|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 627only to save his face. How much did this farce cost ? How much did the consultation procedure cost, and how much parliamentary time has been wasted debating something that could have been agreed without legislation ?
The Secretary of State, who is now back in his place, clearly will not be in office much longer. When he leaves office, I hope that he takes his Bill with him.
Dame Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden) : The most disappointing speeches I have heard this afternoon were those by the hon. Members for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope), both of whom have lived through the past few decades without moving one jot or tittle into the present time. It is a shame that ideology should govern the Opposition to such an extent.
It is a great tribute to the current Secretary of State, who made such an excellent speech opening this debate, that he demonstrated a lack of dogma and ideology. He was saying that, having looked at what has happened over the past years and having studied what is happening in schools today, he recognises that it is absolutely right to look at this most important feature of our education system--the training of our teachers.
I do not disagree with anything said this afternoon about the importance of having high-quality professional teachers in our classroom. Throughout my career, I have firmly believed that it was essential that those in our classrooms should be of the highest quality and the most professional. We witness that day in, day out, in many schools up and down the country. Many such people are working in our schools today.
I greatly enjoyed the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). What he said about the training of teachers and its historical background is absolutely correct. It had occurred to me that only in the past 50 years or so have we become absolutely obsessed with the need to train people before they take up what is essentially a vocation-- and sometimes, in the case of a profession such as teaching, a calling.
He was absolutely right to point out that some people will be excellent teachers. They have a calling, and go into teaching because it is the one thing they want to do above all else. When they get in front of a class, they make it plain to the children that they are there to teach them and impart their knowledge. They are excellent people.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who, when they are discussing the future with their careers masters and mistresses and thinking "What shall I do with my life ?", then say, "I think that I will be a teacher." When they get into the classroom, somewhere, somehow, they have to discover that they are not able to be teachers. The sooner they find that out, the better it is, not only for the children, but, most importantly, for them. They will find themselves in a profession which will be a misery and a burden if they are not able to convince the children that they are capable of controlling them and giving them the education they need. The lengthy process of reforming Britain's education system has taken a long time because it was in such a deplorable mess when the Conservative party took office in 1979. Too much ideology had overtaken the teacher
Column 628training colleges, the universities, the people in place in our schools, and the schools themselves. We needed to take a clear look at what we were trying to do.
Sadly, all too often, the people in the schools had forgotten what they were supposed to be doing. They had forgotten that they were supposed to be teaching single subjects, and that they were responsible for the good management of schools. They had forgotten exactly what they were there to do, which was to enthuse and to teach children so that they could go forth from school and into the world well trained, well educated and well disciplined. Sadly, none of those things was happening when we started seriously to think about how best to reform our education system.
Those reforms have taken a long time. They were bound to take a long time, because so much needed to be done. I welcome the day today when we have got to the point when we can consider reforming our training of teachers. We are about to introduce into the House of Commons a serious and important measure, which I most sincerely welcome.
I welcome the measure--not that I have any particular hang-ups about teacher training colleges. I emphasise that I have visited a considerable number of teacher training colleges and teacher training departments in universities, and, most importantly of all, an enormous number of schools. When I was in local government, for about nine months I looked at all the schools in the local authority where I was the chairman of the education committee.
I sat at the back of classes listening and watching how the children, in primary and secondary schools, were being taught. That is the one memory that has remained with me all the way through my career in this place. That experience gave me all kinds of insights into what was happening in our schools. It certainly gave me the impetus to believe that at some stage we should reform the training of teachers.
It is interesting that one can study 50 different primary schools, sitting at the back of classes watching what various teachers are doing. Groups of children of the same age in one small borough in Greater London varied from school to school. The quality of the teaching depended entirely on the gifts, intelligence and training of the people in front of those children.
The teachers who had mastery of their subject and who understood small children were much more successful in the primary schools than those teachers who were poorly trained, and in some cases self-taught, in some of the subjects that they were trying to impart to the children and who, moreover, had spent far too much time studying child development and not nearly enough time understanding what children needed in order to learn.
When one considered how children were being taught to read, one realised just what a muddle some of those poor creatures were in. I call them "poor creatures" because at that stage I really did think that it was pathetic that we had people in our classrooms who were so unable to teach children the simple basic subjects within our curriculum at primary school level.
One thing that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North said which really took my fancy concerned the old days--the good old days. Perhaps I am getting old as well. I willingly admit that, because I think that it is a good thing to look back to what happened in the old days, although I never recommend that we take anything more
Column 629than the lessons of history to apply to the future. I never want to go back in time. I always want to take those lessons and put them to good use for the future.
What my right hon. Friend said struck a chord with me. He said that, in those days, people had to have mastery of one subject or of one or two subjects. One of the most confusing things that happened in the early days of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was that we tried to teach people everything to teach in primary schools. That was a mistake.
We shall not reform our primary school education completely until we have tackled the conviction that young men and women can go into primary schools and teach the whole range of subjects, including maths, English, science, geography and history, equally well to children between the ages of five and 11. The truth of the matter is that they cannot.
Children in those classes will quickly discern those subjects that the teachers really enjoy teaching and really know, and they will pick up on those subjects and do well too. But woe betide the child who is a mathematician but finds that the person teaching maths cannot keep up with the speed at which that child is going, because that child will find it difficult to maximise his potential during that one crucial year when that individual is there in front of him. What I am saying to the House, and what I hope my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will hear, is that, during the course of the teacher training changes that he is introducing, he should look further than simply at class-based training for the postgraduate teacher, at the quality of the bachelor of education degree, the major qualification these days for our primary school teachers, to see whether something can be done to strengthen the subject and the basis on which people in primary schools teach our children so that it is not simply dictated by a year, by the age of the children or by one class being taken by one person all the way through all the subjects.
We need variety within our primary schools, and we need people who can take their interest, professionalism and grasp of their subject through into the classroom, even for five and six-year-olds. Those children are just as important as children aged 14, 15 and 16 who are entering their examination years. We tend in Britain not to take sufficient account of that.
I welcome the notion that we can have the assistance within our classes of people who are mature, who understand children and who have a genuine interest in trying to improve their knowledge, so that they might be able to impart that knowledge to the children in our classrooms. All those moves are much to be welcomed. I believe more than ever before that the notion of asking young people who are to become teachers to spend their time in the classroom is a principle which we in the House must firm up and follow.
I noticed when I was a Minister in the Department of Education and Science- -it is almost inevitable when new legislation is introduced--the tendency of those charged with putting reforms into position to enjoy the proliferation of administrative paperwork. I ask my right hon. Friend to beware, because many will say that an idea is splendid but it needs this, that or the other by way of following up the accreditation, making sure that we administer the measure correctly, that we validate this or test that. All those processes, good as they might be, need to be resisted.
There must be quality assurance, we must know and understand what is happening within classes, but we do not
Column 630need vast tomes of paper which people have to fill up in order to say whether they have done this, that or the other. I am convinced that systems can be devised which will be satisfactory in terms of quality and understanding what is happening in schools without burdening schools further with great wodges of pap
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) : The speech of the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) was particularly interesting, and certainly I agreed with a number of her remarks--for example, about the risk of increased bureaucracy and paperwork for schools. As the right hon. Lady well knows, that particularly concerns teachers in respect of much new legislation introduced by this Government. I agree also with the right hon. Lady that there is a growing need for primary teachers to spend more time specialising in particular subjects so that they can teach them with enthusiasm and excitement--but a problem follows from that in respect of the Bill. As the right hon. Lady hinted, if teacher training is all to be done in the classroom, where will teachers gain the subject expertise and enthusiasm that she says is so desperately needed ? That is one of the Bill's major flaws, and I shall return to it later.
The right hon. Lady said that parts of the speech of the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) took her fancy. Few parts of it took my fancy. I wondered how, in educational terms, the right hon. Gentleman would use the stick with the horse's head handle, and to whom--particularly in view of statements by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans)--the right hon. Gentleman was alluding in his frequent references to dead rabbits or to a dead rabbit. Remarkably, that brings me to the Secretary of State, whose illuminating speech began with a reference to two anniversaries. The first was 15 years of Conservative rule. The Secretary of State predicted the beginning of another 15 years of Tory rule. I will break the habit of a lifetime and bet the Secretary of State that he is wrong. If he is proved right, I am willing to do that which he promised in respect of other matters--to eat my hat, but garnished. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman is likely to have to eat his hat in respect of grant- maintained schools earlier than I will have to eat mine in respect of 15 more years of Tory rule.
It was a pity that the Secretary of State referred also to the 50th anniversary of the Butler legislation--the Education Act 1944--because he personally has been responsible for legislation that has, more than any other, torn up the partnership and co-operation that was the basis of the 1944 Act and which formed, until recent years, the basis of the education service.
The Secretary of State's speech highlighted a number of inconsistencies in his beliefs and statements. He spoke, for example, of the ending of what he called the ivory silo. Not many people would know his meaning. I happen to know, and I am also able to point out that the right hon. Gentleman got his own quotation wrong. I should hate anyone to believe that I have copies of all the Secretary of State's speeches to hand, but I do have the speech that he gave just before Christmas to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, when he said :
"In this new order, ivory towers' will be--indeed, already is--a misnomer. Quality, the ivory', will remain. But the isolated,
Column 631if imposing, ivory towers will be replaced by architecture of all shapes and sizes, from ivory silo to ivory cottage".
The Secretary of State was saying that we would see the birth of ivory silos ; yet only a few months later he is saying that they have come to an end. That is typical of so much of the Secretary of State's legislation. Having only just introduced it, he makes significant changes--and that leads to major instability.
It is worrying that the Secretary of State does not seem to understand his own legislative proposals, or even know the name of the new organisation that the Bill is intended to establish. One minute the right hon. Gentleman was telling the House about the formation of the Teacher Training Agency and the next about the establishment of the teacher training authority. In fact, he stressed to his hon. Friends the importance of that word "authority". Whether it be an authority or an agency, the right hon. Member for Brent, North described it as an empire.
In view of the Secretary of State's speech at the Conservative party conference, there can be no question but that the U-turn that he was compelled to make over student unions was one of the most humiliating ever, following the debacle over the mums' army. It appears that common sense has broken out at least in that part of the Bill. Sadly, that is not true of part I, which is unnecessary, unworkable and highly undesirable. I say to the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden that it will do nothing to repair the damage inflicted by the Government on teacher morale and the entire profession.
The changes in part II are the result of the listening done by the Secretary of State and others. I find it difficult to understand why the right hon. Gentleman is not willing to listen in respect of other parts of the Bill. The important question asked time and again is what part II will do to raise the quality of teacher training. We have been given no answer.
I believe that it is true to say that the Secretary of State has not been listening, because I do not know of one organisation that supports his proposals in respect of initial teacher training. I know of not one parent, governor, teacher, higher education college, university or teacher training organisation that supports any of the Bill's proposals.
I ought to declare an interest, in that I spent many years teaching and being involved in curriculum development within schools. I spent 10 years as a teacher trainer at Bristol university, and the many changes that occurred during that time brought about some of the improvements which the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden said were needed, and which are still needed.
Mr. Foster : The right hon. Member for Brent, North implied that people involved in teacher training do not return to schools to gain further experience at the chalk face. Perhaps the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) is not aware that under the existing Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education there is a requirement that all involved in teacher training have recent and relevant experience. The direct answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I had just that.
Column 632Given my experience and my discussions with the organisations that I mentioned, why do I oppose the Bill's proposals for teacher training ? I oppose the establishment of yet another quango. Opposition Members have already expressed their concerns about quangos and I am particularly worried about the appointment of yet another eight to 12 faceless men and women.
Mr. Foster : If the hon. Gentleman cares to look at the status and powers of those two other bodies, he will see that the new body will be taking on considerably greater powers. As the Secretary of State said, one of those bodies has a purely advisory role while the other merely provides information and advice to those wishing to join the profession. There is a huge difference between bodies of that kind and the quango being set up by the Secretary of State. It is worrying that the Bill does not even make it clear what qualifications the chairman of the new quango must have. It is not a specific requirement that he must have had direct experience of teacher training, merely experience of teaching.
I oppose the proposed legislation because I believe that it will create greater fragmentation and bureaucracy, the very thing that the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden is concerned about, and will lead to increased instability. We have heard about the various changes that have taken place in the Government's legislation in recent years, and we should not forget that it was only the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 that set up the Higher Education Funding Council, which is now to be dismembered as a result of the proposals in the Bill.
I oppose the proposed legislation because not a single reason has been given as to why it is so important in England when it does not appear to be necessary in Wales or Scotland. I cannot possibly support any new legislation which, at least on the face of it, is likely to establish a bureaucracy that will increase costs and therefore take money away from direct teacher training work at a time when, as we all admit, some improvements are needed. Perhaps most fundamentally, however, there is no evidence of any need for the changes.
As I have acknowledged in recent years, there have been a number of changes to teacher education. Perhaps the two most notable changes have been the growing partnership that has developed between individual teacher training institutions and the schools with which they liaise. Those partnerships are important. They are crucial to teacher training, they are already established and they are developing in a variety of interesting ways.
As has been mentioned, there has been a growth in the amount of time that trainee teachers spend in schools. Hon. Members who are anxious to see even more time spent in schools should reflect on why the probationary year has been abolished. It provided postgraduate teacher training as a two-year course, and the whole of one year plus a large proportion of the first year was work in schools. Have those changes led to any real cause for concern ? The answer is that they certainly have not, according to the Government's reports through OFSTED. Reference has been made to its report last year, "The New Teacher in School", which said that
"the teaching of new teachers was satisfactory in almost three quarters of cases."
Column 633One could ask, "What about the other quarter ? Let us be concerned about that." And I am indeed concerned. But the report went on to say that
"the proportion of very good lessons by new teachers was higher than that for teachers in general."
That indicates to me that there have been improvements in recent years, and that if we make rapid and unnecessary changes now the improvements may be put in jeopardy. I suggest that the lesson to be learnt is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Yet the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden--for reasons that I do not fully understand, in view of her comments--seems keen on making change for the sake of change.
There are many other reasons why we should oppose the proposed legislation. I am particularly concerned about the way that it will separate educational research from training for the profession, and teacher training from the rest of higher education. I particularly want to explore a specific concern --the amendment to clause 12 that was made in another place. Despite what the Secretary of State said, and while I accept what hon. Members on both Front Benches have said about the need to ensure that the wording is correct, I very much hope that this House will not overturn the principle behind that amendment.
The original proposal for totally school-based teacher training is, in my view, completely daft. It looks almost as though it is the Secretary of State's latest contribution to the "back to basics" debate, and if hon. Members reflect on the appropriate novel they will see that it is a return to the form of teacher training that Nicholas Nickleby received. It is daft because there is no evidence to suggest that it is a good idea. The Government thought that it might be a good idea, so they introduced a trial --the so-called "school-centred initial teacher training". As we have heard, some 200 students are currently involved and, although the Secretary of State did not say so, the figures suggest that that number is likely to rise to some 700 before long. That is a small number compared with the 60,000 students who are training through more traditional and conventional means.
Mr. Boswell : On a point of clarification, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that some two thirds of those undergoing teacher education in higher education institutions are doing bachelor of education courses, typically for four years, so the true comparison is with those doing postgraduate certificate of education courses, typically for a year, of which even those small figures would be a much higher proportion.
Mr. Foster : I am happy to accept what the Minister says. He is, of course, quite right and I am happy to make that comparison. I am sure that he would still agree, however, that 200 is a small proportion. The main point of my argument is not so much the proportion involved as the fact that it was set out as a trial and that, so far, no evaluation whatever has been conducted on that new approach. There is thus no evidence on which to base the proposals in the Bill. It seems odd to conduct trials and then, before one has had any results of any evaluation, to go full steam ahead and announce that the proposal is to be extended far more widely. There is no evidence of support from schools wishing to move in that direction. The Minister will immediately intervene and say that he can name schools in Essex and one or two other places that have indicated interest and become involved in
Column 634the pilot study, and of course that is right. However, there is no evidence whatever of any wider interest in that way forward. I am sure that the Minister will be aware of the survey carried out at the beginning of this year by the Standing Conference of Principals of Higher Education Colleges, which surveyed 1,500 primary head teachers. The vast majority said no to taking responsibility for student welfare, for the intellectual development of trainees, for improving students' subject knowledge, and for the selection of students. Only 1.7 per cent. of those head teachers wanted a major role in devising programmes or setting course objectives. One may ask why the head teachers said that. I thought that it was summed up very well by one head teacher, who said :
"Teachers are not trained to train students. They are trained to teach children and there is a vast difference in the skills and knowledge required."
The head teachers went on to express concerns about too many students spending too much time in their schools, causing problems in terms of space, disruption and even diminished standards of pupil behaviour.
The proposal in the Bill will establish a two-tier system of teacher training and, notwithstanding the intervention by the Secretary of State, there will continue to be uncertainty about the nature of qualifications. I suggest to the Secretary of State and his Ministers that, if they are really keen to make genuine improvements in the profession, they could best do that by accepting the proposal from all quarters for the establishment of a general teaching council.
I also ask Ministers to reflect on other aspects of the reports of their own inspectors--for instance, the importance of co-operation between schools and higher education institutions. HMI said in a recent report that the most successful training of articled teachers took place when course structures included
"a substantial period of out-of-school training early in the course and then offered carefully staged introductions to key professional skills and curriculum knowledge."
The report went on to say that training experience in and outside schools was
"designed to inform and build upon each other."
The problem is that the relevant part of the Bill is based on the false premise that we need more school-based teaching. What we need is much more school-focused teacher training ; otherwise, we shall end up training people not to join the profession, but simply to teach in a particular school.
As I have said, there is much to oppose in the Bill, and my hon. Friends and I will oppose it as vigorously as we can. If we cannot persuade the Government to scrap it, we shall present our own amendments with the aim of at least lessening some of its worst excesses. We certainly hope to introduce a "sunset" clause, making the quango that will be established subject to parliamentary reapproval every few years.
In case the Secretary of State and his colleagues will not listen to the arguments advanced by my party--sadly, I suspect that they will not--I refer them to what a former headmaster of Eton had to say in a recent article in The Independent :
"John Major's strongly expressed aim to restore the status of teachers is suppported by all. Teachers' morale is low, their pay lower than it should be. Both need raising, but John Patten's proposals to overhaul initial teacher education under a free-standing teacher training agency, as set out in part I of the
Column 635Education Bill now going through Parliament, will have the opposite effect. This new quango is as objectionable and unnecessary as it will prove impractical."
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) : I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly, especially as I had many years' experience of teaching before becoming a Member of Parliament. It was interesting to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). He and I have at least one thing in common, having both been science teachers. I believe that he taught chemistry
Mr. Thompson : In that case, we have two things in common : we were both science teachers and we were both teachers of physics. I began to have less in common with the hon. Gentleman, however, when he began to speak of bureaucracy, quangos and so forth. He referred to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold). I strongly supported what she said about the need to avoid too much bureaucracy and paperwork in any new reforms. Much to my surprise, the hon. Member for Bath seemed to be accusing the Government of introducing more bureaucracy and quangos in the Bill. Whatever else may be said in favour of the Bill or against it, my understanding is that it will reduce bureaucracy rather than increasing it.
In any event, it ill becomes a leading Liberal spokesman to talk of bureaucracy and quangos : I gather that his party's policy document "Excellence for All", published in 1992, proposed the creation of six or seven new quangos, pay review bodies and the like. Although we have much in common, I must disagree with the hon. Member for Bath on that point.
I am one of the hon. Members who have pressed for a reform of teacher training for a long time. Many hon. Members--probably on both sides of the House--feel that the subject should have been considered earlier, perhaps before some of the other reforms introduced by the Government. I am glad that we are finally debating a Bill that will deal with it, and congratulate the Government on presenting that Bill.
The hon. Member for Bath said that some improvements had been made in teacher training recently. I support the Bill, and believe that reform is needed urgently along the lines that it suggests. However, I agree with Opposition Members who have drawn attention to recent improvements. I cannot go all the way with them, but I think it unfair to imply that there have been no improvements in the past 10 years. That flies in the face of the facts. I may part company with Opposition Members, however, when I say that there is still much that is wrong and that measures are still needed to reform teacher training.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) made an entertaining speech. I always enjoy listening to my right hon. Friend. As always, with his experience of teaching and running schools, he brought common sense to bear on the subject. How right he was to speak of the importance of good classroom teaching. I am not a lawyer, and I do not intend to speak at length and in detail about the various clauses in the Bill, but I believe
Column 636that the Government are right to place more emphasis on training in the classroom. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North made that point very effectively.
The hon. Member for Bath--perhaps it was someone else, but if so, the hon. Gentleman will correct me--said that it was not always best to learn from other teachers. I do not agree. Of course teacher trainees must listen to university lecturers and others outside the school system and of course their education must be much more broadly based than the simple learning of practical skills in the classroom. I do not think, however, that the classroom is the wrong place for them to learn. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North spoke of a brilliant special needs teacher in his school, saying that it was possible to learn a fantastic amount just by observing him, talking to him and helping him with his class. I do not go along with those who play down the importance of learning in the classroom, with good classroom teachers.
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : Will the hon. Gentleman suggest what limits should be placed on the number of teachers who watch such brilliant, demonstrative people in the classroom at any one time and tell us how many teachers can take part in the lesson--learning and being taught at the same time ?
Mr. Thompson : I shall not yield to the temptation of answering that question, for two reasons. First, I made it plain that I did not wish to deal with the detail of the Bill, or the administrative implications, in my short speech. Secondly--I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me here--I am strongly against excessive interference by those of us who are outside schools in what is done by head teachers, departmental heads and individual teachers. [Interruption.] I am answering the hon. Gentleman. I suspect that he will support me when I resist the temptation to start laying down the law. My point was much simpler : a student teacher --indeed, a qualified, experienced teacher--can learn from colleagues in the classroom. The Government are right to place more emphasis on classroom -based teaching, but no doubt that point can be debated further.
Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley) : If the hon. Gentleman is a supporter of school-based teacher training, does he share with me a concern that we will not have good teachers if students gain experience at only one school during their teacher training ? Is it not true that most other training courses which are based in universities have the advantage of allowing students to do training at a minimum of two schools ? Would the hon. Gentleman care to reflect on the implications for teacher training of the number of placements that a student may get ?
Mr. Thompson : My speech will be prolonged if I respond at length to that question. I said a few moments ago that I am very much in favour of young people coming into the profession having broad experience--I used those very words. I will not say that a teacher should train in only one school. Never mind what the Bill says, I am talking about teacher training as I believe it should be. I am in favour of school-based training. Opposition Members are supporting my general remarks, so I shall continue down that path.
Mr. Enright rose
Mr. Thompson : I will make a little more progress with my speech and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. We have addressed this topic, but no doubt I will tempt the hon. Gentleman again in a moment and then he can make his point.
With regard to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, my wife and I are interesting cases in point. I was a graduate teacher who did no teacher training. You look horrified at that remark, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is true nevertheless. I do not advocate that people should not undertake teacher training but I make the point that as a graduate teacher, for one reason or another--as my right hon. Friend mentioned--I did not do teacher training. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will bear that fact in mind and therefore take with a pinch of salt anything I may say about teacher training.
My wife, on the other hand, was an excellent teacher who was teacher trained but not a graduate. That is why I remarked in an intervention earlier that, whatever new system we may bring in, there are many excellent teachers in our schools who are not graduates. I think that it is right to pay tribute to them and I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden in paying tribute to the many good teachers in our classrooms.
As a Member of Parliament, I receive many letters from teachers who say, "Why do the Government never praise good teachers ?" I then send them quotations from the Secretary of State, his predecessors and his colleagues on the Front Bench, all of whom have praised teachers at one time or another--perhaps not as much as some teachers may like, but they have done it. The media and the press--there may be someone in the Press Gallery, but I very much doubt it at this time of the evening
I turn to the main point in what was originally intended to be a brief speech. There is a tension in the debate about the Bill, which will come through in the Committee as well, concerning the need to rid education of trendy nostrums--the ivory tower syndrome to which we referred earlier. Some hon. Members may feel that that has gone, but my attention was drawn only a few moments ago to a letter that Mr. Tom Cornish wrote to the recent newsletter of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers--an organisation of which I was once a member, although it had a different name in those days. Mr. Cornish said : "on my PGCE course three years ago I quickly realised that the compulsory lectures delivered by uninspiring and politicised staff did not merit any note-taking at all. At the end of the course I copied sections out of ridiculous books for essays that I wrote with no conviction. All the useful training, reflection and sharing of experience took place within schools, and days at college were only valuable as a mental respite from the rigours of teaching practice." That is obviously an isolated case and I have said already that I do not want to attack teacher training institutions. I merely quote from the letter to ensure that people realise that a problem remains and that the Government are right to look at it. There is tension between those of us who say that there is a problem to be addressed in teacher training
Column 638and those who, quite rightly, believe that there is a need for teachers to have high standards of academic training and status. That is where our institutions of higher education--our universities--have a role to play. In the debate about clause 12 and related clauses, members of the Standing Committee will try to address the problem : how can we get away from the ivory tower syndrome ? Many young people whom I have taught have gone into teacher training and praised that training, but many others have come away from teacher training and said what a nonsense it was. Mr. Enright rose
Mr. Thompson : I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. Tension arises in addressing that problem--I think that the Government are correct to look at it--while recognising that teachers need to have high academic standards. By definition--I am sure that the Government accept that view--those standards can be met only through universities and colleges of higher education.
Mr. Enright : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am most intrigued by his reference to the ivory tower--or ivory silo, if it comes to that. What is an ivory tower in this context ? What makes it self- evident that someone is living in an ivory tower ? What are the nostrums that the hon. Gentleman talked about ? How are they self-evident ? What proof does he have that they are failing ?
Mr. Thompson : That sounds like the sort of intervention that my colleagues who will serve on the Standing Committee should address. I would be very unpopular with all hon. Members if I were to digress on the subject of ivory towers or ivory silos.
In an earlier intervention, I referred to the leading article in The Times today, which gave strong support to the main purposes of the Bill. It also referred to a concept that has the support of both sides of the House. For a long time, I have advocated the establishment of a professional teachers council. Opposition Members have referred to the General Teaching Council and spoken of their support for that concept. However, I have a problem with that idea. The Government, quite rightly, see some of the recent proposals for a general teachers council as a kind of talking shop--a son of Burnham. Those of us who experienced the old Burnham process would shy away from anything that remotely resembled the gathering called the Burnham committee. I would certainly run a mile from such a process, and that was my view long before I became a Member of Parliament.
The idea has been advanced for a professional teachers body, although not necessarily the General Teaching Council. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education is listening, because I am trying to make a distinction between what I am advocating and the General Teaching Council. I believe that there should be some sort of professional teachers body. It should not be a talking shop and not necessarily be any of the proposals that have been advanced recently, but we need a council to formulate and enforce a code of conduct, to advise teachers on their terms of employment and methods of classroom assessment and so on. In the same way that other professions have their professional bodies, I put on record my general support for some sort of professional body for teachers. Like my right