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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): Our aspirations for language learning and teaching were set out in the pamphlet "Language Learning", published last month. One of those aspirations is to widen the opportunities for language learning in the primary sector. The pamphlet invited views from key stakeholders. Those views will inform our national strategy which we plan to publish in the autumn.
Mr. Lewis: I am not sure to which wing of the Conservative party the hon. Gentleman belongs in relation to Europe. Clearly, there would be automatic consensus on both sides of the House that the most important language that young people should learn in this country is English. The issue is then to ensure that the maximum number of pupils have the choice to studyand have access toas many foreign languages as possible. That is why the Government's proposals to give primary school pupils, for the first time, a proper chance to have access to modern foreign languages are such an important development.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Does my hon. Friend agree that a large number of people welcome the Government's fresh thinking on foreign language teaching? Both the Green Paper and the "Language Learning" document refer to the innovation of teaching foreign languages at primary level. Will he take on board the fact that we must get right the methodology of teaching languages? During the past 30 to 50 years, we have seen a deterioration in language education in British schools. Surely we should look at some of the best practice worldwide. The Select Committee on Education and Skills recently visited the United States. Some of the
Mr. Lewis: That is absolutely right; there certainly should be more emphasis on spoken languages in primary schools. We have to ask ourselves some fundamental questions: for example, last year, why were about 36,000 pupils disapplied at 14 from modern foreign languages as part of the national curriculum? If we are not motivating and encouraging young people to take modern foreign languages, we are clearly getting something wrong; so it is right that we learn lessons from international experience in countries where modern foreign languages are popular with young people so that we can improve our teaching methodology in order to motivate and enthuse them about the importance of learning modern foreign languages, which are essential in a global economy.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): We are all grateful to the Minister for confirming that the Government's policy on language teaching has descended into utter confusion. Why is it important, according to the recent Green Paper, that languages should be taught in primary schools and to adult learners, while it is also apparently Government policy that language in secondary schools should be optional, like the teaching of Darwinian evolution? What resources will the Government provide for the teaching of languages in primary schools? What is their strategy for providing the extra 18,000 language teachers who will be needed if there is to be one in each of our primary schools? Is not the Government's strategy on language teaching just another example of what Lord Hattersley derided on Monday as the declaratory arm of Government in action?
Mr. Lewis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that constructive contribution to the debate. The issue is straightforward: most of those who believe strongly that young people should have access to modern foreign languages have believed for many years that we need to start in the primary sector if we are to get it right. The Conservative Government did nothing to encourage that. We are ensuring that young people will continue to study a modern foreign language between the ages of 11 and 14 and will be entitled to continue with that beyond the age of 14, but we do not believe that it is right to force young people, against their will, to study foreign languages. That is constructive neither for their educational development nor for the teachers who are expected to teach them a subject in which they have no interest. [Interruption.]
Valerie Davey (Bristol, West): I acknowledge and share the Minister's enthusiasm for introducing modern foreign languages at primary level. Will he acknowledge that many young people enter school bilingual and that
Mr. Lewis: I entirely agree. It is sensible to build on the skills that young people have in the early years and to encourage them through primary education, so that by the time they reach 14 they are far more likely to be motivated to make a positive choice to continue studying modern foreign languages, rather than being compelled to do so.
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): My hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards met representatives of all the teacher associations on 18 February and last met the NASUWT on 5 March. Since 1997, we have so far spent more than £700 million to fund threshold payments, and we have made available a further £250 million in special grant over the next two years to help schools pay for the performance points that they decide to award.
Mr. Hoban: I thank the Secretary of State for that terribly complacent answer. Having dealt a further blow to morale in the teaching profession by refusing to fund performance-related pay fully, will she accept that the wreckers of the public services are not those who work in them but those who run themMinisters and the Government?
Estelle Morris: The hon. Gentleman is just a touch confused. Providing £700 million to fund threshold payments fully is not complacent. That £700 million to fund excellent teachers was not available under the Tory Government, and neither was the further £250 million to fund performance points.
In 1998, when we launched performance pay, we said categorically that we would fund fully on demand a £2,000 pay increase for every single teacher who met the threshold. We have done that fully and promptly, with money straight from Government to teachers' pay packets, and that has made a difference. We made it absolutely clear that we would make available a further four performance points for teachers above the threshold. Indeed, in 1998 we did not commit any money to that, but since then, we have committed a further £250 million. The hon. Gentleman describes that as complacent; I hesitate to say that there are many people in the public sector, let alone in the private sector, who would think it exceptionally generous.
Ian Lucas: I very much welcome the fact that the original threshold payments were demand-led and fully funded by the Government. Talking to head teachers in my constituency, there was an element of misunderstanding about the funding position on performance points. In a spirit
Estelle Morris: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Let us be clear about what we are asking head teachers to do. We are asking them to take decisions about which teachers should get performance points above the threshold for sustained good performance. Head teachers already make those sort of decisions every day of the week: they look at their resources and make decisions about how many management points they should give and whether they should use their resources to further reward a good head of maths or English. They have never before had the option of making decisions about staff who want to be good classroom teachers.
For the first time, head teachers have a pay structure which permits them to reward staff for good classroom teaching; I applaud and welcome that. Of course, it is a tough decision, but that is what leadership in our schools is about these days. I have every confidence that our heads can exercise the same judgment, professionalism and commitment in deciding which staff should earn those performance points that they exercise in their decisions about the rest of the allocation of resources. Because it is a difficult task, we are further helping them by putting an additional £250 million into the pay system. Managing change is never easy, but I have every confidence that head teachers are up to it; this is about transforming and modernising our public services.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I wonder how the Secretary of State can keep a straight face. Nowhere in the Green Paper "Teachers Meeting the Challenge of Change" is there any question of 50 per cent. of the people who have gone through the pay threshold being barred from getting an additional reward. People are going through the threshold having met all the performance criteria, only to be told by the Government that only half of them will be funded. People are going on to the management pay spine, only to be told that one in four of them can be funded. Surely the Secretary of State should be ashamed of that level of duplicity.
Estelle Morris: That was mock anger from the hon. Gentleman; I cannot believe that he has misunderstood the original announcements in the Green Paper so much. Let us be clear: nowhere did the Green Paper say that performance points above the threshold would be demand-led; it did not lay down a set of criteria, nor did it say that if those criteria were met, performance points above the threshold would be achieved. It clearly said that there would be a national set of criteria for threshold payments. To make sure that those criteria were implemented nationally, we established a system of assessors to ensure that public money was properly spent.
Every utterance that I have made in the past three years on the subject has always made it clearif the hon. Gentleman did not understand, teachers' representatives didthat performance points above the threshold were different from performance points at the threshold. The threshold is demand-led against nationally agreed criteria; the external assessor is a safeguard for making sure that public money is well spent. Points above the threshold
Jim Knight (South Dorset): In the past month, I have visited some dozen schools in my constituency, most of them primary schools. My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, in every case, their head teachers very much welcome the introduction of performance- related pay and the ability to pay up to the threshold. However, in Dorset standard spending assessment funding for education is very low: compared with neighbouring Hampshire, it is at least £100 per pupil less. Head teachers in Dorset struggle to find the extra funding for performance-related pay. What hope can she offer that they will have that extra funding, so that our fine teachers can be rewarded?
Estelle Morris: Quite simply, the money for threshold payments and performance points above the threshold is ring-fenced and cannot be used for any other purpose. It is additional to the base budget for head teachers in my hon. Friend's area, so he should be able to return to Dorset and reassure them of that.
Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): Everything that the Secretary of State has said in the past five minutes has amply confirmed the original charge of complacency made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban). When she and her Ministers discuss performance-related pay with the unions, will she reflect that she is the first Education Secretary since state education was introduced in 1870 to unite head teachers in threatening industrial action? In considering that and today's strike, which is closing schools across London, how much responsibility does she think that she bears for the anger felt by teachers towards this Government?
Estelle Morris: Teachers in London who go on strike today are entirely responsible for their own decisions. On pay in London, the salary of a teacher who started teaching in London when we came to power is now 63 per cent. higher than it was in 1997. The previous Conservative Government could not boast such a record. Let us be clear: the Conservatives opposed the threshold payments that, for the first time, pay a 10 per cent. increase to people after seven years in the profession. Shortly, it will be paid after just five years.
I am the first Education Secretary who can say that our pay structure rewards teachers for teaching well in the classroom. I do not describe as complacent a £700 million threshold and a further £250 million for performance points. It is a sign of this Government's absolute determination to reward teachers well, and to recognise those who teach well and who manage effectively.
Mr. Green: It is transparently obvious that very few teachers would agree that the Secretary of State is not being complacent. No Opposition Member would support strike action that damages children's education, but, unlike the right hon. Lady, I have some sympathy for teachers. They are being driven beyond endurance by the never-ending stream of interference from her Department
Estelle Morris: The hon. Gentleman's memory is selective. He moves from the strikes of the 1970s to today, thereby missing out the 1980s. In respect of educating our children, more days were probably lost in the 1980sunder a Tory Governmentthan at any previous time. He talks about complacency, but let me list a few things. We are rewarding advanced skills teachers who stay in the classroom, and establishing threshold payments of £2,000 and a pay structure that involves performance points. On training salaries, those who train as teachers receive £10,000. Through education legislation, I am establishing the power to pay off loans"golden hello" training salariesfor those who train to teach in our schools. None of those measures were in place before 1997, and every single one has been opposed by the Tories.
We offer more than words. We have shown by our actions and our investment that we value teachers. That is evidenced by this year's report of Her Majesty's chief inspectorate of the Office for Standards in Education. According to it, the quality of teaching in our schools is better than it has ever been in this nation's history. That has been achieved through excellent teachers and through a Government who, for the first time in a very long time, are committed to supporting them. We will continue to do so, but we will be tough on strike action, because it should not happen.