HL Deb 11 July 1996 vol 574 cc438-42

3.18 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

With reference to the announcement by the Department for Education and Employment of its intention to publish a paper in early September on teacher training, how it will encourage teachers to attain an enhanced sense of pride in professional standards.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, my right honourable friend's proposals will give teachers a framework within which their professional skills can be developed and assessed. The professional framework will also allow for qualifications giving wider recognition to teachers' achievements. High professional standards form the best basis for enhanced professional pride.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, I appreciate the supportive tenor of the Minister's response. Would he not agree that, along with the absolutely essential raising of standards of teacher training, our teachers need to feel reassurance that they belong to a noble calling that deserves the name of "profession", with all that this entails? Is it not surprising, to use no stronger word, that, although by no means under-provided with organisations devoted to pay and conditions, our teachers still seem to lack a college, institute, professional organisation, call it what you will, which can both attract more than a tiny minority of teachers to membership and which is devoted to directing such issues of public concern as codes of conduct, standards, ethics and the rest?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Lord may be looking for a professional body dedicated to enhancing the status of teachers, but I believe that that is a matter for the teachers themselves to set up. We have always made it quite clear that we do not see a role for a statutory professional body. We also believe that it is for the teachers and their unions, some of whose antics have been somewhat misguided, to take responsibility for enhancing their standing and the standing of their profession in the eyes of parents and the general public.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will my noble friend say whether the paper that is to be published will deal with the training of teachers who deal with dyslexic children?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the paper will be looking at the training of all teachers. That obviously will cover the training of those who deal with special needs, whether it is dyslexia or whatever.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on the position with regard to recruitment of people for this training? Will he also comment on the widespread unease among members of the teaching profession? The overwhelming majority of parents whose children are in comprehensive schools are satisfied with their child's education and have confidence in that education, but, for cheap party political reasons, people tend to denigrate the whole teaching profession and generalise on the behaviour of a very small minority.

Lord Henley

My Lords, we have never denigrated the entire teaching profession. We have said that there are some teachers who are not performing adequately and some schools which do not perform adequately. If I were to make a cheap party political point, I should say that there are some in the party opposite who recognise that situation and take their children to schools in boroughs other than the one in which they live. The noble Baroness ought to recognise that fact. As for recruitment, numbers in the teaching profession are satisfactory at the moment. There is some unease about certain subjects and obviously that is a matter that we ought to address.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the board of the Teacher Training Agency. Does my noble friend agree that the most effective way of enhancing a professional sense of pride in the teaching profession is to ensure that teachers are adequately prepared for their professional responsibilities; that inadequate professional practice, as established by Her Majesty's Inspectors, is dealt with very seriously; and that good professional practice is widely commended and encouraged?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I endorse absolutely everything that my noble friend said. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear today, we shall be looking at further improvements in teacher training and at performance tables for teacher training institutions.

Earl Russell

My Lords, will the Minister please withdraw the inaccurate phrase "the party opposite"?

Lord Henley

My Lords, from where I am sitting, it is the party opposite.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the paper will cover England alone or whether it will include Scotland and Wales as well?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I understand that it is to be a paper for England and Wales but not the country north of the Border. If I am wrong, I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Elton

My Lords, returning to the subject of the original Question, does my noble friend agree that the Government would warmly welcome an approach from within the teaching profession which would have the effect of separating the issues of standards and ethics in teaching and the rates of pay and conditions, so that instead of having only a trade union as their collective voice, the teachers had a professional body to which they themselves would be answerable?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the problem south of the Border, in England, is that the teachers have six different unions to represent them. Obviously we should welcome them forming their own body, as I said earlier, dedicated to raising their standards and enhancing their status in the eyes of the public.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, does the Minister recall that over the years a number of organisations, both union and professional, have made overtures to the department asking if it would be prepared to steer a professional organisation through? That is not to interfere but to work in partnership with the teachers.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I remind the noble Lord of what I believe I said earlier. We should welcome a teachers' professional body dedicated to promoting good practice but we do not see a case for establishing that on a statutory basis. It must be a matter for the teachers themselves.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would do much for the professional standing of teachers if the precise content of teacher training courses, including such things as detailed course profiles, the names of external examiners and indicative reading lists, were put on much more public display and, indeed, if that were to be a condition for their funding in future?

Lord Henley

My Lords, getting right the training of teachers is an absolute imperative. That is why we see it as so important to step up the inspection of teacher training institutions, as I said earlier, and to bring in performance tables for teacher training institutions and generally open them up to observation from outside. We are going down that route and I hope that my noble friend will be greatly encouraged by that.

Baroness David

My Lords, following an earlier answer, would the Minister now welcome a general teaching council?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I have answered that question on more than one occasion. If the profession wishes to set up a general teaching council, that is a matter for the teachers. As my noble friend Lady Blatch made clear when we debated this matter some two years ago, we do not see a case for establishing it on a statutory basis.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, will the terms of reference of the DfEE paper on teacher training allow the department to consider and make recommendations on how to teach physical, moral and spiritual education, so that the teachers will in future be able to play their part in the moral crusade of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Lord Henley

My Lords, as I made clear earlier, it will cover all aspects of teaching.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, Scotland has been mentioned and the question of a general teaching council. So, in all innocence, may I ask the Minister whether, in his view, the General Teaching Council in Scotland has led to an improvement in teaching north of the Border; or is it the case that teaching in Scotland before the General Teaching Council was set up was already so much better than it is south of the Border down Islington way?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I shall not quote Dr. Johnson on the subject of education in Scotland. I understand that the General Teaching Council in Scotland works perfectly well, but there is no need to establish, on a statutory basis, such a body in England. We have very different educational systems north and south of the Border. As I made clear earlier, north of the Border there is one union representing all teachers whereas south of the Border six unions represent teachers.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most pressing needs for teachers is to have in-service training? It is not just the initial training that matters, but also after they have been teaching for several years. Does he agree that that could enhance enormously their feeling of pride?

Lord Henley

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct. That is why we make considerable sums of money available for in-service training. I regret that I cannot quote a precise figure to my noble friend on this occasion, but considerable resources are available.