HL Deb 05 February 2002 vol 631 cc534-50

4.58 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on the annual report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools. The Statement is as follows:

"Mr Speaker, I am delighted to lay this 2000–01 report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools before Parliament. First, perhaps I may begin by both thanking and paying tribute to Mike Tomlinson, whose last annual report this is. Mike Tomlinson has made a huge contribution to education both as a teacher and inspector. I know that he will continue to do so after he steps down as chief inspector in April. I also thank the inspectors and those who work for Ofsted for their professionalism and dedication. Ofsted has shown the value of an independent inspectorate, identifying the strengths and weaknesses in our education system and ensuring that they 'tell it as it is'.

"Today's report shows, 'that the quality of education is getting better'. Our education system was recently acknowledged as a 'star performer' by the PISA study. We can now be sure that we have a good and an improving education system. We know that further improvements need to be made. There are big challenges ahead, and they need to be addressed.

"Quality of teaching and school leadership is key to raising standards. The report describes teaching over the past year as the best ever. The proportion of lessons found to be unsatisfactory is at its lowest level ever recorded and the proportion of teaching found to be good or better has never been higher.

"Schools are reported as being increasingly well led and well managed. This is a tremendous achievement and I thank and applaud the hard work of teachers, heads and all those who work in our schools.

"The chief inspector's report acknowledges the enormous gains that have been made in recent years through reforms to primary education. Between 1997 and 2000, the proportion of children attaining level 4 by the end of key stage 2 increased by more than 10 per cent for both literacy and numeracy. This year saw continuing improvements in science, but results for literacy and numeracy levelled off. Although this was disappointing, the chief inspector acknowledged that, 'we cannot expect progress to be even, year on year', and that: 'We should, however, remind ourselves of how far we have come'. "As levels of achievement rise, it is more difficult to maintain the rates of improvement that we have seen to date. As we move towards our goals the challenge will be greater, but we are determined to meet it.

"At secondary level, too, management and leadership continues to improve, with the proportion of schools where Ofsted judges this to be unsatisfactory now down to just one in 20. Achievement has also risen, with the Government's target of 50 per cent of children achieving five grade A to Cs at GCSE achieved one year ahead of schedule.

"The chief inspector reports that in most special schools pupils are achieving well and that improvement has been particularly marked in schools for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. In the mainstream, too, the achievements of pupils with special educational needs are showing welcome improvement.

"As a result of the further improvements in teaching and leadership, the number of schools in special measures has fallen again and those who do fall into special measures are also recovering more quickly. This year, 137 schools were placed in special measures compared to 230 the previous year, and 194 schools had improved sufficiently to remove them altogether from special measures.

"This report contains some encouraging findings, but we should not be complacent about the scale of the challenge still ahead of us. We have much more to do, and what we have to do is also set out in this report today.

"The chief inspector commented on, 'the variation in performance between schools'. He says that, 'the gap between the highest and lowest attaining schools remains too large'. Ofsted goes on to report that while the gap between the highest and lowest performing schools is narrowing at primary level, at secondary level it has widened. Closing this achievement gap is one of the main aims of the Government's policies and we are determined to make further progress. As the report notes, our literacy and numeracy strategies have closed the gap in primary schools and we will further address the secondary school gap as part of our secondary school reform.

"While standards of achievement rise for the majority of our pupils, there are some children who Ofsted believes continue to be failed by the system. It has been a national disgrace that children in care leave school with so few academic qualifications. Our 'children in care' programme shows that there are early signs of improvement. The latest figures show that 37 per cent of young people leaving care in 2000–01 obtained one or more GCSEs or GNVQs, up from 30 per cent the previous year. But so much more needs to be done and the report is right to draw our attention to this.

"There also remains significant underachievement in certain ethnic groups. Although there is still some way to go, again improvements have been made. The 'Youth Cohort' study published in January 2001 reveals a significant improvement in the achievement of many ethnic groups at GCSE level. Although there is yet no similar national data source for the primary sector, the latest key stage 2 test results show that inner city LEAs with high ethnic minority populations are among the most improved in the country.

"This year we are introducing new national data collection arrangements, which will enable the performance of minority ethnic pupils to be monitored nationally and locally. This will help ensure that resources are better targeted at need.

"I am pleased that HMCI draws attention to the value of the 'Excellence in Cities' programme for pupils in our more deprived areas. The programme is already making an impact. Standards in schools benefiting from 'Excellence in Cities' are rising faster than elsewhere. The latest key stage 3 English tests showed an improvement in inner city schools that was four times the improvement elsewhere. I am progressively extending the programme to more schools in clusters of deprivation beyond the inner cities. Twelve new excellence clusters are now operating, and I intend 12 more to start in September. They will be in Barnet, Bishop Auckland, Crewe, Derby, High Wycombe, Hillingdon, Lancaster, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Peterborough, Stockport and Wigan.

"The fundamental challenge. of course. is to improve the quality of education for all our children. The Government set out in their White Paper, Schools Achieving Success, an agenda which aims for nothing short of the transformation of secondary education. It is a programme of work that is given added weight by the report we have received today.

"At the very core of secondary transformation is the 'Key Stage 3 strategy'. Too much time and previous gain are lost in the transition from primary to secondary school and we know that at this stage disaffection with schooling can set in. We need to turn this around and use the early years of secondary education to build upon achievements at primary level and to provide a solid platform for attainment in the 14-to- l 9 phase.

"The Government are investing £489 million in the key stage 3 strategy between now and 2003–04 and early feedback from both Ofsted and schools is very encouraging. From September this school year. the strategy began to impact on 1.8 million of our children, building upon the very best of the literacy and numeracy strategies in primary schools, to bring about a similar step-change in performance at secondary level.

"Schools will also have to be structured more to meet the needs of the individual pupil. We have made progress with individual pupil targeting, learning mentors for individual pupils and encouraging secondary schools to have both their own distinctive mission and ethos and to accept their responsibility to other schools and the wider education community. This is where beacon and specialist schools have an important role to play. We want all schools to develop a sense of mission and, in doing so, to develop centres of excellence and networks that lead to innovation and higher standards for all children.

"Yesterday, I announced the biggest ever expansion of the specialist schools programme. By September 2002, we shall have 1,000, each of them teaching a full and balanced curriculum and using their specialism as a catalyst for whole-school improvement and increasingly sharing that expertise with other schools.

"The best ideas on school improvement are so often developed in the schools themselves. We want our best schools to be the innovators of the next stage of educational reform. That is why we are giving our very best schools greater autonomy and supporting innovation so that it has an impact on the whole system.

"But none of this can happen without teachers. The report acknowledges, as we do, that teacher recruitment and retention continue to pose a challenge, but the chief inspector acknowledges that the measures we have introduced are beginning to bear fruit. Apart from rapidly increasing numbers of people starting training and joining the profession, the alternative routes are expanding fast, too.

"Retention is mentioned by the chief inspector as a particular concern. A great deal has been asked of teachers and we need to make sure that they are supported to do their jobs. I know that workload is a key issue. I see giving teachers the time they need to teach as critical to raising standards of achievement. The School Teachers' Review Body will be making recommendations on workload at the end of April.

"While behaviour in schools is reported by Ofsted as generally good, the poor behaviour of a minority of pupils is also reported as being a significant factor in teachers' decisions to leave the profession. To help teachers tackle disruption effectively, we have expanded our programme of on-site learning support units and learning mentors. Around 3,000 learning mentors have now been recruited. We now have 323 pupil referral units providing more places with better quality teaching. The Connexions service will also offer advice to young people throughout the country when it is rolled out nationally later this year.

"As the TES survey reported last Friday, teaching is a profession on the up. The typical teacher is enjoying an improved standard of living and enjoying the job. The TES says that seven out of 10 teachers are satisfied with their jobs.

"This report is an important document. Its value is in its independence. It demonstrates the real gains that have been made and continue to be made in our schools. It also signposts for us continuing challenges—challenges that we intend to address in raising standards further still.

"Finally, this report states that one of the reasons teachers leave the profession is a lack of esteem. They have no reason to think that they are anything other than one of the most important professions in the land. I hope that Members of this House will join me in paying tribute to them for what they have achieved for our children. We have it on Ofsted's authority that the quality of their work has never been better".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.9 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for letting me have sight of it earlier this afternoon. She made a remark outside the Chamber which leads me to believe that this is the first Statement that she has dealt with. I hope that she will be comforted by the knowledge that this is my first response to an education Statement.

Naturally, the Statement highlights the successes referred to in the Ofsted report. That is understandable and, in any event, those successes are numerous. Like the noble Baroness, I, too, thank Mike Tomlinson, the other inspectors and all those who work in Ofsted for the quality of their work, which has resulted in the improvements that have been mentioned. Indeed, like the Minister, I applaud all the hard work done by teachers, heads and others in schools for the work that they have done and still do, often in very difficult circumstances.

Perhaps the Minister will understand if I now mention some of our concerns. Starting with the primary sector, which certainly showed the best results, it seems that of the six main findings, one is positive, three are neutral and two are negative. Improvement trends in maths have fallen by 1 per cent to 71 per cent at level 4 achievement. I wonder whether that can possibly have anything to do with the shortage of maths teachers. Perhaps the noble Baroness will comment on that later. I understand that one in eight schools is now short of maths teachers.

Another matter of concern is that boys lag behind girls in standards for English. Ofsted says that the under-performance of boys is worsening year on year. Standards of reading have also fallen for 11 year-olds. Maths, English and reading are certainly basic skills by any standard; therefore, I imagine that the noble Baroness will consider those findings to be worrying, too.

Equally worrying is the finding in the Ofsted report that, in order to achieve what is obviously very necessary—that is, essential literacy and numeracy targets—primary head teachers are finding it more difficult to make the curriculum wider and balanced, with other matters included. Indeed, the report states that four out of five primary schools fall into that category. That means that only one in five is achieving a wider expansion of the curriculum. I am certain that the Minister will be as concerned as I am about this, as it may have significant effects later, when pupils come to make curriculum choices.

At secondary level, the problems are worse. The gap between high-performing and low-performing schools is widening. In particular, Ofsted has identified the weakening of foreign language teaching, and has also commented that 25 per cent of all secondary schools have unsatisfactory attendance levels—or, to put it another way, the truancy levels are too high. That figure of 25 per cent rises to 37 per cent in relation to all the schools inspected.

Sadly, the report highlights the disproportionate number of children from ethnic backgrounds—Afro-Caribbean. Pakistani and Bangladeshi—who achieve poor GCSE results, which will hinder their employment prospects later. I wonder what suggestions the Government have to try to remedy that.

I am certain that all the problems that I have highlighted are connected with one main underlying cause; namely, the crisis in teacher retention, which we have discussed and which was mentioned in the Statement. Because of the gravity of the shortage of teachers, many are now having to teach subjects for which they are not qualified. The proportion of such teachers is much higher in the temporary or supply teacher category.

Later today, in the debate initiated by the noble Baroness. Lady Walt-Insley, the reason for the crisis in teacher retention and recruitment will be discussed in much more detail. But one of the main reasons for that crisis—among others, of course—is the difficulty faced by teachers in terms of indiscipline in the classroom. Teachers have a lack of options when dealing with the problem. The situation was certainly exacerbated by the previous Secretary of State in not allowing pupils to be excluded when it was obvious that that was the only solution. The present Secretary of State is to be congratulated on reversing that decision.

The other main problems—centralising, and the bureaucratic way in which the Government sometimes behave towards schools and, indeed, towards local government—often make the situation harder. Does the Minister agree that the message should be: trust the heads, the teachers and all those in education to do the job that they are trained for, and remove the obstacles to make it much more worth-while for those who enter the profession to stay there?

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Minister on her first Statement to this House. She did it admirably. I join her in paying tribute to the work of Mike Tomlinson at Ofsted and in congratulating our teachers on what I consider to be an excellent report from Ofsted. They have achieved a great deal in the course of these past few years. The pressures have been considerable but, at long last, the combination of extra resources put in by the present Government and the setting of high aspirational targets from Ofsted is beginning to pay off.

The Statement mentioned the PISA study of OECD countries. In that, the UK was one of the few countries to be picked out as an example where standards were increasing. As I said, it is a tribute to our teachers that that is the case. It is also very important that we are not complacent. The Minister herself said that. We must remember that one in five adults in this country is functionally illiterate. They cannot look up a plumber in the Yellow Pages because they do not know how to spell "plumber" properly.

That is an indictment of what we have not achieved in our education system in the past. It also raises a number of issues in relation to the report that I want to put to the Minister. First, rightly, we have been increasing standards at key stage 2—those who leave primary schools. If children do not leave primary schools able to read and write, the odds are that they will be illiterate for life. They are the ones who sit at the back of the class and muck around when they are II and 12 years old. Then they drop out of school when they are 13 years old and become truants.

I want to ask the Minister whether, in shifting the emphasis to key stage 3, which I believe is right and proper, enough liaison will take place between primary and secondary schools to ensure that secondary schools are aware when children have perhaps not achieved in the way that teachers consider they should. It is vitally important that the right information gets through to secondary schools.

Secondly, is there enough awareness in secondary teaching about special educational needs? Far too many children who do not achieve well and who are put at the back of the class and regarded as being disruptive are found, for example, to be dyslexic. It is vitally important that proper diagnosis is made as early as possible.

Thirdly, it is obviously extremely distressing for any school to be placed at the bottom of league tables. I believe that in this country we have too much of an ethos of performance indicators and league tables. They have been used in the Soviet Union and have proved to be disastrous. I am not someone who considers that there should never be league tables, but I believe that we should limit the number. Above all. are we moving forward fast enough with the value-added data so that schools are not always charted as being in bottom place? Many schools that come low in the Ofsted tables have extremely difficult intakes, and it is important that they are not always seen to be at the bottom.

The inspector's report highlights the gap between the highest and lowest achieving schools. I want to ask the Minister whether she considers the specialist schools programme to be necessarily the right way in which to tackle that problem. She mentioned that yesterday her colleague the Secretary of State announced that 1,000 secondary schools are now specialist schools. There are 3,500 secondary schools; 2,500 schools are not specialist schools. Yet there is a case for making every school special. Are the Government confident that the specialist schools programme is the right way to move forward?

I do not know how many other noble Lords look at the Times Educational Supplement. It contained an interesting article about a school in Derby called the Valley School, which had been closed but where a group of teachers—seven of them full time; five, parttime—stayed on last year in order to teach the children in year 11 to do their GCSEs. As they say, the children changed. Previously they had behaved in a foul manner: swearing, lobbing things, running away and humiliating supply teachers.

The children have special needs, and they always have had, but with the ratios that there are now we should spend time with the children, helping them and taking into account their individual needs. In this example, by accident, students have just what they need: a small school with an experienced, committed group of staff, high staff/pupil ratios, stability and a degree of ownership of the institution. They are turning round the achievements of that little group.

How quickly does the Minister consider that her Excellence in Cities programme is rolling out? We need more of that and we need to make such schools and pupils feel special as well as the specialist schools. The specialist schools are doing well. They are at the top of the league tables. The increase in performance needs to take place at the bottom. We need to look at that.

On the issue of recruitment and retention, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned a number of the topics about which I wanted to speak. A significant fact is that 20 per cent of teachers drop out in their first three years of teaching. If one includes the training period, 50 per cent of those recruited drop out within five years. That is a worrying matter.

Last week the TES rightly said that teachers are relatively contented, but some questions were raised. Teachers said that they did not like the long hours for which they blamed too much bureaucracy. The Secretary of State has promised to try to limit the amount of bureaucracy. Does the Minister consider that she is succeeding in that? Under the Education Bill schools can earn autonomy, so why not allow every school to earn its own autonomy? As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked, is it a matter of trust? We should treat the teachers as professionals. We know that they do a super job, so let us treat them as professionals and trust them to get on well with the job.

I am concerned about the situation in relation to maths, a point that the inspector raises. Seventy-one per cent of children in secondary schools are taught by specialist teachers, but many children are not and the inspector found a noticeable difference. That is a real problem. Not enough people are studying maths at university to provide the maths teachers of the future.

On truancy, does the Minister feel that enough is being done to create mentors? Are mentors being linked with youth clubs? What about children in care? Does she consider that 37 per cent of children achieving one GCSE, compared with the target of 50 per cent of children achieving five GCSE in grades A to C, is a low target? Should we look for higher levels of achievement?

5.23 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Miller and Lady Sharp, for welcoming the report and for their kind words about Mike Tomlinson, which I am sure are shared by the whole House. I shall endeavour to address all the questions raised, and seek forgiveness if I fail.

I am conscious that there was a delay in copies of the report arriving in your Lordships' House. I can only apologise. That was not within my gift; it is not my report. I shall seek to refer specifically to what the report says and ensure that sufficient copies are available by tomorrow.

The report highlights the situation in regard to boys. It says that the attainment of boys in English, especially in writing, still lags behind that of girls and that there are wide differences in the levels of attainment. That is a real concern. However, not all boys under-achieve, so it is not a universal problem. We are considering different strategies. For example, research begins to suggest that positive ethos strategies counter macho and anti-school attitudes. Literacy strategies targeted at boys' preferred styles, performance data analysis, pupil monitoring, the use of mentors and role models and pupil grouping, including single-sex teaching, have been appropriate. We have commissioned a three-year longitudinal research project from Cambridge to identify successful strategies. That will be presented to us in March 2003.

When Mike Tomlinson refers to maths teachers and key stage 2, we should be careful not to link the two. He is pointing out that there will be difficulties in the future, which we accept. I look forward to the debate to be held later in your Lordships' House that will consider issues of recruitment and retention.

In regard to the literacy and numeracy strategies, we recognise that, this year, the targets at which we are aiming have been stalling—a term that has been used. We are also conscious that children's learning abilities are not in a straight line. We are proud of the achievements that we have made in terms of the literacy and numeracy strategies. We believe that the results from the year five groups demonstrate that we should expect to see standards improve. I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about enriched curricula. We believe that good schools provide full curricula. The enriched curriculum is part of raising standards. There are not two separate curricula; there is one curriculum taught in schools, which should be enriching and enhancing for children. It is through access to different subjects that children will enhance their literacy and numeracy skills.

On attendance and truancy levels, for me one of the most shocking facts was discovering how much truancy is parentally condoned. The truancy sweep shows that so many pupils out of school are out of school with their parents. We have to do more to insist that parents accept their responsibilities to ensure that students are in school.

In relation to ethnic minority pupils, we recognise that we have much to do. We know that for some ethnic groups there has been an improvement, but for others we need to do more work. I refer in particular to the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. We are considering how we can make sure that the matter is addressed. One factor is that we shall have information and data that we did not have before.

As to behaviour, I fully accept the need to ensure that schools are able to exclude children who cannot be taught in those schools and for whom school is not a positive experience. We also recognise that it is important to ensure that such children are not left without full-time education. I am delighted that, by September 2002, we shall have full-time education for all excluded children. I am sure that all noble Lords will accept that this is part of the continuum of education, and that we should not view exclusion in the way in which we used to view expulsion. We must view it as providing the right kind of education for children who simply cannot be taught in mainstream education as we define it.

I entirely agree with the statement about trusting headteachers. I hope that when we come to discuss the Bill that talks about innovation and autonomy, noble Lords will feel able to support us in doing that. I agree that we also need to seek autonomy in a broader spectrum. We want good schools to lead the way in what we should do next. Part of the purpose behind the Education Bill is to put the schools in the driving seat. That is a crucial part of what we want to achieve. As our schools develop, we hope to see many more of them being able to move towards that.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, we recognise the issues about the transfer from primary school to secondary school. We must continue to examine that area carefully. Good secondary schools have been working with primary schools, seeing how the children develop and developing strategies themselves for key stage 3, but there is more to do. That transition is crucial. At that point, the achievement of too many of our children dips, and we need to work on that.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on the issue of special educational needs and early diagnosis. My particular mantra, as the department knows only too well, is that a child should arrive at nursery school with his or her little rucksack containing an apple, a ruler and a special needs kit, already defined and worked out, so that the child arrives at school with the support that is necessary to enable him or her to achieve.

We are carefully considering the "value-added" point. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and other noble Lords will know, we must ensure that we have the information from key stage 1 and key stages 2 and 3 and the differences between them, in order to do the value-added part of the equation. The pilot study has been successful. The schools that took part felt that it was a worthwhile experience. I believe that it will make a difference. However, we do not produce league tables; we produce performance tables.

I believe that the specialist school model is a positive one. The schools that participate in it have described it as a process of renewal for the school. That is something that we wish to support.

5.29 p.m.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, will the Minister comment on the contrast between basic skills education in primary schools that appears to work well, and the analogous level of education in the Prison Service? On pages 25 and 27 of the Ofsted report we see that English and maths primary school results, with the slight question marks that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has raised, are ahead of all other subjects and unsurprisingly, but pleasingly, they are the two subjects where the quality of teaching is perceived to be best. But on page 55 of the report, we see that in prisons the literacy and numeracy skills are far weaker than in the population at large. Such skills are absolutely essential if we are to get jobs for prisoners when they leave prison. The teaching in both maths and reading and writing are said to he deplorably weak.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the report says that, much of the teaching observed is of a high quality. However, the teaching of literacy and numeracy are too often unsatisfactory.' We are very concerned about that. We plan to ensure by April that the majority of juveniles in custody have access to 30 hours of learning opportunities a week. That compares to the current 15 hours a week which most receive.

Noble Lords will not be surprised to learn that many offenders have learning difficulties and/or disabilities. Yet we know that there is widespread lack of proper assessment for special needs. We are working in partnership with prisons and young offender institutions on that issue. The plan is to set up a mul ti-agency working group to develop an action plan. We are also working with the adult basic skills strategy unit to review basic skills targets so that they better reflect the needs of prisoners.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

My Lords, this is a good and encouraging report. I ask the Minister how she proposes with the help of all of us—because we are all engaged in this—to convey the good news to the teachers. What we need now in our society is encouragement and appreciation for the teaching force. Somehow the Government must find a way—it is difficult because it is a very subtle thing—to change the culture of parents and others into appreciating what they are actually getting.

If these reported comments are fact—and I believe that they are—then somehow we must convey this matter and change the whole thrust from what I call, in Church terms, the half-empty to the half-full, or, in this case, the three-quarters full. That is the first point. Secondly, I want to pay tribute to Mike Tomlinson, but really through him to a kind of change that I detect as I go around schools. I visit many schools—community as well as church schools. It is about the approach of inspectors. There is a new culture of inspectors who are sympathetic as to what the teachers are about. In the early days inspectors went in with a kind of—as they saw it—public remit to change things, without really having a clue about what it was like to teach in a school. I think that that change is very important.

There are two or three other comments that I want to make. The first is to emphasise the business of trust. I am sure that the matter will come up in the later debate. I do not know whether the Minister can comment on the question of what one might call "stability". Good things are now happening but teachers are constantly in fear of new changes being placed upon them without being given time to assimilate them and work through what they are already trying to do. If things are improving, we need to help them and not to lose our sense of positive critical involvement and concern. Somehow the Government and the department, through the messages that they send out, must convey this.

I want to associate myself very much with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, about value added. It is very important that, if we publish tables—whether league or performance—somehow we indicate what goes in as well as judging what is the end product.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his comments about not only Tomlinson but the inspectors. The way that he has shaped the new inspection has made a difference. Many teachers would agree that this has created perhaps a more positive working relationship.

I also agree with the right reverend Prelate on the important issue of stability. We are very mindful of that. It gives me a chance to mention bureaucracy, which was raised earlier. It is crucial that we make sure that teachers are not inundated. We are rigorous in the department to ensure that we send as little as possible to them; although I have discovered that it is surprising how many times one wants to communicate.

In terms of how we make changes, one of the key parts of the key stage 3 strategy is concerned with continuing professional development. It is about developing our teachers and not telling them what they should be doing differently. That is a really important part of the way that we need to approach the issue.

Finally, on value added, we know that schools that are working well with children of all abilities in an individualised way are achieving fantastically well. That may not be reflected in the simplistic way that we show how schools are doing. I do not think that anyone is suggesting that we get rid of that system. Many people would say that there is now an opportunity to enhance it and make it of more value. That we want to do.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, in what must be an encouraging report from what I have seen just glimpsing through it, there is one important criticism on page 87. It relates to the help that local education authorities give to new head teachers. The business of recruiting and retaining teachers depends so much on the satisfaction that the teacher can get from what is now a really very difficult job. It is unfashionable to talk about leadership in a school. But in fact that is what a school and what teachers need. It is quite significant that Mr Tomlinson says on page 87: The support programme offered by local education authorities for new head teachers is characterised by inconsistency, with no local education authority having good practice in all aspects and one-quarter of LEAs providing unsatisfactory support". If there is one place where pressure could be brought to help in the retention of teachers and in their job satisfaction, it is in helping new head teachers develop their leadership skills in the schools. We are not just talking about new teachers so it may or may not come into the debate today, in which I unfortunately cannot join. However, this issue interested me very much. Perhaps the Minister can say something about it. Further, do the Government feel that they can enable local education authorities to do more about the issue and, indeed, give help to other schools which are not their responsibility?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. It may be unfashionable but it is crucial to talk about leadership. Indeed, in our department it is not unfashionable at all; it is considered to be at the forefront of new thinking.

Elsewhere in the report there is an interesting reference to the fact that leadership and management of our schools continue to improve, being good or better in some three-quarters of primary, special and secondary schools.

Noble Lords should be aware that we have established the National College for School Leadership and have brought in a professional qualification for headship. We want to see a constant move towards leadership within schools. We know that it is through that leadership that schools will improve, teachers will be supported by their head teachers and that the school will be able to innovate and move forward in its thinking.

We want to make sure that we have new and good systems of support. We have asked the National College for School Leadership, which runs the leadership and management programme for new heads, to review that programme in order to maximise the support given to heads as they take up their first headship post. It is of course important to work with local education authorities. We would expect that within their education development plans they will take note of the need to support their head teachers.

Lord Puttnam

My Lords, perhaps I may briefly declare an interest as chairman of the General Teaching Council. I apologise to my noble friend for the fact that I listened to the Statement in another place.

I identify with just about everything said by the right reverend Prelate. But I want to amplify a little on the issue of Mike Tomlinson's extraordinary contribution, not just to this report, but to the change in ethos that has been achieved at Ofsted. It is quite remarkable.

Ofsted has returned to what teachers always wanted, which is a critical friend. Teachers were never ever nervous of criticism; it was the manner in which that criticism was sometimes couched. He has remarkably achieved in a very short time a movement from the "SS" to the "SAS", and that is no mean achievement.

From the teachers' perspective, I hope that the fact that that acknowledgement of their extraordinary work comes from a neutral source and at a time when public services have come in for something of a beating does not go unnoticed by members of the press. He actually said that teaching has never, ever been better. That is an extraordinary compliment to a large group of extraordinarily dedicated public servants.

I shall touch on two further points with which I think that the House will entirely agree. Truancy is a significant worry, but the House should remember that 80 per cent of all truancy in the UK is with parental compliance. That is a societal problem, not a schools problem. Recently, I visited a school where the deputy head spends most mornings of the week going out into the local housing estate, literally knocking on doors to try to encourage parents to send their child to school. That is a societal problem, not a departmental problem. I hope that Members on all sides of the House will help to correct that misperception.

Lastly, the report mentions the extraordinary work being done and the improvement being achieved in special needs education. The nicest single part of my job is visiting special needs schools. Special needs education is the really tough end of the job. The fact that it is successful against the odds—that although more children probably need special education than ever before, we are pulling that off—is a great national achievement. The reason that teachers will welcome the report is that it offers trust back to them and tells them that they are doing a good job and deserve our respect. I, for one, have been enormously encouraged by all the comments—even the criticisms—that have been made in the House this afternoon.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend and with Mike Tomlinson: I think that the sentiment is shared across the House that teaching has never, ever been better. That is a tribute to all those in the profession.

I recognise the importance of the issue of truancy. As my noble friend said, it is parentally condoned truancy which is of such concern. We are providing more than £500 million to support local projects to tackle truancy and its underlying causes. We have launched a package of measures to help schools to set a clear, tougher policy on attendance and to stress to parents and the wider community that absences for any reason should not be tolerated.

The reference to special educational needs gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to special schools, which do a fantastic job on our behalf. They work with some children who have complex difficulties. I was fortunate to spend last Friday evening with the head teachers of many of our special schools, which was a fantastic experience for me—I am not sure that it was for them. We were able to talk about the issues that concern them. I know that they will be pleased to have recognition for their work.

Lord Dearing

My Lords, I should like first to join the thanks to Mike Tomlinson. Perhaps the best contribution that the Government could make this month to the cause of good education would be to ensure that teachers know how much they have achieved and to say thank you to them. They need that.

Having said that—it may take a little longer than a month to deal with this point—the Government should address the chief inspector's comment that, Accommodation is unsatisfactory or poor in one quarter of schools inspected". I know that that will take a little time to deal with, but to do so would be a good practical way to say thank you.

Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, arid others have said, good progress has been made for children with special educational needs. That is especially welcome, because they need the help most. The report comments on the continued overall improvement in the work of local authorities, but goes on to say: LEAs' performance in carrying out special needs education is improving but is still the weakest area of provision". That should concern us all. I hope that the Government will encourage LEAs to consider how the best LEAs—which are identified by the chief inspector—go about that task and to engage in best practice.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I agree that we want to communicate to teachers the message of their success. I do not want to communicate in a way that adds to bureaucracy, so we must think creatively about that, but I will communicate the message. I hope that every noble Lord will take the opportunity on behalf of this House to spread that message. The point about accommodation is well made. That is not only an issue for teachers; we know that good design and good accommodation have a direct effect on standards, because they raise the self-esteem of children and teachers. We are trying to address that matter with a huge investment programme, which noble Lords will have heard me describe before.

Special educational needs are also of real importance to us. It is important that local education authorities begin to develop appropriate strategies to support children with special educational needs who, in the vast majority of cases, can achieve at the same level as children without identified special educational needs.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, the Minister spoke of how much we ask of our teachers. Pursuant to a question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, but without seeking to preempt the debate that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will initiate later, does the Minister feel that the demands imposed from the centre by the Government have anything to do with teacher retention rates?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, teachers have raised several issues with us, including the behaviour of a small minority of children and the need of teachers to feel supported in dealing with it. We have already discussed issues such as being able to exclude when that is appropriate, but we are also putting in place other support systems and mechanisms. Teachers talk about their workload. The department must carefully consider how we can help.

As noble Lords will be aware, we are making recommendations to ensure that we reduce teachers' workload. Those involve the more creative use of other adults in schools. Teachers, especially in primary education, should not be doing jobs that could be done by others. That will free them to teach. The recommendations also involve the use of IT—the ability to use computer technology. We must ensure that we are not using old-fashioned systems, if I may so describe them, when new systems could be quicker and easier for teachers. All those issues are at the forefront of our mind.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, may I ask a question about supply teachers—temporary teachers? I understand that there has been a great change and local authorities do not provide supply teachers as they used to. I was surprised to hear one of my noble friend's colleagues on television last night refer to the fact that supply teachers—temporary teachers—are employed by an agency, and that it is not the job of the school to check on the standard of the teachers concerned. Surely that is not the case. Someone must check.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am well aware of the case to which my noble friend refers. It is true that the majority of supply teachers are now covered through agencies, but the agencies are required to comply with the Employment Agencies Act 1973 and conduct regulations made under that Act. Those require checks to be made on anyone supplied to work as a teacher. We provide further guidance in Circular 7/96.

As well as checking teachers against List 99, which is a requirement of the education regulations introduced in 2000, agencies are advised to check other aspects, including whether the teacher has permission to work in the country, whether the teacher has the relevant qualifications, whether the teacher has declared the right identity, the teacher's previous job or other relevant references and whether the teacher has a criminal record. Agencies should be absolutely clear that it is their responsibility that anyone whom they put in front of a class is an appropriate teacher.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, the Statement has encouraging things to say about children in care, but concedes that so much more needs to be done. The report itself also points up some improvements, but one major resisting factor is the problem of recruitment and retention of residential social care staff.

Is the Minister aware of the work of Professor Sonia Jackson, the acknowledged academic expert on education for looked-after children? It is her strongly held view that we must have a principally graduate-educated residential social care staff for children, both to model the excellence and success achieved in education and to put priority on education for looked-after children in care. That is what happens on the Continent, and that is why, as she says—and as we all know—children in care do so much better in school and education there than they do in this country.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am aware of the work of Professor Jackson, but not in detail. I understand that the noble Earl has raised some important points, and I will discuss with the Minister of State at the Department of Health issues relating to how education and social care can work together more effectively to ensure that we reach children in care, and to ensure that looked-after children have the best possible educational experience. It is important that such children get time to stay at school, to make friendships and, whatever care situation they are in, to develop the kind of support that one would expect in a family home.