secretary of State proposing a crude tick-in-the-box school performance awards scheme, with every incentive to set soft targets without any fear of being challenged; or will he rely on outside consultants—and how much will that cost?

Will the Secretary of State also confirm that the initiatives are to be paid for out of central funds, bypassing local education authorities? Will he confirm that the proportion of school funding from standard spending assessments is steadily falling as, instead, head teachers have to spend all their time applying for individual packets of money, under his personal control? The Secretary of State is exasperating teachers with his ceaseless flow of initiatives. At the last count, schools and LEAs were having to submit 17 plans to him. Now he even has a working party to cut the paperwork produced by all the other working parties.

We are told that education action zones are the most radical initiative of the lot. Indeed, the main appeal of joining such zones is that the initiative enables schools to opt out from all the other schemes that the Secretary of State has imposed on them. Will he therefore confirm that schools in education action zones will not be bound to implement whatever changes he introduces to teachers' pay and conditions?

The statement is warm words and ambitious claims, but as always with the Secretary of State, there is little about the practicalities. We want practical, flexible measures to recruit, retain and reward good teachers—measures which rest on local flexibility and local discretion. Instead, the Secretary of State has produced another cumbersome scheme, based above all on his belief that the man in Whitehall knows best. We very much doubt whether it can be made to work. Teachers, parents and children deserve better.

Mr. Blunkett

I think the House deserves better than that. A party that presided over the largest exit of teachers in memory owing to its inept messing about with the pension scheme and severance pay is ill prepared to come here this afternoon and talk about difficulties with recruitment. We are facing up to those problems in a way that the Conservatives failed to do in their 18 years in office. The whole programme is geared to recruiting, retaining and rewarding. We know that there is a serious problem: 35 per cent. of those who train do not go into teaching within two years, which is a tragic waste of resources. Let us work together to attract people and keep teachers in the profession.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about basic literacy and numeracy. The fact that many of those who were educated in the past 18 years do not have basic literacy and numeracy skills is not down to the Labour party, but is a result of the Conservatives' failure to provide the necessary phonics, grammar and spelling, which the hon. Gentleman attacks every time he rises to speak.

I tried to ensure that Opposition parties had the Green Paper long enough to allow them to take a look at it this afternoon, instead of giving them only the usual half hour. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would at least see that the advanced skills teacher posts form part of the new leadership tier—they are in there. We are pleased that 1,100 people have already applied in time for the target date for the 1 April roll-out; and 80 per cent. of local authorities have put in schools for the advanced skills teacher posts.

What about the pay review body? Who was it kept holding back teachers' pay and did not implement awards in full? I love the way in which the Conservatives, whose instructions to the pay review body to hold down pay and not to implement awards resulted in the catastrophe that occurred in the teaching profession a year or two ago, come here and have the cheek to tell us what the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) has said today. No, I did not tell the review body to hold down teachers' pay; I told it to take account of the circumstances of inflation and, above all, to take account of the fact that we did not want to stage the review from next April. We are clear about that.

How quickly will teachers reach the threshold? We have instigated the fast track for new entrants and the figure will be about 1,000 people a year, which, given the numbers coming into teaching, is a substantial figure. Others who are already in the teaching profession—new teachers in years one and two—will be able to multiply the number of increments through which they can move as part of the new system of appraisal. Fast track linked to appraisal will enable people quickly to reach the point which currently takes them seven years to reach. The whole system is based on appraisal and external assessment—a light touch that enables heads to do their job, but with assessment being carried out from outside to secure fairness and consistency, which is what I described in my statement.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of getting money to schools. It would be grossly unfair if we used a system that resulted in schools that did not have a large number of teachers passing through the threshold getting the money, while those that legitimately had a large number of high-performing teachers could not afford to pay them. That is why, in the early stages, we shall ring-fence the money and consult on ensuring that the money reaches the schools where teachers require the pay. The teaching profession has for years asked us to make sure that there is no block on the ability to pay good teachers well, just because they happen to be in the wrong authority or the wrong school, based on the distribution system.

Education action zones will pioneer our programme. They will be one step ahead of it and they will be able to reward good teachers extremely well. That is why we set them up and why I am sure that the whole House will support the new programmes.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Rothwell)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, which appears to be one that must give the teaching profession new life and expectations of a far better time in the future under a Labour Government.

I regret the fact that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) made such poor use of the advance sight of the document that the Secretary of State gave him. He clearly approached the Green Paper in the wrong way: he looked to see how he could carp and criticise instead of offering constructive suggestions about education in the future. I regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman missed the opportunity to show support for our teachers and instead concentrated simply on the mess that he knows his Government made of the same programmes—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I must correct hon. Members. This is a time for questions, not speeches. Is the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Gunnell) coming to his question?

Mr. Gunnell

I am coming—

Madam Speaker

Good. The hon. Gentleman is providing a good example of how not to put a question to the Secretary of State. It is the first Back-Bench question, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind my using it as an example of how not to question the Secretary of State.

Mr. Gunnell

I welcome particularly the fact that teamwork is rewarded, because there is no profession where it is more important. If I may give a specific example—

Madam Speaker

No, I am sorry. A joke is a joke—I have a sense of humour the same as anyone's, but I cannot allow speeches. There will be no examples. Just ask a question, please.

Mr. Gunnell

In order to exploit his skills, a science teacher often relies on a laboratory assistant who does the preparation work. Under such circumstances, how will a school recognise both the excellence of that teacher and the role of the laboratory assistant in preparing his work?

Mr. Blunkett

I thank my hon. Friend, and I agree entirely with the preamble to his question.

Those who assist and support teachers will benefit from the school bonus programme, from the development of the individual learning account and from new training and support. Many of them will want to progress in their professions and some will want to begin teacher training. We will encourage them to do so on a modular basis so that they may continue to earn their living while preparing to enter the teaching profession.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, under the approach adopted by the previous Administration, nearly 20,000 experienced but demoralised and disillusioned teachers left the profession in just one year? We need to do better. Does the Secretary of State accept that the Liberal Democrats welcome the broad thrust of the proposals? Will he confirm that performance-related pay will not be paid according to results? It should be based on the skills, experience and competence of teachers, not the performance of their pupils.

Will the Secretary of State further confirm that the opportunities for higher rewards will be available to all teachers and that he expects the majority of teachers to benefit from them? However, will he also acknowledge that he is relying a great deal on the assessment procedure, and that there will be complications if that procedure is used simultaneously to judge teachers' salaries and an appropriate amount of continuing professional development?

Finally, does the Secretary of State accept that, although his proposals will assist in the longer term, there is an immediate crisis? May I therefore welcome his clear and unequivocal statement today that the teachers pay award will not be phased? Can he confirm that, at a minimum, it will be sufficient to meet the real inflation costs hitting teachers' pockets?

Mr. Blunkett

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's opening comments. We can work constructively to get the proposals agreed. On the final point, the recommendation is entirely in the hands of the review body and must be independent. I will respect that.

I shall deal with the essential points that the hon. Gentleman raised. Teachers will move to and will be appraised for moving through the threshold on their performance and their commitment, not on the quantum of past exam results of students whom they may well not have had a hand in teaching. That aspect falls into the teamwork approach and will be dealt with separately through sophisticated arrangements for the school bonus. There is nothing crude about that which would punish teachers for working in challenging schools in difficult areas.

Sufficient resources will be available over the initial period to ensure that a majority of teachers can access the programme, bearing in mind that many teachers will be entering the profession and will be in the early stages. About £1 billion will be available in 2000–01 and 2001–02 to put the proposals into place. It is the best promise that teachers have ever had.

Miss Melanie Johnson (Welwyn Hatfield)

Unlike the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), I believe that the national professional qualification for headship offers great scope for the development of head teachers. I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's comments about how valuable and important heads are in the lives of schools and the quality of education. How does my right hon. Friend see the NPQH developing through the new structures that he outlined this afternoon?

Mr. Blunkett

The development of the college that I described will play a signal role in helping us to extend the NPQH. As hon. Members know, great enthusiasm for it has been expressed by heads. In the initial period we, together with the Teacher Training Agency, have been appraising how we can improve it and build on the experiences of head teachers.

We want to be able to fast-track those willing to undertake leadership, in order to allow them to do so on a modular basis and to accelerate their professional development. We want to put in place as heads those enthusiastic young men and women who see their role in education in the future and have the natural skills to lead the profession in the new century.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Does the Secretary of State recall that the 1995 Conservative Government's Blue Paper on teacher training began with the words In education the role of the teacher is central"? Any aspects of his proposals that stimulate higher standards in the teaching profession, if fulfilled, will be welcome to us.

Nevertheless, may I raise two points with the right hon. Gentleman? The first is a technical one, relating to the basic skills requirements for teachers. Is it not high time that those were built into the standard suite of qualifications—the GCSE, A-level and degree level performance of teachers—so that they do not need re-examination? If anything, existing teachers may need some strengthening in that respect.

Secondly, does the Secretary of State accept that there is likely to be a severe strain on resources, both in assessment and in paying for this substantial pattern of incentives? If so, is there not a danger, while the proposals are being worked through, of a two-tier profession? They can in no sense be a substitute for the adequate remuneration of ordinary classroom teachers who are doing their best and largely succeeding in doing a proper job for their pupils.

Mr. Blunkett

I accept the hon. Gentleman's sensible questions in the spirit in which they were delivered. The lag between now and the underpinning of A-level and advanced year NVQ in respect of key skills must be addressed—hence the development of the literacy, numeracy and IT programme that I described. We must help mature entrants to catch up without feeling at a disadvantage.

The question of how we implement that is important. We will have performance management systems in place, which will be monitored by Ofsted and the Audit Commission. The performance management systems will be crucial to ensure that the appraisal and review are non-bureaucratic. The outside assessors will give consistency and fairness to the system, so that people cannot claim that there has been discrimination or the blocking of a teacher's application for movement through the threshold. It is important that we get that right in the early stages. If we can move quickly after the consultation period, I should like to start the appraisal and begin the assessment process before implementation in 2000 so that we can move people on to the new scales as quickly as possible.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of how welcome his promise to improve the environments in which teachers work will be? As a teacher who spent at least two years in an asbestos-riddled hut, I know how many of my colleagues would have been pleased to benefit from that.

I invite my right hon. Friend to use the opportunity that the proposals present to reconsider the requirements that university institutions put on entrants to the primary postgraduate certificate of education. I am concerned that such entrants are required to have degrees in national curriculum subjects. That requirement was introduced in advice by the previous Government.

There are, therefore, people with excellent degrees—in subjects such as modern languages, which do not apply in primary years but develop skills that are relevant to literacy teaching—who are not eligible for the primary PGCE. If we have ways of testing literacy and numeracy skills, as well as information and communications technology skills, there is a strong case for changing that requirement. Will my right hon. Friend consider doing so?

Mr. Blunkett

I am very happy to tell my hon. Friend that we were concerned about the way in which that previous advice was being interpreted. My hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards has sent out a letter clarifying that, so that there will be no future misunderstandings. I hope very much that it will help to alleviate the problem.

My hon. Friend's question gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards. She and my advisers and officials have worked incredibly hard with me on the Green Paper, and I appreciate that greatly.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

The Secretary of State will be well aware that the results achieved by the secondary modern and grammar schools in the borough of Trafford are once again among the best in the country. That is largely because we have a great number of excellent teachers in those schools.

Will the Secretary of State make it clear—I think that he gave such an assurance and I welcome it, if he did—that there is no upper limit on the number of teachers who can qualify, and that there will be consistent interpretation according to the quality of their performance and nothing else?

Will the Secretary of State also make it clear that schools or the local education authority will not have to fund the programme; and—this is important, given the large numbers involved—how quickly does he envisage all teachers who may qualify being able to go through the qualification period? What are the implications in terms of cost and the number of external assessors who need to be part of that programme?

Mr. Blunkett

There were a large number of questions rolled into one there, so I shall be brief. I have made it clear previously and this afternoon that money in the initial stages would have to be ring-fenced and directed so that schools could afford to implement the programme. Obviously that will need to be consolidated; otherwise schools would accelerate every teacher whom the head thought was appropriate as quickly as possible, without any constraint whatever.

The hon. Gentleman should not presume that teachers in schools with high performance would automatically go through the threshold. Teachers who are doing a first-rate job in challenging areas with schools that have enormously challenging intakes may find themselves equally able to access the threshold and the progress that needs to be made. I hope that they do.

As I told the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), we have to get as many teachers as possible moving towards and through the threshold, to accord them the status that they deserve and to reward them for the work that they are doing.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's comprehensive statement. It is important to emphasise that it is comprehensive and not only about pay levels. Will he outline further the measures in the Green Paper for encouraging the collaboration of teachers to raise standards?

Mr. Blunkett

The bonus system will encourage all staff to perform and work together, and the collaborative fund for small schools will complement the work that is already taking place. In education action zones, schools are beginning to collaborate and work co-operatively to develop ways of supporting and helping each other. They are establishing intranet systems, so that they can share information and advice. The more schools work together to lift standards for children rather than compete with each other in a marketplace, the better it will be for our students.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

When will the Secretary of State realise that my postbag is filled with complaints from head teachers and governing bodies as a consequence of his initiatives? Perhaps the most talented primary head in Hampshire is to be lost to the private sector as a consequence of the Secretary of State's initiatives. He is contributing to this problem, and it is time that he addressed it.

Mr. Blunkett

I am always slightly amused, if not mystified, by Conservative Members who say that good state heads and teachers are moving into the private sector and then criticise the measures that we are taking, which aim to match the standard and the methodology that the private sector claims to be using. Our proposals are aimed at providing good leadership, clear discipline, a decent environment, good equipment, low class sizes, and literacy and numeracy strategies that place emphasis on phonics, grammar and spelling—but they are opposed by Conservative Members.

Jacqui Smith (Redditch)

May I reassure my right hon. Friend that the reason I left the teaching profession in May 1997 was not that I was demoralised, but that the country was demoralised by the Conservative Government? Conservative Members have provided good evidence of that this afternoon. One of the most frustrating features of my 11 years in teaching was the reduction in the funding and opportunities for professional development and training, so I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement on individual learning accounts for teachers. Will he outline how those accounts will be administered, when we can expect them and when teachers can begin to benefit from the effects they will have on professional development and improving standards?

Mr. Blunkett

We are establishing a pilot programme—initially with £5 million—to test the commitment of teachers and non-teaching staff who want to develop their skills and professionalism. That is on top of the resources that we are already allocating to continuing professional development through the standards fund—£60 million this year for literacy and £60 million next year for numeracy—and the additional £230 million for the training of all teachers on information and communication technology. This is a small pilot programme on top of the enormous investment currently going into the system.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Would it help or hinder a head's leadership role if he were given more freedom of manoeuvre in the hiring and firing of staff?

Mr. Blunkett

No, I am sure it would not.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

May I welcome the Secretary of State's statement, which goes a long way towards keeping good teachers in the classroom? Will he explain how the system of appraisal will be balanced and fair as between schools and between teachers teaching different types of classes in the same school? One teacher may have a lot of A-level teaching and another may teach slow learners. Will he give the House a few more details on how the outside assessors will work in conjunction with the heads, and how teachers will be able to appeal against their assessment if they are dissatisfied with it?

Mr. Blunkett

The appraisal will be personal to the teacher, so it will appraise the worth, commitment and performance of teachers in the circumstances with which they are faced and according to the work they are doing.

The management performance system, which will itself be monitored, will be crucial to ensuring that appraisal works, is rigorous and is seen to be fair. The assessor's job will be to sample the way in which appraisal is working, and to test the claims of teachers who consider themselves to have been badly treated against an assessment of those teachers' performance.

Ultimately, however, the success of the system will depend on the right management and leadership, so that appraisal is not second-guessed by the assessors, but reviewed and monitored. The system must be transparent, and there must be no discrimination.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley)

I welcome the proposals, which will enable good classroom teachers to progress. Many teachers are currently being blocked: they cannot progress without taking on extra responsibility.

What rewards or incentives will be available to schools where teachers are shown to have made progress as a team—where all staff members have made a contribution? We should not only reward individuals for their ability to show the quality of their own teaching.

Mr. Blunkett

I have already stressed the need for us to view schools as consisting of a range of men and women who are contributing to an improvement in standards. It is crucial for the future that the professional teacher should be a learning manager, able to direct and use paid staff, volunteers and parents imaginatively, and to bring out the best in the school.

I am hoping that some two thirds of schools will have access to the bonus system, to which we are allocating £60 million each year. Not only will staff be rewarded; we shall give new opportunities to non-teaching staff to display their talent and to develop professionally, which will, I think, be widely welcomed in the profession.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

I welcome all the measures that my right hon. Friend has announced, which will benefit teachers in terms not just of pay, but of the school environment and the whole school community—teachers and non-teachers.

What will be the structure of the consultation? One of the criticisms made of the last Government was that not enough time was allowed for consultation on important measures. As we are now discussing the need for modern teachers for a new century, and a new professional status for teachers, I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend gave us some idea of how much time will be allowed, so that we can do our job as Members of Parliament and ensure that we hear comments from the grass roots.

Mr. Blunkett

Four months will be allowed for consultation, which can take place until 31 March 1999. The consultation will be open to everyone who wants to contribute to getting the system right. In a week or two, a technical paper will be published to back up the Green Paper. We want to ensure that the details of implementation can be discussed not just with the profession but more widely—with, for instance, governors' representatives and - local education authorities—and that everyone with something constructive to say is heard and responded to.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands)

I, too, welcome the statement. I particularly welcome the long consultation period, which will enable teachers in the classroom to respond to the proposals.

How does my right hon. Friend intend to recognise, and boost, the vital role of the classroom assistants who help teachers to raise educational standards?

Mr. Blunkett

I have mentioned the 20,000 additional assistants who will be provided over the next three years. I consider that a major contribution to changing the way in which we use the talent that is at our disposal, so that teachers can undertake the key professional tasks for which they have been trained, and can develop constructively over the years.

The use of assistants should be seen as part of the development of their own future, and their own talents. Many are making a substantial contribution, not just to literacy and—in the years to come—numeracy, but to special needs education. Many special needs children would be in a much more difficult position if it were not for the talent of the non-teaching staff who help them so much.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, which I am sure will do much to improve the quality of education in our schools. However, I wonder whether he could say a bit more about how he envisages school governors working with head teachers on staffing structures and the skills mix for the school, and, in particular, how he sees governors going about the appraisal of head teachers, which I imagine will be a difficult task.

Mr. Blunkett

I want to make it absolutely clear that governors play a crucial role. Often, many of them feel overwhelmed with what they are being asked to do, without the necessary advice and support, so putting in place new guidance and support systems for governing bodies, providing a new role for education authorities where schools are local education authority community schools, and making available the resources to Church and foundation schools will all be crucial. We must ensure that, this time, governors are in a position to be able to do the job and to benchmark what is taking place in other schools, so as to learn about the way in which other governing bodies and schools have worked. In that way, governors can both hold the head to account and support the head in the key management job of raising standards.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

For clarification of a point raised earlier, will the Secretary of State place it on record unequivocally that he will accept in full and implement the recommendations of the school teachers review body next year?

Mr. Blunkett

Just to be helpful, the answer to that is: no, I will not, for the very reason that I spelled out earlier. It is an independent review. We recommended that the award should take into account our desire—our will—to carry out the recommendation in full; but—so that we all talk in a sensible, mature fashion—should for some reason the review body come up with an award that was simply unaffordable next year in all circumstances, no one in his right mind would expect us to have committed ourselves on 3 December, before the review body had reported, to implementing that award. And I do know that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) is in her right mind.

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