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Teachers' Pay

7. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if he will make a statement on the impact of pay rates on the scale of migration of teachers between further education and schools. [89213]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): The Department does not collect data on the number of further education teachers leaving to work in schools. However, one local government survey suggests that 1 per cent. of full-time recruits to secondary schools—about 210 staff from an FE complement of 46,000—are from the FE or higher education sectors. The additional #1.2 billion of investment in FE by 2005–06 will allow colleges to address recruitment, retention and reward issues.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: I would have expected many more teachers to leave further education and move into schools, as the starting salary for a schoolteacher is #3,000 higher than for a teacher in FE. The Association of Colleges says that teacher vacancies in FE are running at twice the level as in schools. When will we move towards parity between teachers in schools and in FE colleges?

Mr. Miliband: My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will know that the top of the FE scale is about #27,000 a year, whereas the top of the schoolteachers' main scale is #25,000 and the top of the schoolteachers' upper scale is #32,000. The pay systems for schools and FE are negotiated differently. In the end, pay comparability will depend, for schools, on the review body for schools and, for FE, on the negotiations between employers and teacher representatives. Those negotiations will restart on 13 January. The pay gap can be bridged by means of the money being put into FE as a result of decisions by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington): On the subject of the pay and conditions of FE lecturers, will the Minister

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clear up the confusion caused by remarks made by the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education in a debate on FE in Westminster Hall in respect of the starter home initiative for key workers? The Minister gave the impression that Government policy had changed and that FE lecturers were now on a par with schoolteachers with regard to that scheme, whereas, hitherto they had to wait in the queue behind nurses, schoolteachers and policemen to benefit from it.

Mr. Miliband: I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education would not have wanted to cause any confusion. I promise to write to the hon. Gentleman at the earliest possible juncture to set out the position very clearly.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Migration from sixth-form colleges to schools is encouraged by the fact that pupils in such colleges are about #1,000 worse off than their counterparts in sixth forms attached to schools. My 16 to 19-year-olds cannot choose to go to sixth-form colleges attached to schools, as their only option is a sixth-form college. Is it fair that my already deprived young people should be further deprived in that way? When will the Government level up the funding?

Mr. Miliband: The different arrangements that apply in different parts of the country reflect institutional history. However, every pupil in the country will benefit from the increased investment that is being put into the whole sector catering for 14 to 19-year-olds. The increased funding and higher quality will benefit all pupils, whether they are studying in school or college or following a work-based study course.

Literacy Strategy

8. Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if he will make a statement on the role of phonics in the teaching of reading in the Government's English key stage 2 literacy strategy. [89214]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): The literacy strategy has put phonics at the heart of literacy teaching and has brought about what Ofsted described in its recent report as a Xmarked shift" in teachers' attitudes to, and understanding of, phonics.

Mr. Gibb : That answer is very welcome, but Ofsted also reports that 41 per cent. of seven-year-olds fail to reach the expected standard in writing, and that 31 per cent. fail in reading. Does the Minister agree with Ryan Conor, the special adviser to the previous Secretary of State, that synthetic phonics is a more effective method for teaching reading than the approach adopted by the national literacy strategy? Although it is to be welcomed that 25,000 year 3 teachers are to be taught phonics, what further measures is he taking to ensure that the synthetic phonics method is more widely used throughout years 1 to 4 of primary education, as also recommended by Ofsted?

Mr. Stephen Twigg: I think that the hon. Gentleman means Conor Ryan, not Ryan Conor. The issue of

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phonics is central to the national literacy strategy and we take very seriously the remarks made by Ofsted. We believe that the model that we are using—the combination of synthetic and analytic phonics—is the correct one. Known as the Searchlights model, it is based on experience in this country and in other parts of the world, including the US. This week, I have written to all primary school head teachers and chairs of governors to reaffirm the importance of the national literacy strategy and the central importance of phonics in that strategy's success.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Does my hon. Friend share my anxiety that the early huge achievements delivered by the national literacy strategy in improving literacy standards in the number of children leaving primary schools in Slough—the figure has risen from 50 per cent. to nearly three quarters—has slowed down, and that there is a lack of refreshment and re-energising in improvements in literacy in our primary schools? What does he intend to do to re-energise the national literacy strategy in primary education?

Mr. Twigg: My hon. Friend is absolutely right—we must praise the progress that has been made. In 1997, only 63 per cent. of our 11-year-olds were achieving what we would expect in terms of literacy, and now the figure is 75 per cent. That is a major advance. However, for one in four of our 11-year-olds not to achieve what we would expect in their literacy standards is not acceptable. That is why I announced this week that there will be extra training and additional booster classes for young people. This year, for the first time, 1,000 Easter schools across the country will be aimed at giving year 6 pupils that final additional support in preparation for their year 6 tests.

I do not rest on my laurels and neither does the team. We believe that the advances that have been made are very important. We have an ambitious target of reaching 85 per cent. next year. We will work to achieve that and this strategy is central to our ability to do so.

Higher Education

12. Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what assessment he has made of the procedures for satisfying criteria for the grant of university titles to higher education institutions. [89218]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Charles Clarke): The criteria for degree-awarding powers and university title were last reviewed in 1998. Our plans on this matter will be set out in our strategy document to be published later this month; I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the document will address the issue. Indeed, I discussed it with a delegation from the Standing Conference of Principals yesterday, which included the chief executive of the Southampton institute.

Dr. Whitehead : I thank my right hon. Friend for that interesting and encouraging reply. Does he accept that the present system appears to hold out the prospect of an exponential number of new universities and that while any institute of higher education can claim that it

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is on the road to university status, the reality is that very few, if any, new universities will be created in the foreseeable future? Is he prepared to say that a new system may well reflect reality more closely?

Mr. Clarke: I am certainly prepared to say that I agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend's remarks. One of the sadnesses of the current degree-awarding status and status discussion is that the quality of teaching undergraduates is not sufficiently recognised. There are many higher education institutions, including ones in his constituency and serving Southampton, which, although first-class teaching institutions, find it difficult to compete in the marketplace for undergraduates because they cannot call themselves universities. This has been a serious issue for a long time. That is why I confirmed that we are looking at this extremely carefully and we expect to say something about it in the document that will be published later this month.

Top-up Fees

13. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if he will make a statement on the Government's policy regarding university top-up fees. [89219]

14. Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if he will make a statement on university top-up fees. [89220]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education (Margaret Hodge): We will shortly publish a strategy document setting out our 10-year vision for the development and reform of higher education, including the outcome of the student finance review. After that there will be further opportunity for interested parties to comment.

Mr. Carmichael : The Minister is aware that her Labour colleagues in Scotland have been persuaded to take a rather more enlightened approach to tuition fees and student finance. Obviously, her consultation could have a spin-off impact on the position north of the border. What assurances can she give me that her consultation will involve the closest possible conduct with Scottish Ministers?

Margaret Hodge: A different approach is being taken by our colleagues in Scotland. That is a strength of devolution which I hope the hon. Gentleman applauds. Of course, we have regular conversations with our colleagues in Scotland and we will consult with them. If there are different systems in place, that is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Mr. Burns: Does the Minister accept that many parents in my constituency are extremely concerned about the mixed messages put out by the Government on top-up fees and the apparent breach of Labour's election manifesto? Will she seek to remedy some of the confusion? Media reports suggest that the Secretary of State has said that he will rule out all top-up fees, yet the

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spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills has said that the Secretary of State will rule out only large top-up fees?

Margaret Hodge: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's constituents will be pleased to share with us the findings of our strategy review, which we shall publish in a couple of weeks. I ask him and his constituents to wait until that time. I should like to say to his constituents and to their children that the purpose of the review is to ensure not only that we put university funding on a proper, secure footing, which is very important after the 36 per cent. cut in funding experienced under the hon. Gentleman's Government, but that student funding is put on a sustainable long-term footing.

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