HL Deb 07 February 2002 vol 631 cc731-4

Baroness Walmsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have yet established a timetable for the next secondary school curriculum and staffing survey.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, in December my honourable friend the Minister for School Standards gave an undertaking in another place that the survey would be conducted shortly. Preparations for the survey are in hand and my department hopes that data collection will take place later this year.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. She will not be surprised to learn that although I have great respect for her, I am unhappy with her Answer. Is she aware that my honourable friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough in another place and myself in your Lordships' House have been asking the Government about this very overdue survey since February last year? Does she accept that Ofsted has confirmed that this is the only official way of finding out not just how many teachers are in our schools, or how many vacancies there are, but how many teachers are teaching subjects for which they are not qualified? Every time we ask the question we are told that there are preparations and considerations. If the Government intend to carry out the survey, may we please have a timetable? If the Government do not intend to carry out the survey, will the Minister please say so? We shall then know that the Government refuse to use the only system that is in place for finding out the information.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I say without hesitation that the Government intend to conduct the survey. The reasons for delaying the survey are entirely bureaucratic and administrative. For example, we must ensure that the right people are in place to conduct the survey. We are now in a position to be able to do that. The purpose of the survey is to look at a sample of about 500 secondary schools. The survey will not measure teacher numbers or vacancies. Figures on such matters come from the form 618G survey of all LEAs in England which is conducted annually.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, as part of the Question is about the syllabus, perhaps I can draw the Minister's attention to the Nuffield report on Science and Society entitled Beyond 2000, which was presented to the Select Committee of this House on Science and Society. The report, which we commended, acknowledged that when science became a compulsory subject up to the age of 16, the syllabus, particularly at secondary school level, remained almost the same. It is now widely regarded as inappropriate for teaching scientific literacy. When the Minister receives the results of the survey, will she ensure that those results are taken serious note of? I declare an interest as president of the Association for Science Education.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his work in the area of science. He knows that I am the Minister with responsibility for Science Year and I have had the privilege of discussing this matter with him, We shall take serious note of the survey. It will be an important document. I shall ensure that we deliberate on it and that we are in dialogue with the noble Lord on the issues raised.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, does the Minister accept that one reason why my noble friend Lady Walmsley pressed the issue of the survey is that during the Report stage of the Education Bill in another place yesterday honourable Members were able to debate less than half of a major Bill that shortly will come to this Chamber? If the Government are to be held properly accountable for one of the major public services, does the Minister recognise that adequate information has to be made available to this House so that it can discharge the duty that the other place is no longer able to carry out?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I expect that there will be full debate and deliberation on the Education Bill when it reaches your Lordship's House. I very much look forward to that. Of course, we need to provide information. We shall attempt to do so in a way that noble Lords will find useful. This morning I took part in a discussion on ensuring that noble Lords have adequate information before we embark on our deliberations.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is quite wrong that one has to rely on this House to scrutinise Bills properly. In any changes that may be made to procedures I hope that that will be remedied. Form 6—it used to be form 7—does not include information about the number of supply teachers or the number of teachers who teach subjects for which they are not qualified. In the Minister's answer to the first supplementary question she said that the survey does not cover those issues. Who in the DfES will be able to tell the House at some stage how many supply teachers are being used at any one time and how many teachers are teaching subjects for which they do not have a qualification?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the survey will cover the latter point raised by the noble Baroness, which concerns appropriate qualifications for teachers. Noble Lords have raised that as an important issue. I echo that feeling. On supply teachers, I shall come back to the noble Baroness with specific details on that. But she should have no illusion about the fact that we take this matter very seriously. As to scrutiny, we shall have an opportunity to discuss the scrutiny carried out in another place when we debate the Bill in this House. I look forward to that as well.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, in the Minister's initial reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, she used that ubiquitous word "shortly". Please will she define what "shortly" means?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, it means "soon".

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, the survey is to take place soon, shortly or whenever. There must be a timetable for the survey. Can the Minister tell the House when it is due to be completed?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I always give noble Lords as much information as I have. I anticipate that we shall have the results in the early part of next year. By "early" I mean within the first half of next year. The survey will take a while to complete. That is not because we are being slow, but it is a survey that will require great care and attention. It is a priority and it will be carried out properly.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, while we await the survey, can the Minister tell the House how many children will be taught subjects by teachers who are not qualified to teach those subjects?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, the previous survey showed that 82 per cent of staff held an overall qualification. It is worth saying that we carefully monitor the vacancy rates that we know about in teacher training and within individual schools, so we are under no illusions about some of the issues and some of the subjects where there are shortages. That is why we have brought in a raft of measures to encourage our most able graduates to enter those areas of teaching. This is not a subject to which the Government give anything other than the highest priority.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, my knowledge of the English language is limited, but a year hardly seems to mean "shortly", particularly when a major Education Bill is going through the House. The Minister should encourage her department—not the most efficient in Whitehall—to do things a little more quickly.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I always encourage the department to do things as quickly as possible. There is a difference between when the survey will begin and when it will end. My comments about "shortly" or "soon" concern when the survey will begin. It is a detailed survey that is required to be undertaken by people of high calibre. Those people are in place and the survey will begin soon. I look forward to discussing the results with your Lordships.

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