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Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): I shall gabble through my speech, as I hope that the next Labour Member called to speak will do the same and thereby give my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) a chance to contribute to the debate.
I wish to declare an interest--even though the Chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges does not seem to think that it is necessary to do so any longer. Two of my three daughters are primary school teachers, and of course I want them to enjoy the best possible conditions. My eldest daughter has been teaching for two years, and the other two both finished four-year courses at university this year, although one took a year out beforehand. One has been working on teacher training for all four years of her course and has never been able to receive any salary, while the other did a business degree sandwich course that involved a year out in industry, for which she was paid. Both have now taken their first jobs.
My youngest daughter has gone into a marketing job and, needless to say, her salary is 25 per cent. higher than that commanded by teachers. Teachers' pay must be looked at carefully. As the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said, women now go into all sorts of jobs. We cannot expect them any more to be a cheap supply of employees for jobs such as teaching.
However, I want to be positive about what I say. It is important that more men should be encouraged to go into teaching, especially in primary schools, where there are not enough men to act as male role models. We must remember that many children belong to families in which there is no man to help care for them. That makes the goal of recruiting more male teachers doubly important.
Another matter that deserves careful consideration is how we can get more mature people to go into teaching. It is great that we can send people off on teacher-training courses lasting four years, but I am worried that the Government are encouraging people to do direct degrees, with an extra golden handshake to do a fourth year of teacher training. I fear that that might be divisive--that people going into teaching will do so by the least costly route and take advantage of the bonus in the fourth year. However, there is the danger that people who have spent three years on direct degrees will decide not to go into teaching after the fourth year. The policy might therefore turn out to have a negative effect.
In the primary sector in particular, mature men and women should be able to enter teaching or come back to it by taking shortened courses that give them a suitable qualification. There are many teaching assistants in
Despite the massive shortage of teachers, many local education authorities are giving teachers temporary contracts. It will not encourage people who are looking for their first job to persevere if they know that, when they find it, conditions will not be ideal. Why, when there is such a shortage of teachers, do many schools give teachers temporary contracts when they start?
On the shortage of teachers in the inner cities and the expense of living there, the Government already give a much higher standard spending assessment for inner-city areas, particularly those with social problems and certainly in the centre of London. Yet that money is not translated into vastly increased salaries for the people who work in those areas. Teachers get a couple of thousand pounds extra for working in the middle of London, and that is frankly inadequate. We must tackle that problem.
We hear talk about getting all schools on to the internet, but people seem to have forgotten that information technology in schools can be used to teach children, particularly mathematics. Some wonderful computer programs are available that might make the limited number of teachers in those specialities more productive. They could supervise more, and IT technicians could help to ensure that the programs are working properly.
A constituent of mine told me that she loved her first teaching job but arrived home in tears a number of times because of the pressure of all the paperwork, and so on. Information overload is an extremely important factor.
Teachers tell me that they have one set of paperwork that they work to and another set that they keep in a drawer for when, in three or four years, Ofsted will come round. When a school is to be Ofsteded, for six months prior to that inspection--or for however long the notice period is--it changes whole way in which it teaches to get through the inspection. That seems bonkers. We must encourage schools to run themselves in the same way they always do when Ofsted inspectors are present.
Of course violence is not rife in schools. Dorset has peaceful schools. However, head teachers tell me that they lose a great deal of money if they properly exclude a pupil from school, because there is an incentive to keep children in school. If schools go over the Government target, they lose money that would have been paid as a bonus for keeping in school children who should perhaps have been excluded.
Finally, it is quite extraordinary that, while the Secretary of State has been trying to get more funds into schools and to bypass LEAs, the Liberal Democrats, who have controlled Dorset for the past seven years, are not passing the funds on to the schools. Dorset gets one of the lowest SSAs in the area and has the worst reputation of almost any LEA for not passing the money down. After all, we cannot pay teachers more money and put more resources into schools unless the money gets there.
This is an important debate about the future of teachers and the teaching profession. In the light of that, I was rather disappointed by the remarks of the shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), who said that standards in schools were falling. That is not the case. We should celebrate the work of teachers, because teachers are improving standards in schools, despite the many problems with recruitment. We should congratulate teachers on their work, often in difficult circumstances--for example, in meeting the needs of bright pupils and those with special needs and in implementing the Government's numeracy and literacy strategies. We depend on our teachers to make all those policies work.
We should recognise the outstanding work of our teachers. If we repeat that constantly in this place, we shall change the climate for recruitment to the teaching profession. We shall get away from one of the most awful statements--one that I am sure we have all heard: "I wouldn't recommend that you go into teaching." It is essential in debates such as this that we celebrate the work of our teachers.
It is also important that we should set out our vision of what should be happening in teaching. That is another reason why I found the hon. Lady's remarks disappointing. Yes, we should applaud the fact that pupils succeed in obtaining five GCSEs at A to C grades, but, every time the grades improve, we should not tell teachers that the exams must have been easier. That undermines teachers.
Furthermore, we should sing loudly the praises of those teachers who work day in and day out to ensure that kids from difficult backgrounds obtain even one or two GCSEs, or that, after hard work, grades go up from F to E. It is incumbent on all of us to celebrate the achievement of all pupils--whether in primary or secondary schools--at all levels and that we recognise the work put in by their teachers.
Similarly, some teachers do an amazing job dealing with behavioural problems. They work with young people in very difficult circumstances, reducing the number of exclusions and the rate of truancy. We need to ensure that we acknowledge that work, as well as recognising achievement at the top. By doing that, we shall also change the climate in which teachers work.
Teacher recruitment is a difficult issue. The Government realised that and implemented various initiatives to try to tackle it. Other initiatives and policies will help the teaching profession in the long run. I passionately believe that the new pay and performance structure for teachers will produce a better profession in the long term and will give teachers an improved career progression.
The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) seems to have moved slightly in his position on that point, as we all have. The crucial aspect of performance pay is that, for the first time, we reward teachers for being good teachers and do not tell them that, in order to get promoted, they have to take on
The reduction in class sizes will also make a real difference. Why are class sizes going down? Above all, it is because we are employing more teachers, but we are also employing more classroom assistants.
Poor behaviour has been mentioned. Yes, there are problems, but the Government have refused to turn their back on kids who are causing problems in schools. We will not just dump them; we will support them in learning support units in schools and in improved pupil referral units outside schools. I hope that Ministers will take on board the need to speak to those young people who are causing problems in schools about their experiences, to see what can be done to change the curriculum and the way that schools operate so as to help those youngsters to determine their future.
Finally, I fail to see how the Conservative policy advanced in some of the literature that is distributed--specifically, the idea of free schools, which will allow every school to set its own admissions policy, pay and conditions policy and discipline policy--will improve standards in school and raise teachers' morale. It is absolute nonsense. When teachers realise that the "set schools free" policy that the Conservatives are proposing will mean a return to selection and a smashing of the national pay and conditions for all teachers throughout the country, they will make a judgment on which policies they would prefer, especially when it comes to the next general election.