HL Deb 11 March 1997 vol 579 cc165-7

3.2 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied that the national curriculum detailed in the Teacher Training Agency's recent proposals can be satisfactorily implemented by the training institutions.

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

My Lords, we expect all training providers to be able to modify their courses to deliver the national training curriculum. The proposals build on current good practice. Ofsted will inspect providers to ensure that the new requirements are being implemented.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance. Does he not agree that when some years ago we instituted the national curriculum in schools, it proved a necessary condition for improving standards but was by no means a sufficient condition and would not have been without the intervention of Ofsted? Would he therefore assure the House that in respect of the national curriculum for teacher training this important work should also be supervised and scrutinised by a statutory body such as is done currently with the schools curriculum?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I agree absolutely with the noble Lord about the vital importance of inspection in schools and inspection of LEAs. We shall be extending the powers of Ofsted to do so in the current Bill before this House. I particularly agree with him about the necessity to inspect initial teacher training providers. It is right that Ofsted should have an unconditional right of access to such providers. The Teacher Training Agency will consult shortly on amending the conditions of grant to make it clear that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has that unconditional right of access.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the major problem on this and related matters is the shortage of teachers in some specialist areas? I refer to modern languages, maths and science. I know—the Minister has written to me about it—that the Teacher Training Agency has made some efforts but the problem remains. Are those efforts having much effect? It appears that they are not. That will scupper not only this programme but others.

Lord Henley

My Lords, that is a slightly different question from the one on the Order Paper. However, I accept that it is important that the Teacher Training Agency should pursue matters where there are shortages. As I believe the noble Lord is aware, currently we do not have any serious shortages except in one or two subjects. It is a matter that the Teacher Training Agency has on board. It will continue to take effective action to make sure that there are not shortages.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that those who teach the teachers might do better if they had to live in the real world and teach classes of children more often?

Lord Henley

My Lords, what is important is that most teacher training institutions are performing fairly effectively. Ofsted has pointed out a number of shortcomings. That is why we wish to bring in a national curriculum for initial teacher training. That is why the Teacher Training Agency published a paper only last week for consultation on this very matter. The period of consultation will end in May of this year. No doubt my noble friend will submit his comments. Then decisions can be made on the national curriculum which the teacher training institutions can take on board from September of this year.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, will the Minister name to the House the factors that led the Government to support the need for a national curriculum for the teacher training institutions? In the light of those factors does he agree with his honourable friend the Minister in another place that the time for a general teaching council may have come?

Lord Henley

My Lords, no doubt we shall be debating the subject of a general teaching council on other occasions. I addressed the issue only last week, as the noble Lord will remember, at a rather early hour in the morning. On the substantive point underlying his question, we received advice from both the Teacher Training Agency and Ofsted about certain shortcomings in some of the initial teacher training institutions. As I and Ofsted made clear, most are performing a perfectly effective job. But there are a number of shortcomings. That is why the Teacher Training Agency and Her Majesty's Government think it necessary and desirable that there should be a national curriculum in those initial teacher training institutions.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does the noble Lord recollect—

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, it would appear that 30 minutes are up. I refer to the convention of the House.