Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Estelle Morris: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That was the poster to which the hon. Member for Ashford

19 Mar 2002 : Column 187

referred. I had not intended to mention the poster, but as we have had the NUT magazine brandished about because it has a picture of the hon. Gentleman on the centre pages—I must remember not to open my copy—[Interruption.] He has not made page 3 yet; he is on the centre pages. The interesting thing about the poster is that it was not sent just from me. It was sent with the support of every teacher union and both head teacher unions. It was an honest attempt by Government and teacher representatives together to find the real answer to teacher work load, recruitment and retention.

There is a challenge facing us. Teachers are working harder than they have ever worked before. More is being asked of them than ever before. More is being demanded, more is expected, and more is being achieved. When people choose to work in a job as important as teaching, that is what they sign up to. What they do day in, day out makes a difference. We have a choice. We can take away some of the aspects that have caused a burden and led to increased standards, such as the literacy hour, the numeracy hour, the excellence in cities programmes and key stage 3—all of which featured in those pieces of paper that we sent out in the past year—or we can look at the tasks that teachers have historically done and should not be doing.

The PWC report is absolutely in the public domain, and I would be surprised if anyone participating in the debate has not read it. It found—this is the key point in the poster—that 20 per cent. of the tasks that teachers are doing could be done by somebody else. That includes everything from filling in forms that they do not have to fill in, to dinner duty, bus duty, collecting dinner money, washing the paint pots and beyond.

I shall be dead straight about the issue. We must take some decisions about teacher work load, but I will not take away the literacy hour, the numeracy hour, key stage 3, performance management or the excellence in cities programmes, because it is those that have made the difference. I applaud the teacher representatives for coming together with the Government, acknowledging the issues, and working with us to try to take away the tasks that could be better done by other people. That resulted in a poster. Okay, I made myself the subject of a cheap joke by the Opposition spokesman. So be it. But we are engaged in a broader and more serious debate about modernising and reforming the profession so that it can hang on to what it should be doing and free up teacher time to do that better. I am delighted that the poster was well received in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Willis: In her spirit of honesty, will the Secretary of State accept that in the region of 289,000 teachers are qualified but not in our classrooms, 70,000 of whom have been in our classrooms during the past five years who are aged under 50 and who would be a ready source of recruitment for our schools, yet she does not know where they are and is making no attempt to attract them back? What will she do to ensure that that huge multi-million pound resource is not simply lost to the teaching profession but recruited directly to our schools?

Estelle Morris: Some of them are in the Chamber at this moment. However, I want standards to continue to rise, so I shall keep the two of us out of the classroom.

19 Mar 2002 : Column 188

The hon. Gentleman has made that point before, and I am happy to consider it. We have spent a lot of money and expended much effort on teacher recruitment and retention and I would not wilfully turn my back on anything that could help us. One of his better jokes in the Chamber was to brandish a letter that he had received from the Department inviting him to go back into teaching because he was down as someone who had recently left. That was a better joke than that of the hon. Member for Ashford. I think that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) would generously admit that that showed that we were doing what we could where we had the data to write to former teachers. However, if he knows of ways in which we could do more, I should be happy to consider them.

I want to concentrate on the matter for a few minutes because the statistics are important. Every time I open the paper—sometimes I do not have to open it because it is on the front page—there is another figure that almost bemuses one about teachers, whether in or out of the profession. There is an issue about retention, and I am not avoiding that. I want to come on to why teachers leave. Some leave because the profession is tougher than when they joined a number of years ago, and we must acknowledge that. But consider what happens at the moment.

Of those who start teacher training, 17 per cent. do not finish, and the drop-out rate for graduates as a whole is about the same. Teacher training is tougher because it is tied to a professional qualification; the training is more demanding. If someone does not want to teach, it is almost no good finishing the course because a teaching certificate is not a generic qualification. Therefore, 17 per cent. of those who are recruited never finish, and some of those do not want to and are not good enough. That is fine because I do not want them. If they are not good enough and they fail, keep them out. The job would be too tough if they did not want to do it. I do not say this lightly, but I do not overworry if they or the universities make such a decision.

Of those who qualify, 80 per cent. are still there four years later, and 95 per cent. of those who gain qualified teacher status will, at some point in their working life, teach. They might not have done so in the first four years. They might have gone abroad. Strangely enough, they might have taught in the independent sector and so not appear in our statistics.

I say no more than this. For a profession still to have 80 per cent. of those who qualify in the profession four years later, for 95 per cent. to use that teaching qualification at some point during their working life, and for 13,000 of those who leave each year to come back is not a bad record and probably stands well against any other profession, but there is more to be done.

There is a real issue about retention and recruitment, but although it might serve Opposition policies, it serves not one child, parent, head teacher, teacher or governor for the issue to be blown up beyond the challenge that we already face. I am not, for a minute, saying that the hon. Member for Ashford did that, but the only statistic that we heard from the Opposition was the old one—I do not know whether it was 60 per cent. or 80 per cent., as it changes from time to time—relating to not teaching. The only solution that we heard was, "Don't send out as much

19 Mar 2002 : Column 189

paperwork." The solutions cost more than that. Better policies and better worked-out ways of moving forward are needed. When we considered the matter, we came up with bursaries, golden hellos, training salaries, wiping off student loans, and keeping people in teaching by offering them professional support. Those policies have resulted in more people coming into teaching than at any time this decade.

Several hon. Members rose

Estelle Morris: I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) and then to the hon. Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs).

Tony Cunningham (Workington): Many quotes from head teachers have been bandied around this afternoon. Let me tell the House about a head teacher in a school in my constituency, who said to me that the quality of year 7 pupils coming from primary school to secondary school is higher now than he has ever known it to be. Is that not a direct result of this Government's policies in recent years, and particularly of the introduction of literacy and numeracy hours?

Estelle Morris: The story that my hon. Friend tells is exactly the one that I hear from head teachers and parents almost everywhere I go. He will know that that was not the story one year into the strategy. When I visited primary schools then, things were fairly tough. The schools did not want us to be so prescriptive, and they wanted to continue to do what they had done year after year, which had led to four out of five children not reaching the required standard. I applaud the profession for having accepted the strategy and for having been courageous enough, when it saw that it worked, to admit that it was wrong and that the strategy has done well. There are hardly any head teachers in this country who are not pleased that this strategy was introduced. We must remember that, had the Tories been in power during those years, there would have been no literacy strategy and no numeracy strategy. That is the central prescription that I defend. Those initiatives were introduced to ensure that those who might not otherwise have considered best practice had to do so, and they learned in due course from evidence that it works.

Mr. Damian Green rose

Estelle Morris: As I promised, I shall give way to the hon. Member for East Antrim, and then I shall make progress.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): As a former teacher, vice-principal, and currently chairman of a board of governors, it is my experience that young teachers coming through now are better qualified and even more committed than in the past. Does the Secretary of State feel that policies pursued by governing bodies could further assist in the retention of young women teachers who want to maintain teaching experience in the classroom and have an opportunity to spend more time raising young families?

Next Section

IndexHome Page