§ 11 am
§ Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this debate, especially as I made three or four applications before I was successful. My reason for initiating it relates specifically to a constituent, Mr. Christopher Read, who teaches at the Hewett high school in Norwich, the largest school in Norfolk, which has 1,800 pupils and about 115 full-time equivalent teaching staff. It was not until I had been successful in my application for a debate and started to talk to colleagues about the subject that I became aware of how widespread the problem faced by my constituent is. I shall start with the particulars of his case, and then move on to discuss the more general themes that it illustrates.
Mr. Christopher Read, who lives in my constituency and works in the city of Norwich, is a qualified electronic design engineer. He worked for some 30 years for a local engineering firm, and has an impressive curriculum vitae. For example, he designed electronic control systems for Trident nuclear submarines. He also designed the electronic vane control systems for the Heysham and Torness nuclear power stations, as well as working on projects for clients such as the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Air Force, British Aerospace, British Steel, British Coal, BP, ICI and the former Government Department, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Mr. Read was made redundant from his engineering firm some time ago and decided that before the end of his career, he would like finally to do what he had always wanted to do at some point—go into teaching. We have all seen the advertisements that the Government have sprayed liberally over every medium known to man, including newspapers and cinema, asking people to go into the teaching profession. He responded to that call and, having a background in physics, he was particularly suited to help meet the shortage of teachers in maths and science subjects. The only problem was that because he had an HND, not a degree, he could not be taken on as a fully qualified teacher, but would have to work within the school environment towards fully qualified teacher status.
An additional problem was that because Mr. Read took his HND in 1968, it is not regarded by the Open university, with which he would need to study to gain the required number of points to obtain full teacher status, as attracting the same number of points as a more recent HND. Apparently, that is because before 1971 the HND was not modular—one had to learn everything and sit the exam at the end of the course—so it is said that there is no sensible way of comparing the old and the new HND. I may not be alone in thinking that that may be a point in favour of the old HND, and that it required more intellectual accomplishment than the new modular HND.
Indeed, in a widely quoted book, "Class War: The State of British Education", Chris Woodhead mentions the subject of modularity on pages 14 and 15. He says:The move to 'modularity' is a second, highly significant development. Nowadays many, if not most, GCE and A-level syllabuses are divided up into modules, or units, of work. The candidate is tested on each module once it has been completed. 125WH Headteachers worry about the impact this has on teaching and learning and extra-curricular activities. Most feel that the introduction of the AS examination has reduced the sixth form to a treadmill that allows no time for anything other than preparation for the next wretched assessment. Many worry that a student who is unhappy with the grade he has achieved in a particular module can take the assessment again in the hope of achieving a better mark. Mr. Timms needs to tell us whether he thinks this new facility has made public examinations more or less intellectually challenging".
The Department told me last Thursday that Mr. Timms, the Minister for School Standards, would reply to this debate, but as he cannot be with us, I hope that the Minister for Young People and Learning, who is here in his stead, will answer my question. I am sure that young people are delighted that he represents them. [Interruption.] Indeed, do they know that he does? Can he tell us whether the introduction of modularity is an advance in creating an intellectual challenge?
My constituent is being discriminated against for the simple reason that he took a course and completed an HND before the introduction of modularity. In his case that has a particular effect, as he is 55 now—he was 54 when he began teaching. As a result of his HND not being valued as it should be and as a more recent HND would be, it will take him three to four years, rather than the 12 to 18 months that it would otherwise take him, to gain an honours degree equivalent and then the additional qualified teacher status—which would take him only two or three months, because of his extra experience. Mr. Read will be 58 or 59 by the time he achieves qualified teacher status. In the interim, not only will he be paid less than a fully qualified teacher—although I imagine that his greater experience allows him to impart more to physics students than some younger teachers can—but his job will not be secure because his "instructor" status means that he does not have a permanent contract.
The statutory instrument that deals with the matter is the Education (Teachers' Qualifications and Health Standards) (England) Regulations 1999. Paragraph 3 is aboutInstructors with special qualifications or experience".I should have thought that being trusted by the nation to design electronic components and control systems for Trident nuclear submarines qualified Mr. Read under that heading. The paragraph says:This paragraph shall apply in the case of an unqualified teacher appointed, or proposed to be appointed, to give instruction in any art or skill or in any subject or group of subjects…the teaching of which requires special qualifications or experience if, at the time of his appointment…the local education authority…are satisfied as to his qualifications or, as the case may be, experience; and…no suitable qualified teacher, graduate teacher or registered teacher is available for appointment…Such a teacher may be employed at a school to give such instruction as aforesaid, subject to paragraph (3), for such period as no suitable qualified teacher, graduate teacher or registered teacher is available for appointment or to give the instruction.The effect of that is that the school is not empowered to give him a permanent full-time contract as a teacher, and was recently obliged to advertise his post. Mr. Read had to apply for his own job, despite being trusted by the school and the head teacher and providing a valuable service to the students. Five people applied for the job in addition to Mr. Read, one of whom was interviewed. Mr. Read was also interviewed and, I am pleased to say, was successful in being awarded his own job.
126WH Hon. Members may find that laughable, and it is rather extraordinary. The Government have a stated commitment to encourage more people to go into the teaching profession. Indeed, when one opens the broadsheet newspapers or goes to the cinema one cannot fail to see their advertisements, which show glowing pictures of people saying how much they owe to their teachers, and ask whether those in the audience have ever thought of going into teaching. In the light of all that, we should consider the ludicrous situation in which Mr. Read and others find themselves.
Mr. Read's head teacher at the Hewett school, Mr. Christopher Wade, says that there is much hype about the graduate teacher programme, through which a graduate without a teaching qualification can train on the job. He says, however, that in fact it is hype about nothing, because it is virtually impossible to obtain the required funding, unless it is for English or maths, and also in an education action zone. There are only 235 fully funded places across the country. He goes on to say:You can do it if the school funds it itself '—and that his school is doing that with two of its teachers—But if there were teachers out there we wouldn't be doing it. We are not primarily a training establishment.None the less, many schools have been turned into training establishments, paying out of their own budgets to train the teachers they need.
As a result of securing this debate and talking to colleagues about it, I became aware that the problem was not confined to my constituency. A colleague mentioned a case to me—I have not had an opportunity to speak to the individual involved, so I will not identify him. The case concerned a 49-year-old retired police officer who wanted to be a teacher, preferably in a junior school.
The local education authority concerned sent a letter to all parents asking for help from people wishing to enter the profession. The man duly contacted them in the hope that he would be able to join the registered training scheme for those who do not have a degree but have attained a good educational standard. He was informed that the RTS exists in name only—no school in the LEA concerned has taken on a teacher under the scheme because it is too expensive.
The Government have the system in place to solve the teaching shortage, at least in part, but they are unwilling to finance it. They must either pay up or shut up. As an aside, the individual concerned said:From what I've seen the possession of a degree doesn't necessarily make a good teacher—some experience of life would be more useful to those that have only gone from school to university and then back to school again.One cannot help thinking that a 49-year-old police officer would have a lot to contribute to a classroom, especially as the first requirement in any classroom is the maintenance of discipline, without which there is no possibility of learning.
Another hon. Member mentioned to me another constituent, to whom I have spoken. This lady does not wish to be identified in case it should hinder her future prospects of employment. She is a qualified teacher with 17 years of classroom experience. It is my understanding, based on what she said at Education 127WH Question Time, that the Secretary of State, too, had 17 years' teaching experience when she took her career break to go into politics.
The lady whom I have mentioned took a career break to have a family, then, in answer to the nation's call for more teachers, applied and was told that she had to have recent classroom experience. She pointed out that she was a fully qualified teacher with many years of experience but, as she says:I seem to be in an impossible situation. I am disqualified from even applying for the work that I would like to do, because my qualifications and experience are unacceptable, yet I cannot fulfil their requirements for registration without having worked.
There are many other examples. I shall quote that of Mr. Stuart Ballantyne, the head teacher of Diss high school, in my constituency. Diss high school is one of the best comprehensive schools in the country. It has been named twice by the chief inspector of schools in his annual report as one of the top 60 schools in the country. Mr. Ballantyne received an expression of interest from a police officer with years of experience and a master's degree in biology. I am pleased to say that that person is teaching at the school. However, he had to be given an enormous amount of reassurance by the headteacher because of the temporary nature of the contract under which Mr. Ballantyne was forced to employ him.
Mr. Ballantyne nearly lost the services of this individual on a number of occasions because he was so fed up with the runaround that he was getting from the Teacher Training Agency. According to Mr. Ballantyne, the forms that he has to fill in for teachers seeking qualified status are 26 pages long, and even after he has gone to the trouble of completing them, officials from the Teacher Training Agency telephone him and ask for information that has already been provided. He says that the service is neither impressive nor slick, and is not what one would expect.
Mr. Wade, at the Hewett school in Norwich, told me that coping with teacher job applications more or less required the attention of a full-time senior member of staff—someone who should, of course, be preparing and teaching classes. Mr. Ballantyne told me about a female modern languages graduate who had been working at a school in a clerical capacity for seven years. She had thought for some time about becoming a teacher because of her gift with modern languages and her degree. With the school's encouragement, she applied for the requisite programme, but the Teacher Training Agency turned her down flat, with no adequate explanation, despite the fact that the school had come to know her well over several years and wanted to take her on.
The Government talk about autonomy and about trusting schools and professionals. Paragraph 1.6 of the White Paper "Schools—achieving success" lists the secondary education reforms that the Government are dedicated to achieving. They include:Giving successful schools the freedom they need to excel and innovate.Paragraph 5.17 makes a similar point:Where schools are successful, well-led and have a record of school improvement, we want to free them from those conditions and regulatory requirements which they tell us stand in the way of yet higher standards and further innovation.
128WH The Secretary of State makes the point again in a pamphlet published by the Social Market Foundation called "Professionalism and Trust—the future of teachers and teaching". When I first came across the Social Market Foundation, it was run by a friend of mine, who was a good Conservative, but things have moved on, and it now publishes pamphlets by Labour Cabinet Ministers. In the foreword, the Secretary of State says that the pamphletsignals a new era of trust in our professionals on the part of Government.She goes on to say:Recruitment and most especially retention remain a real concern.
I was prompted to take an interest in this issue partly by a front-page article in The Guardian on 28 August 2001, which appeared under the headline "Teacher shortage worst ever". I then read the chief inspector's report when it was published on 5 February 2002, and it alluded to serious problems in the recruitment and retention of teachers. The single biggest problem is not recruitment but retention. Many people want to go into teaching.
I have read the recent study published by the Centre for Education and Employment Research, and I am grateful to the National Union of Teachers for supplying it. This study, entitled, "Teachers Leaving", whose authors are Smithers and Robinson, says that teachers go into the profession overwhelmingly because of the prospect of "intrinsic satisfactions". It states:The most important reason, accounting for about a third of all responses, was 'working with children/young people'. This was particularly the case for primary teachers who gave this as a reason. About half the secondary teachers did so. Some teachers expanded the point as 'the pleasure of seeing children learn', 'wanting to do something useful', or 'wanting to make a difference'.
In other words, people enter the profession with a strong sense of vocation. Love of the subject—the desire to convey knowledge and the excitement and pleasure of teaching the subject to young people—came second.
Yet people do not stay. The study noted:About 12 per cent. of those admitted to PGCE courses, or reaching the final year of BEd courses, do not successfully complete. But this pales beside an inexplicable post-training wastage of over 30 per cent. Of every 100 final year students, 40 do not make it to the classroom. With the initial teacher training budget currently standing at £245 million this represents an annual loss of £100 million.I have spoken to the National Audit Office about that shockingly huge figure. Like me, my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) is a member of the Public Accounts Committee, and I am sure that he will be as interested as I am in understanding how the Government can spend so much money on training teachers who do not stay in the profession.
That raises the question of why teachers are not staying in the profession once they have entered it. The Smithers and Robinson study identifies that among secondary teachers the most frequently given reasons for leaving were work load, 57.8 per cent., pupil behaviour, 45.1 per cent. and Government initiatives, 37.2 per cent. It is interesting that salary is not mentioned in the first three. It is included in the survey—it is fourth, with 24 per cent.—but it is clear that money 129WH is not the main motivating issue. Issues such as work load, pupil behaviour and Government initiatives are far more important.
I am again grateful to the NUT, which supplied with me a copy of a study by the Warwick institute of education, which quotes a teacher who said:I have the right to work without being abused—in industry it wouldn't be accepted, yet day after day it's now just 'part of the job'".
I was recently sent a poster by the Norfolk Mental Healthcare NHS trust. It is running a campaign called "NHS zero tolerance", saying:Staff working in the NHS do so to care for others. They do not go to work to be victims of violence or threatening behaviour.Where are the Government schemes for the education system, highlighting the fact that teachers go to work to teach, not to be the victims of violent or threatening behaviour?
§ Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)
My hon. Friend may be interested to know that when I tried to ascertain the figures for teachers who have been assaulted either inside or outside the classroom, I was told that those figures are not collected. What does he think about that?
§ Mr. Bacon
It shocks me. It seems to me that there is no possibility of doing something about a problem unless one measures its scale. On the other hand, if I were speaking for the Government, which fortunately I am not, I would probably say that the numbers are so scary that it is best not to collect them, because they might frighten the horses, and even fewer people would be encouraged to go into the teaching.
The recruitment and retention of teachers is a serious problem, and I have identified pupil behaviour as the single biggest problem. The current state of discipline in schools is a direct result of the policy, which the Government promoted for several years, of having targets for exclusions. It meant that fewer difficult children were excluded from schools, and as a result discipline problems increased. I am pleased to say that the Government have recognised that that policy was flawed and have reversed it. Until they take the question of discipline in schools seriously and make it clear to teachers that they are backing them, rather than pupils who are violent or disruptive, there is no serious hope of improvement. That is a sine qua non for an improved situation.
Secondly, the amount of bureaucracy, paperwork and Government initiatives must be reduced. The Government say that such paperwork is necessary. At a recent Education Question Time, I think I heard the Secretary of State say that less paper was not the answer. That shocked me, and I have also heard my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) quote a similar line from her in a recent speech. I am sure that my ears were not deceiving me. If the Government do not believe that the answer must include reducing the amount of paper and trusting teachers more, they have a long way to go before they have any chance of restoring the education system. If there were ever a time to be creative in appointing teachers, it is now. From what I have seen, and according to the teachers to whom I have talked, the Government do not seem to take that problem seriously enough.
130WH There is one further issue that I feel that I must mention: spending. Yesterday I was flicking through last Friday's Hansard, and more or less by chance came across a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills about whether she wouldlist the (a) title, (b) subject and (c) associated funding of each (i) project, (ii) scheme, (iii) initiative and (iv) policy announced by the Department for Education and Employment since 1997".The Minister for Young People and Learning, who is here today, took it upon himself to answer the question for the Secretary of State. His answer was:Information is not held in the format requested"—that will not surprise my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)—and generating it would incur disproportionate cost."—[Official Report, 10 April 2002; Vol. 383, c. 160W.]It did not seem to me to be that odd to ask about the costs of each project, scheme, initiative and policy run by the Government. Without an accurate record of what is being spent and what it is being spent on, it does not seem very likely that education can be successfully managed.
I have been flicking through the appropriations accounts for the Department for 1999–2000, the most recent figures available, and some of the detail will assist my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford a little, although perhaps not quite as much as he would like. On page 8, under the headings "Class 1, Vote 1" and "Central government's own expenditure", an item is given as:Ensuring that all young people reach 16 with the skills, attitudes and personal qualities that will give them a secure foundation for lifelong learning, work and citizenship in a rapidly changing world".The cost of that is given as £83.625 million. However, from the second column, one can see that the Government actually spent only £64.336 million on it.
On the next page, the item of expenditure given involves:Developing in everyone a commitment to lifelong learning, so as to enhance their lives, improve their employability in a changing labour market and create the skills that our economy and employers need".That was to have cost £340 million, but the Government spent only £312.967 million. And so it goes on. Mr. Syms, my hon. Friend the Member for Poole, asked about the total underspend in the Department for Education and Skills. Those figures might be one reason why the total underspend in education spending overall, both capital and current, for the most recent available year, 2000–01, was £1,454 billion.
There is degenerating discipline in schools and pupil behaviour is cited as one of the single most important reasons for teachers leaving the profession, because of the Government's flawed policy on exclusions. The Government continue to bombard teachers with paperwork, despite huge evidence that they want to be left to get on with the job and be trusted to do so—one only has to go round one's constituency and talk to teachers, as I have, to find that out. Experienced people coming in from the outside—such as people who have designed electronic control systems for nuclear submarines or who have worked for 20 years as police officers, dealing with more dangerous behaviour than 131WH one would ever hope to find in a classroom—are stymied at every turn before they are allowed to get on with the business.
§ Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)
I apologise for not intervening on the hon. Gentleman earlier when he was talking about Mr. Read and the Hewett school in Norfolk, but as he has returned to that subject again in winding up his speech, will he say what the Conservative party's policy is for solving the problem that he has rightly identified? It is a very real problem, but what is the solution? Is it to allow anyone to join the teaching profession simply because they have good skills and abilities? Would that qualify David Beckham, for example, to become a PE teacher?
§ Mr. Bacon
I certainly hope that someone who is probably one of the most valuable footballers in the world would be qualified to be a PE teacher—subject to his foot being healed, for which we are all, of course, praying. I would have thought that any school where he were a PE teacher, in either the maintained or the independent sector, would have substantially higher applications as a result.
To answer the hon. Gentleman's more serious and general point, plainly one does not want to take simply anyone off the street—but the danger is that we have almost been in that position. Another facet of the issue is that so many higher education institutions are now keen to get Government funding that they are offering education degrees in the hope of attracting students who might not have made it on to any other degree course.
In a recent conversation that I had with a head teacher in my constituency, I asked where he was getting his teacher applications from. He said that he was lucky if he got a decent number to select from, and that when candidates come through the door, he, like other heads in a similar position, is more or less obliged to insist on watching them teach a lesson. That is because it is no longer possible to establish on the basis of the recommendation and reference that comes from the institution attended—in many cases, an institution of which one has not heard—that someone has undertaken a reputable teacher training programme and can be relied on, either as a teaching practice candidate or as a full-time employee.
The situation has got much worse. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) is right to say that it requires much thought. Taking people from industry and other backgrounds, such as the police service, is not the only answer. However, that is almost certainly part of the answer. People with much experience of life have a lot to impart. My personal view is that people should not seek to become teachers, even if they have a vocation for it, until they are in their late 20s. I worked as a teacher for seven months, which I did not do until I was 29. I worked in East Berlin, teaching East German factory workers just after the Berlin wall came down. I am sure that I was better at doing that in my late 20s than I would have been at 21, just out of university.
Part of the answer is finding people from other backgrounds, but we should also ensure that people who have a vocation for teaching and obtain a teacher 132WH training qualification actually then choose to go into teaching, because they see it as an attractive profession rather than one from which they are scared off because they are likely to be attacked, abused or have low professional status.
Teaching is one of the most important professions in this country. It should be one of the first careers that bright graduates from the best universities should consider. That is not the case at the moment. The Government's present policies mean that it is not likely to be the case, either, and it is about time they woke up to the seriousness of the situation and started to do something about it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook)
Order. It might be helpful if I offer hon. Members two small pieces of advice. First, it is a common convention in the House to refer to fellow Members by their constituency rather than by their first or family name, unless a Member is occupying a Chair. Secondly, we shall commence the three winding-up speeches 30 minutes before the end of the debate, so we have 28 minutes left for speeches from the Floor. I ask hon. Members to bear that in mind both when making their own contributions and when seeking to intervene.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)
The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) made several valid points. However, he party-politicised his arguments too much, which took away some of their force. It is ridiculous to argue that the problem of classroom discipline can be resolved simply by recognising its scale. We know that there are problems of classroom discipline, and they need to be dealt with institution by institution, not by some longitudinal study of this country. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman made several important points, which I hope that the Minister will take on board.
There are problems in teacher training and recruitment, and I would like to illustrate how they relate to inner-city areas such as my own, which is sometimes described as a challenging area, in which it is difficult to teach. It would not be adequate for us to recruit people with no aptitude for the vocation of teaching, however skilled they may be in other areas. That is not a good basis for the imparting of education to young people. I grew up in a generation when, because of shortages, many people had come into teaching, particularly in specialist subjects, with no formal teaching qualification whatever. They may have been excellent physicists, engineers or whatever, but they were useless as teachers. We need to say that loudly and clearly. We want teachers who are competent, as well as those with the requisite skills.
Schools in my area have queried the nature of the current training process. I ask my hon. Friends to take on board the fact that there is still a strong feeling that teachers coming out of the training process are not properly trained to go into the classroom environment. It is a common observation that the present training process leaves them without practical preparation to take on the role even of probationary teacher. They do 133WH not have proper experience of the classroom environment, particularly in inner-city areas where there are difficulties with classroom discipline and behaviour.
I have been told that those people do not have an adequate background in the Government's strategies—for example, they do not have proper knowledge of the literacy and numeracy strategies. In some subjects that are sometimes thought of as the ephemera of education, but are not—such as gymnastics, PE and dance—new teachers have sometimes not had proper access to how those subjects fit in in schools. If such problems arise for those with BEd degrees, they arise even more for those who take the PGCE route because the length of their training is so much shorter. Newly qualified teachers face problems when they come into the classroom.
Everyone agrees that intensive mentoring is necessary for newly qualified teachers, but that is resource-intensive. Mentoring requires the resources of other trained and skilled staff. Probationary teachers already incur resource costs because they normally have non-contact time of half a day a week, so schools must consider carefully the prospect of employing newly qualified teachers.
However, most of the teachers and school managers to whom I have spoken say that newly qualified teachers have many advantages, particularly in inner-city areas. A newly qualified teacher who is properly mentored becomes a better teacher in such schools than teachers who come in from different kinds of schools with different expertise, and receive mentoring at a later stage of their career. The point that is made consistently is that mentoring must be provided by people with experience of a difficult school environment. There is no point in mentoring being "academic", or based on different experience. It must be relevant to inner-city schools.
My next point concerns newly qualified teachers who do not continue to teach, but disappear from schools after a couple of years. Retention of staff is a problem in inner-city areas and perhaps elsewhere. Teachers who find job satisfaction in inner-city schools can also find job satisfaction in schools in leafy lanes. The head teacher of a very good inner-city school told me that a quarter of the staff in her school were planning to leave and were looking for something more compatible with their lifestyle in the suburbs.
There is an overall problem of teacher shortage in inner cities. Jobs in such areas are more challenging, and the behaviour in schools there makes them much more difficult, so it is more difficult to recruit and retain teachers. Such schools are generally grateful for initiatives such as the school achievement awards, which are a signal to all those working there that their efforts are improving the quality of education.
Education is improving in inner cities. Opposition Members have failed to accept the fact that there was no golden era under Conservative Governments. The quality of education in inner-city areas has risen significantly because of some of the Government's policies. The school achievement awards are welcomed because they recognise the contribution of different people to the raising of standards. However, we should also consider retention allowances or city allowances for 134WH schools in hard-pressed areas. There used to be a social priority allowance, which allowed schools in social priority areas to retain teachers by providing incentives for them to stay on.
§ Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)
One point that the hon. Gentleman has made is wrong: not only inner-city schools but rural schools have a retention problem. My constituency, which is deeply rural, also has problems with teacher retention. They are not comparable with those of the inner city, but they are none the less real. When the hon. Gentleman refers to his constituency, he should bear in mind the fact that retaining teachers in rural areas, too, is a serious problem, although of a different nature.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am not saying that there are no retention problems elsewhere. We would be very stupid to pit teacher shortages in one area against those in another. We must recognise where the problems exist. As an inner-city MP, I have a responsibility to the schools and young people that I represent to point out the retention problems that relate to certain well defined features—but that is not to deny that problems exist elsewhere.
The hon. Member for South Norfolk referred to a group of people whom we should encourage back into education—those who have experience of different walks of life. They should feel that they have something to offer, and enter teacher training.
I hope that the Minister will also consider another problem that crops up among my constituents: the benefits system deems people to have taken student loans. For somebody with a family, and a partner who is already working, loans have an impact on how they can use the benefit system. I know of families whose whole finances are derailed because it is deemed that they have access to, or take advantage of, the student loan system. We should not pile on extra disadvantages by adding a financial disincentive for those who want to re-enter the world of work and contribute to teaching where their experience will be relevant. I hope that the Minister will take on board those issues, both in the city of Manchester and elsewhere.
§ Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) on securing the debate. We serve together on the Public Accounts Committee and see many examples of Government waste. Later, I shall move on to the waste in the Department for Education and Skills budget and the way in which the Department tries to recruit and retain teachers.
My hon. Friend began with the example of his constituent—the man who worked on the electronic control systems for Trident nuclear submarines—who was trusted with our nation's defences, but not with teaching our nation's children. That is a powerful, if anecdotal, illustration of the problems that many public servants find on re-entering public service. I know of a nurse who had a similar experience. She worked for several years and then took time off to have a family. When she tried to rejoin the nursing profession in my county, which is short of nurses, she found that she would be forced to requalify and go through a year's training.
135WH As my hon. Friend said, that experience suggests at least one explanation for the chronic shortage of teachers and nurses; another is the despair felt by many in the teaching profession. Politicians talk about teacher morale, but when one visits schools in one's constituency, one finds a sense of despair. National Union of Teachers press releases and comments from the Conservative Opposition do not create that. Teachers are deluged by red tape, Whitehall directives and Government initiatives, which are substitutes for substantive Government policy. Within minutes of walking through any school's door, one is told about the latest Government initiative, piece of red tape or forms that teachers are required to fill out. The performance-related pay scam is a classic example: anyone who jumped all the hurdles and filled out the paperwork got the pay. Head teachers spent days completing various Government forms. The only performance being measured was whether they could fill all the forms in, which is, I suppose, what teachers need to do these days.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) touched on the problems with classroom discipline. They have not emerged in the past couple of years, but are of long standing. It is definitely the case that teachers feel that they are being second-guessed and that their authority is being undermined. The problem has been made worse by unnecessary exclusion targets, which have encouraged certain behaviour in schools. I recollect a recent newspaper story about a head teacher who expelled two children for drug dealing. The local authority put them back in the school. We all know how a classroom works and how children can sense whether teachers have authority. I imagine that there is a serious discipline problem in that school, to which pupils were returned after being expelled.
Public servants in all public services are alternately bullied then praised by Ministers, including the Prime Minister. The crisis in teacher morale is unprecedented, and the problems of education are spelled out in the extraordinary book by Chris Woodhead, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk and which I have had the pleasure of reading.
To the Department for Education and Skills and, perhaps, some teachers, Chris Woodhead is now public enemy No. 1, but one should not forget that a few years ago, in 1997, he was a great hero of the incoming Labour Government. They reappointed him, he sat next to the Prime Minister and he was held up by new Labour as a totem of how serious it was about improving school standards. Now he has come back to bite the Government with his extraordinary book, which is subtitled, "The Book Every Parent Should Read". Certainly, every Minister in the Department for Education and Skills should read it. Perhaps the Minister will tell us his thoughts.
The current state of affairs developed under a Government who said that "education, education, education" was their priority. I know that the Government's priorities change every year—it was transport, now it is health—but they began by saying that education was the priority. The Minister will tell us that more money is going into education to recruit more teachers and refer to the various targets that the Government have set, but I expect that the Department 136WH will not do as well as some others in tomorrow's Budget, partly because of its extraordinary underspend, although we must wait and see. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk touched on that point towards the end of his remarks, and I hope that the Minister discusses it.
Yesterday, Andrew Dilnot of the Institute for Fiscal Studies treated Conservative Members to an excellent presentation on the Budget. Labour Members have the same opportunity today, I believe. According to Andrew Dilnot, the total Government underspend in 2000–01 was £6.2 billion. As my hon. Friend said, that is the last year for which we have figures. In other words, the Government did not spend £6.2 billion that was allocated to them. The Department for Education and Skills underspend was £1.4 billion, which is a quarter of the total and the largest sum for any Department.
Labour Members cheered when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced all the extra money in the Budget a couple of years ago, but they did not realise that the Department was not going to spend it. I believe that the underspend amounts to about 7.6 per cent. of the departmental budget. That is what Andrew Dilnot said, and he is generally right about such matters. According to "The IFS Green Budget 2002":Underspends in these areas of education, transport and health will make it more difficult for the government to succeed in delivering significant improvements in these services".One reason suggested by the IFS for the underspend—a reason that certainly makes sense to me—is that the Government are finding it almost impossible to recruit the teachers for whom money is available. It is not the money that is lacking; it is Government education policy.
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud)
Given the earlier remarks from the Chair, I shall obviously take careful note of the time. The debate has enabled a useful airing of issues and I congratulate the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) on the first part of his important speech. It introduced many issues and failure to address them would represent a lost opportunity.
I must comment on the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's speech and on that of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne). I taught for 10 years and then spent 10 years in teacher training, facing year after year of cuts in teaching staff and resources, so I do not enjoy being lectured about the problems involved with having more money to spend. Was morale better then? I visit my schools regularly, and I do not think so. The morale of the teaching force is affected by many issues, some of which have been mentioned, and the fact that my area is at or near full employment—people can easily move in and out of the teaching profession—makes a dramatic difference to recruitment and retention.
I entered teaching on the basis that I would be a 40-year time-server. I hope that that is not a derogatory term. For many who entered teaching with me, that was the nature of the job. One entered it as a vocation; it was for life. That is not the case any more, and we must reflect on that when considering how to recruit and retain staff. We must take account of the fact that people move in and out of teaching much more frequently.
137WH I take little notice of the bouquets being thrown to the former Office for Standards in Education chief inspector. Some Labour Members were more than unhappy when he was reappointed and tried to persuade our colleagues that the sooner he went the better. He was not an outstanding success in the classroom. There is a view that one should appoint those who have seen the other side of a job, because their insight will inform their decision making, but, with the benefit of hindsight, I do not think that his tenure was the great period that some, let alone he like to pretend it was.
I want to touch on issues unearthed by the debate, which we need to examine in more detail. Changes in our society have, understandably, affected teaching as they have affected all other aspects of life. The most important is that the majority of people now enter teaching as mature students. The balance between younger and older entrants changed in the 1980s and it has continued to shift dramatically towards mature people for some time. We must recognise that people enter with experience—that is a good thing, as previous speakers have acknowledged—and consider carefully how to help those people to enter the profession and how to retain them.
I am pleased that we have considered retention, because we must recognise that we have to make the job worth while. People must be rewarded and, whether we like performance-related pay or not, more money is going into teachers' pay packets. However, we must also make the job one in which people see a career path. We are recruiting many more teacher assistants, and a jolly good thing too. I hope that some of them become the teachers of tomorrow.
We must ensure that assistants can make the transition from entering the classroom to do one job to using their skills to advance to another, if people realise that they would make good teachers. That will involve a period outside the classroom, and I am sure that we can think about that carefully. I denounce the derogatory comments about people who are now entering classrooms. They are not a "mums' army" or people who are taken in off the streets. They are dedicated people who can bring an awful lot to the job that they do now, and to the jobs that they may go on to do.
I want to discuss recruitment and how to deal with a diversified intake. I am pleased to see the Minister in his place because, among other things, he has responsibility for the 14-to-19 curriculum. Although we are bringing the age of vocationism forward, we should realise that not everybody wants to pursue a purely academic curriculum. That obviously backwashes into who should be recruited into teaching. As someone involved in teacher training and who specialised in business education, I know that some teachers were very undervalued, perhaps because they had worked in an office or as typists. They took all their experience into teaching, but were never paid appropriately for the job that they did.
As we start to allow different ways to enter teaching, and other jobs, we should ensure that everyone is properly rewarded. We do not want to dilute standards, but we should consider the structures to ensure that such people have access points. My experience is that some of the best entrants to secondary education came through the old two-year BA course, which was sometimes still referred to as a two-year BEd course. They came with a 138WH rich diversity of experience, and they had the necessary teaching qualifications. It may have been hard for them to make the transition, but they brought richness to the classroom. We must encourage that and build on it.
The fact that teaching is an ageing profession brings its own pressures. Some classrooms are heavily skewed and the retirement of a number of staff at the same time may cause difficulties, so we should always try to achieve a balance of ages. I have always warned of the dangers of early retirement—not that I begrudge it, as friends and, indeed, relatives have taken early retirement. Nevertheless, the ongoing cost has an impact and we must grapple with that problem at some stage, just as we are trying to grapple with the problems of the police pension scheme.
On the next issue—maths and English requirements—I do not say that we should wash them away, but some who wish to teach have not acquired either English or maths. I know that equivalence is involved, but I ask the Government to look at that question again—not to get rid of it, but to consider whether it bars some people who would otherwise make good teachers. We must consider other ways of letting them enter the profession and ensuring that English and maths skills are brought up to an appropriate level.
Subject relevance is important, and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) made it clear that those who come with the best academic records are not necessarily the best teachers. Although people can choose from a diversity of degrees, they may have to narrow their subject and even specialise. That will not make them any worse as teachers. They must prove capable in their subjects, but for heaven's sake let us realise that the world has moved on. The quality of teaching is paramount, but that does not mean that we should dilute the subject content for secondary school teachers. For primary schools, first and foremost is the ability to teach, and subject knowledge comes second. That may be slightly different for secondary schools.
We have something to be proud of in our schools. The Government have raised teacher numbers—not quickly enough perhaps, although that is partly due to economic success in other areas—but there is no substitute for quality and we must continue to build it in, especially in training. There is a bias towards on-the-job training. Although I do not deny that that is the sensible way forward, good teaching is not only about doing the job.
That is recognised not only in teacher training, but in the ongoing training that takes teachers out of the classroom and allows them to build their subject knowledge and other skills, which in turn enable them to handle some of the difficult issues that have been alluded to. As one who did the job for a long time, I do not deny that such problems exist, but I do not think that they have got worse. They sometimes appear to have done so, however, and they must be grappled with, which means that the Government must get it right and members of the teaching profession must support each other.
§ Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)
This has been an interesting debate, and I hope that when the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) spoke about time-serving, he was not referring to my 34 years in the profession. I can assure him that people get less for murder.
139WH The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) spoke, as ever, with enormous common sense. The problems that face us in our classrooms did not arrive overnight and it will take a lot of time to address and work through them. He mentioned an aspect of Government policy towards teacher recruitment and retention that causes me great sadness—we are failing to get our inspirational teachers to the areas where they are most needed. None of the parties has a solution to that problem, but we must find one if children are not to be denied access.
The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) should buy another book besides Chris Woodhead's diatribe against his former employers and the world in general. I have no doubt that he could found his own organisation if he wanted to. If the hon. Gentleman talked sensibly to the teachers in schools in his constituency, he would find out that Chris Woodhead, with his regime, did more to undermine morale, turn teachers from our schools and send them packing than any other individual in the history of education—except John Patten.
The introduction to the debate provided by the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon), particularly on people without regular qualifications gaining access to the teaching profession, is an important contribution. He deserves credit for raising it on behalf of not only his constituents, but a significant number of other Members' constituents. However, he spoilt his speech by attacking the trainee teachers emerging from our training establishments.
My experience in meeting newly qualified teachers all over the country is that they are the most dedicated, highly qualified and motivated group of entrants that I have ever seen. In the 1980s, and during the 20 years that I was a head, I would have died for the opportunity to recruit some of the people who are entering the profession now. There are not as many as we would like—I accept that point—but please do not denigrate our training establishments and training schools, because superb work is being done.
Like most Conservative Members, those present suffer from selective memory syndrome and fail to recognise that all those problems existed, but none was tackled, in the 18 years under the Tories. The greatest disservice that the Tory Administration did to education was having no policy for teacher recruitment and retention. Their main policy was to put the economy in recession, which they did very successfully between 1991 and 1994. That was the only period in which the number of people applying for teacher placements increased significantly, which is rather sad.
The previous Administration's second policy, which the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) introduced in 1996, was to stop early retirements. The hon. Member for Stroud might not have got his—he looks far too young for that scheme—but I was eligible in 1996–97. If I had not been downgraded and come to the House of Commons, I would probably have taken advantage of the scheme before the right hon. Lady could stop me.
Every year from 1979 to 1997, when the Conservatives left office, with the exception of the three years from 1991 to 1994, the training targets were 140WH missed. In key subjects such as mathematics, even in the years after the recession in the early 1990s, the number of people entering teaching fell by 33.4 per cent. I am grateful that the hon. Member for South Norfolk now reads some of the National Union of Teachers' excellent literature.
Those problems were disguised in that period, during which there was a massive increase in the number of students, particularly in secondary schools. Numbers rose from 7.5 million to 7.9 million in one year before the Conservatives left office, and teacher shortages were disguised by a massive increase in class sizes. We should not return to that situation, and I compliment the Government on recognising the problem and at least trying to make progress.
§ Mr. Willis
I prefer not to, as I want to use my remaining time to complete my remarks.
We knew about the problem, because in 1996 Sir Malcolm Thornton, the Chairman of the Education Committee, wrote a good report on teacher shortages and retention. The Minister for Lifelong Learning, as the Chairman of the Select Committee in 1997 when new Labour came to power, published a back-to-back report on the subject. Both reports pointed to the fact that we needed solutions desperately. Sadly, Labour's record in office is absolutely lamentable in that respect.
The Minister will no doubt say that the number of teachers has risen dramatically during that period in office—to 457,890 in January 2001—and that it will rise again this year. He would be right to do so, but I hope that, as he is a very honest young man, which is appropriate for his brief, he will admit that the number of full-time teachers has barely changed. In secondary schools, the number of teachers has risen by little more than 2,000 during Labour's time in office, despite an increase in pupil numbers of more than 190,000. To accommodate that number of students in secondary schools, using the Government's ratio of 1:17, requires another 11,188 teachers. That statistic shows the discrepancy between what has been achieved and what is needed.
The Government are fiddling around the edges. The idea that one can simply introduce classroom assistants to supervise classes and the belief that that is a recognised policy for dealing with the situation are ludicrous. The hon. Member for Stroud is right to say that classroom assistants do an invaluable job—indeed, I compliment the Minister and his Government on targeting an extra 20,000 places in our schools—but they are not substitute teachers. Recently completed research from Europe, the Social Market Foundation and the Institute for Public Policy Research states that most classroom assistants do not want to be teachers. They do not want to face full classes of youngsters, so we should knock that idea on its head.
The Government have given us a plethora of silly little initiatives, such as fast track. An enormous amount of money—£4.3 million—was invested in that project in its first year, but it recruited only 111 people to training. Eleven of those have gone and of the 100 who remain, at a cost of £43,000 per entrant, at least 10 are not going 141WH into teaching at all. Some are taking up jobs in the private sector. Before the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) intervenes, I should say that they are entitled to do so, but fast track has been a huge flop. Recruiting a person costs £17.68 through the graduate teacher registry scheme, but £43,000 through the Government's fast-track scheme. That is nonsense, but it happens over and over again.
Work load, initiative overload and Government directives are central to teacher retention. Unless the Government carry out research to find out how many teachers are required over the next 10 years, we shall continue to fail. We have constantly asked them to conclude the curriculum and staffing survey, but they refused to do so in 2000 and have refused to do so since. We asked Baroness Ashton in another place why that is, and she told us that there are not enough bureaucrats. I rest my case.
§ Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)
I begin by congratulating not my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon), but the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), who kept perfectly to time. That is probably a first, and we are all grateful to him. I should also congratulate my hon. Friend on securing an excellent and important debate, during which we have heard good and useful contributions.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) spoke about the problems of the inner cities, and we fully accept his point. To start on a note of harmony, my party must get to grips with those problems and have a convincing policy to tackle them. Indeed, all parties must recognise them.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) spoke about Tory cuts, but if he is fair, he will accept that there were no education cuts under Conservative Governments. In the same way, I am prepared to accept that more money has been available under the current Government. However, my hon. Friends the Members for South Norfolk and for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) alluded to the genuine problem of failure to spend the education budget, which is largely due to the failure to recruit.
One issue that has not been dealt with, perhaps because of time pressure, is the consequence for other countries of the Government's panic response to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. The attempt to fill teacher vacancies from countries such as South Africa, New Zealand and Jamaica has been referred to as plundering the world's schools.
The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said that, in his experience, the newly qualified teachers appearing in our schools today are the most dedicated entrants to teaching he has ever seen. That begs the question, what is going wrong when a cohort of dedicated, committed and predominantly young people going into schools translates to record numbers leaving the profession for a variety of reasons?
My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk sought the debate not least to air his concerns about his constituent, Mr. Christopher Read. Mr. Read is obviously an impressive man with a strong CV, and we should be delighted that he wants go into teaching, as I am sure the Minister will confirm.
142WH My hon. Friend threw down an important challenge to the Department in terms of dealing with this problem. Mr. Read is not alone, and the hon. Member for Stroud referred to examples that we all come across—people who want to teach history or drama, but who are precluded from doing so by the lack of a maths O-level or GCSE. He asked the Minister to consider the way forward, and I concur that the Government have an important challenge to meet. People with an enormous amount to contribute in our schools cannot do so.
If we try to get an impression of the scale of the problems in our schools, we find that the number of teachers without qualified teacher status has grown steadily. A response to a written question that I tabled last October confirms that the number of teachers who do not have such status has risen from 2,940 in 1997 to 5,620 this year, although the Department was unable to say how that figure is constituted. Nor could it say how many people are on the graduate teacher programme, how many are on the registered teacher programme, how many are licensed teachers or how many trained overseas. If it does not know how that body of people in our schools is constituted, it is difficult to see how it will find solutions to the problems identified this morning.
We have a serious crisis. There is an exodus of teachers from the profession as well as a flight of qualified teachers from our schools and from normal, contracted, permanent full-time status to supply teaching. Some supply teachers provide an excellent standard of education but some, of course, do not. There is an accelerating trend of teachers teaching outside their subject, and a vast number of qualified teachers are choosing not to teach. Last year's figures for supply teachers in one local education authority area, Luton, show that more than 20 per cent. of full-time teachers were supply teachers. As Ofsted reported this year:Nevertheless, the percentage of unsatisfactory or poor lessons taught by temporary supply teachers is significantly higher than the figure for qualified teachers with more than one year's teaching experience. The figure is twice as high for primary schools and four times as high for secondary schools.So, real problems result from the situation that the Government have allowed to develop. I am sure that we all accept, intuitively, that that is also a problem for children, who all too often encounter a succession of different teachers, one day after another, or one week after another, and are unable to develop a relationship with their own class teacher.
There is a crisis in teacher recruitment. The Ofsted report says:There are real problems in recruiting teachers and in retaining them, and these problems have got worse over the past two years.Recruitment and retention of primary school staff isno longer just an inner city issue, but is beginning to affect schools in all regions and all kinds of locations…More teachers are being asked to teach outside their specialism.We see the number of vacancies rising, as well as the number of teachers who are not teaching.
I return to the question of why teachers leave. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton referred to disciplinary problems. A recent National Union of Teachers report found that 45.1 per cent. of teachers leaving the profession cited pupil behaviour as the reason—a worrying statistic that underlines the 143WH problem of discipline in the classroom. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) referred to the Department's failure to get a grip on what is happening in schools. That is underlined by the response—perhaps failure to respond is more accurate—to a written question that I recently put to the Minister for School Standards, asking how many teachers in maintained schools have been victims of serious assaults by pupils or parents in the past five years. The Minister replied:My Department does not collect this information"—[Official Report, 10 April 2002; Vol. 383, c. 195W.]For the Department not to know how many assaults have been carried out, when 45 per cent. of teachers leaving the profession cite classroom behaviour as the reason, is a matter of huge concern.
Of course, many teachers leave through ordinary retirement or early retirement on health or other grounds. The number of those taking early retirement has fallen dramatically as the natural result of the changes to the early retirement rules, but the number leaving for other reasons has risen steadily in each of the past four years from 18,000 to 23, 000 to 24,000 to more than 26,000 in the last year for which I have figures.
The Government face huge challenges if they are to tackle those problems in our schools. They must stem the exodus of teachers from the profession and tackle the disciplinary problems in our classrooms. They must back up the supposed conversion on the road to Damascus that Ministers experienced when they recently reviewed the failed policy to reduce exclusions.
The Government must get to grips with the problem of the huge non-teaching work load—the weight of bureaucracy and paperwork—being piled on teachers. They are storing up new problems for themselves in the need, which they recognise, to train more teachers in vocational specialisms and for more language teachers. They know that they have those problems to deal with but, according to recent replies that I have received from Ministers, have no idea how to tackle them.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis)
There is a consensus on both sides of the House that the quality and number of teachers is central to any common objective of achieving the highest possible standards of education in this country. This debate is central to that objective, and we must pay tribute, as always in such debates, to the work of teachers at the chalk face throughout the country who are making a real difference to our young people's life chances and opportunities. It is important to start from that perspective.
There have been several interesting contributions. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) on securing the debate. He raised important issues, and in particular the case of his constituent. We can understand that gentleman's frustration and feeling that the situation is not working as it should. On the other hand, I thought that the hon. Gentleman's contribution was completely spoiled by his politicisation of the debate, and by an almost complete 144WH absence of memory concerning the history of why we have got to this stage with teacher recruitment and retention.
It is interesting that the Conservative party always scoffs at the title "Minister for Young People"; I can assure Conservative Members that young people do not do so. They see it as an important representation of the fact that the Government are determined to re-engage with young people in a whole variety of policy areas. Those of us who care about the future of democracy should welcome that re-engagement between politicians, or the political process, and young people.
In the context of the debate, it is right to achieve an appropriate balance between a minimum threshold framework and the need to recruit the maximum number of teachers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) said, this must be about quality as well as quantity. It is not good enough simply to rush to recruit as many teachers as possible and sacrifice quality in the process. The analogy that the hon. Member for South Norfolk made was interesting. He suggested that because a retired police officer sought to become a teacher, he would inevitably be good at maintaining classroom discipline. I was going to use the David Beckham example as an analogy—although as a Manchester City fan, that would have made life difficult for me—but I have found a better one. It is a bit like saying that the underperformance of boys would be corrected if we had Britney Spears or Kylie Minogue teaching in our classrooms.
Some of our former political colleagues, whom we can all remember, have CVs that show that they were extremely distinguished—but would we want them to teach our children, just because they had a distinguished record in public life? No, we would not. That is not a reflection on the gentleman on whose behalf the hon. Member for South Norfolk raised the issue. I can see, not only from his CV but because he is already actively filling the role of a teaching instructor—a role in which he is valued and to which he has been reappointed—that he is making a contribution to the education system, and I pay tribute to that. However, there must be parameters—a framework in which to determine quality.
The hon. Member for South Norfolk said that schools were increasingly becoming training institutions. I must say to him that all good schools are constantly training, and that we want them to train not only new teachers but experienced teachers, classroom assistants and learning mentors, too, to ensure that our young people have access to the best possible quality education. I would also say to the hon. Gentleman—he did not refer to this in his contribution—that his own local education authority received more than £0.5 million from the recruitment and retention fund in 2001–02 and is due to receive more than £1 million over the next twelve months.
§ Mr. Lewis
Much as I would like to give way to the hon. Gentleman, I do not have the time. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) raised several important issues concerning inner cities, such as low aspirations, the lack of opportunities for young 145WH people in those communities, and the behaviour and discipline problems with which teachers have to deal. He talked about the special nature of teaching in the inner cities, and the special challenges there. I am sure that he would agree that the additional support through education action zones, excellence in cities, and the influx of learning mentors—all warmly welcomed—is making a significant difference to the quality of education in those inner-city schools. We have done a lot, but I acknowledge that there is a tremendous amount left to do.
The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) paid great tribute to the former chief inspector of schools. Even if one thinks, as I do, that that person was a necessary evil rather than simply evil, as some hon. Members think, one cannot say that he did much for teacher morale. I have never met a teacher who has had anything positive to say about the rhetoric that he used about education and teaching—and it was not always the policies introduced or the work of Ofsted itself that they criticised. The general flavour of the chief inspector's comments about the state of the teaching profession in this country did a tremendous amount to undermine teaching morale, even if he was a necessary evil.
§ Mr. Lewis
No, I am sorry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud raised several important points. He welcomed the Government's commitment to restructure the teaching profession. While ensuring that there are more adults, such as classroom assistants, learning mentors, Connexions personal advisers and teachers, in the classroom, in the interests of young people we must also ensure that the balance of contribution is right from each of those professionals—and, indeed, that they are all professionals. My hon. Friend raised some important points about our determination to raise the status and esteem of vocational education. No Government have been able to crack that nut in the past, and it is an important challenge that we must face up to on a consensual basis.
146WH I did not agree with all of what the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) said, particularly the bit about the Government. However, I did agree with him on one point, which is linked with what the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) said. The reason for the current difficulties is, to a large extent, the fact that there has been no long-term planning in our education system for personnel and staffing needs. Since we came to power we have introduced a whole range of powers to tackle that problem. One may disagree with the measures, but from day one we have acknowledged the need to encourage more people to get into the teaching profession, and to do something about teaching retention.
In a whole range of public service areas, the crime of the party that was in government before was that there was no long-term planning, no investment, and no strategic approach whatever. It is not just in teaching that there is a serious shortage of skills or workers. There are shortages across the public services, because this country has not planned on a long-term basis, and during those years we did not invest in public services.
All the evidence suggests that we must address serious issues: for example, behaviour and discipline in secondary schools. That is one of the reasons why the Government have prioritised tackling the performance of secondary schools in this term of office, and in direct relation to that, discipline and behaviour matters, such as learning support units, pupil referral units and Connexions personal advisers. The idea that discipline and behaviour is a problem in our schools because of the Government's policy on exclusion is nonsense. It is due to complex social, community and family problems that have scarred children's performance for years.
During the 18 years of Tory Government there was a greater division in our society than ever before and social problems increased, which is one reason for some of the behaviour and discipline problems in schools today. We are determined to support teachers because we are not prepared to accept unacceptable behaviour, and we believe that parents should have greater responsibility in supporting teachers in that context. However, we are not prepared to take the blame for the fact that young people who grew up during the Thatcher years are now behaving badly.