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The figure of 35 per cent. is not good enough, but I am not calling for changes in the law, because the legislative framework already exists. As a result of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, the General Teaching Council for England produced guidelines for schools in 2008, and since May 2002, schools have specifically been required to have a race equality policy, to assess the impact of all their general policies on pupils, staff and parents, to monitor the impact of policies on race and to take reasonable steps to publish the results of that monitoring. However, the GTC found that not all schools were doing that, and in 2005 Ofsted voiced concern that certain education authorities were not implementing the 2000 Act.

In 2006, a GTC report found that only 64 per cent. of teachers knew about their school’s policy on race and ethnicity. In 2007, the Black Training and Enterprise Group found that some schools were implementing the spirit and the letter of the law, but that others were struggling to conform to the minimum requirements. Unusually for a Back-Bench MP, I am calling not for new legislation, but for the meaningful implementation of existing legislation. The GTC has suggested that schools and teachers need more support and guidance on the issue.

So, the picture shows a very low level of black and minority ethnic teachers in London’s teaching work force as compared with the demographic of the pupils whom they teach, that those who go into teaching often struggle to do so because they go in as mature students and need specific support, and that even in the classroom teachers report lack of support, promotion difficulties and so on.

In the remainder of my speech, I shall try to touch on the practical things that the Government should do. They ought to say much more clearly that now, in 2008, it is important to recruit and guide into teaching a much more diverse teaching work force for the reasons that I gave earlier. Minority ethnic teachers tend to be local and to stay, unlike teachers from Australia and New Zealand. However brilliant and inspirational they are, in a few years they will go back to Australia or New Zealand, but the West Indian lady who leaves her job in social work, trains in middle age to be a teacher and goes to a local school to teach will be there until retirement and in some ways represents a better investment of Government money.

The Government should think about, among other things, the Teacher Training Agency collaborating with the relevant examination and certification bodies on a wider range of professional certification for teaching, focusing on raising achievement—the specific skills set—among black and minority ethnic pupils. If the training does not focus on that set specifically, it says that the system does not value it and, ipso facto, that perhaps it is easier to exclude the naughty black boys when they turn 13 or 14, rather than, earlier in the process, focus on how to engage them in education and raise their standards.

The Teacher Training Agency and the Department for Children, Schools and Families should collaborate with the UK National Academic Information Recognition Centre in commissioning research on how overseas degree providers could address the issue of degree equivalence. The largest cohort of black and minority ethnic teachers in London schools is made up of those
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who have qualified in the Caribbean and Africa, but it is hard for them to achieve qualified-teacher status because their degrees are not recognised.

It is strange that we can bring in teachers from eastern Europe, New Zealand and South Africa who may never have stood in front of a classroom full of black children, but that experienced, quality teachers who have trained in the Caribbean under a system that is very similar to the British system have problems with degree equivalence. We should look at that, because there are people teaching in our schools who cannot get what a fully trained and qualified teacher can get and who face all kinds of uncertainties because of the issue of degree equivalence.

Before Ministers say, “Diane wants us to turn all these second-rate teachers from overseas into fully trained, fully paid teachers,” let me say that one of the best teachers my son ever had was Nigerian. He had served in the Army in the 1950s and worked miracles with my son and his maths—it was extraordinary. However, he could not have taught properly in a British school because of the issue of degree equivalence.

Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend makes an important point about overseas teachers. Like her, I welcome the work done by some of the very good, dedicated teachers who come to this country. One of my local primary schools has a good system for exchanging teachers with an equivalent primary school in Ghana. The school in Ghana sends a teacher for a year, and the school in my constituency sends a teacher in return. That has been mutually beneficial to both schools. Does my hon. Friend not think that there is some value in spreading that process more widely so that we do not rely just on teachers from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand?

Ms Abbott: That is exactly right. Let me be specific about the research that I want. The problem is that teaching qualifications from the Caribbean and Africa are not recognised as being equivalent to UK teaching qualifications, but teaching qualifications from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, America and eastern Europe are. I would like research to be done to identify which specific aspects of African and Caribbean teacher training are deficient so that Caribbean and African teacher training institutions can address the issue and move towards establishing course equivalence with the UK.

I would also like teacher training institutions in this country to work with institutions in the Caribbean, such as Shortwood college, and to have exchanges with them. Trainee teachers could do one year in Shortwood and another year here before going back to Jamaica. In that way, they would end up with a qualification that was recognised in the Caribbean and in England. Education in both places would benefit from that.

The Teacher Training Agency should have much clearer and more exacting recruitment targets for black and minority ethnic teachers. It should look at implementing a London-wide overseas teacher training programme to maximise the number of London-based black overseas teachers who can obtain qualified teacher status.

The agency should also look at developing a business secondment programme targeted at black graduates, who could be seconded from their place of work to fill two-year or part-time teaching placements. The programme
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could be like Teach First, but be tailor made and targeted at black graduates who might want to return to their profession as an accountant or business person, but who would be enthusiastic about teaching for a year or two if the structure was there. In addition, the agency should further develop joint black community outreach programmes with local authorities and teacher training providers.

We need to look at more financial support for mature trainee teachers. As I said, disproportionate numbers of black and minority ethnic men and women who go into teaching are mature students and often have families, so they simply cannot manage on the financial support that is currently available.

The Teacher Training Agency should work in partnership with Ofsted to ensure that all teacher training providers in receipt of Teacher Training Agency minority ethnic recruitment funding deliver training on race equality issues to their staff, in line with the requirements of the Race Relations Act 1976. The agency should also provide much more extensive support to teacher training providers to assist them in developing their recruitment of black and minority ethnic teachers.

In London and our other big cities, we need a genuine recruitment and retention strategy that is targeted specifically at black and minority ethnic teachers. It should set targets, offer pre-interviews, facilitate a student network, provide mentors for teachers and ensure that publicity materials and outreach are targeted at London’s ethnically diverse communities.

A new approach to increasing the number of black and minority ethnic teachers and a better recruitment and training model could be introduced in London and extended London-wide. That would make sense because half the country’s ethnic minorities are in London, but the disproportion between the number of teachers and of pupils is very bad.

I do notintend to blame teachers for the underachievement of any child. When we look at the job that teachers do in schools in Hackney in 2008, we have to give them every respect. Despite the fact that the Government have put up teachers’ salaries and put in more resources, and despite the fact that we have had an excellent academies programme—certainly in my borough—the teaching, social work and guidance role that teachers take on is more challenging than ever.

Often, children will come from grim estates and chaotic family backgrounds, and there will be the ever present threat of the gang culture, with gangs telling children, “You either join us or suffer the consequences.” For those children, school is the only haven of peace and order, and the only place where they have possibilities in their lives. Their teachers play an invaluable role in that respect.

Teachers in London could do even better, however, if the teaching work force looked more like London. Although Ministers have expressed an interest in the issue, more concrete steps could be taken London-wide to create a more diverse work force, which would result in better outcomes for all our children and probably in a more stable teaching work force—as I said, there are all sorts of problems ahead as one cohort of teachers moves into retirement.

I raise this issue, as I have raised other education issues over the years, because I am a child of immigrants
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and I believe that education is the single most important issue for our migrant and minority communities; it is the one thing that will help them to play their fullest part in our society and our single most important weapon in promoting community cohesion. Teachers in our schools in London are doing a great deal, but a more diverse teaching population could do a lot more for schools, children and our society.

3.8 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I apologise for missing the fist few minutes of the debate. I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), my parliamentary neighbour, on the way that she introduced the debate and on the work that she has done on boys’ underachievement in our primary and secondary schools. She is particularly supportive of the black community in her borough and across London, and she should be strongly commended for her work on the issue.

Like my hon. Friend, I represent an inner-city London constituency and its problems are very similar to those that she faces in her constituency. I endorse the last point that she made: primary school is the only place of safety and friendship for many children in our constituencies and the only place where they have some space. If a child grows up in an overcrowded privately rented flat or in temporary accommodation, their opportunities for doing homework or any kind of craft at home will be zero because there is simply no space. As a result, their school is their only playground, their only space and the only place where they can stretch their imagination.

I have the greatest respect and regard for the work that is done by primary and secondary teachers in schools in my constituency. I can think of many occasions when I have been in a school to do my Friday advice bureau, which often lasts for six or seven hours in the evening, and I have found a teacher who has been waiting with a migrant family for that whole time to come in and explain their problem, translate where necessary if they are proficient in the relevant language, and show them support.

It is easy for the popular press to condemn teachers for having long holidays and all the rest, but my experience of teachers is that they are dedicated and hard working, and understand the importance of their job and the inspiration that they can give kids in schools. We should use this opportunity to say something positive about them and to recognise the social problems that teachers in London face because of the nature of London society.

I shall come later to the issue of salary and conditions, but I want first to say a big thank you to the Government for the amount of money that has been put into our education system since 1997. I have represented Islington, North for 25 years, and during that time I have had head teachers on the phone in tears because the roof was leaking in the main hall, they have had to close classroom after classroom and crowd the kids into another part of the school because they could not get repairs done, the heating would not work or a boiler needed replacing or they were using summer fairs to raise money to buy computers.

There was disgraceful underfunding when the Conservative Government were in charge of our education system. Not only did they abolish the Inner London Education Authority, which was an iconic authority in
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many ways and very imaginative in what it did for education in London, but they underfunded our schools.

That does not happen now. The money that has gone into improving our buildings and buying computers and other equipment is important, and so, above all, is the money that has now been provided for the employment of teaching support staff, learning mentors and all such ancillary and related staff—who, again, are often the butt of jokes on television and in the tabloid press, yet they are essential.

A deeply disturbed child, particularly one of secondary school age, may be involved in an awful lot of very bad and nasty activities outside school—perhaps gangs, knives or even guns. It is all there; it is true. What happens when that child, who unfortunately is usually a boy, comes to school? The misbehaviour continues and the option for the school is to exclude the kid who is disrupting the class. It ends up expelling him and he moves from school to school, being excluded and expelled.

Such children are completely lost to education by the time they are 13 or 14. By the time they are 16 or 17, they are in a young offenders institution, and after 18 they end up in prison. We must do something for the kids who are grossly underachieving in our society. That is what the education system must provide for.

Ms Abbott: Is my hon. Friend aware that a former director general of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, said that on the day a child is permanently excluded from school they might as well be given a date and time to turn up in prison? That is the correlation between permanent exclusion and a criminal career.

Jeremy Corbyn: Martin Narey was absolutely right; it was a prescient remark, which I understand, support and endorse. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister said something about rights of appeal against suspension and expulsion from school. I understand that there are elements of behaviour that may be so bad that they lead to suspension. I do not say it should never happen or that no one should ever be excluded. We can never say never, but it should be absolutely the last resort and everything should be done in the meantime to give support. However, the system of justice that applies to a number of secondary school bodies does not bear much examination in terms of natural justice.

The evidence used against individuals who are suspended from school is often very vague, governing bodies are often reluctant to overrule the head teacher on a suspension or expulsion and it is difficult for parents who may not be very well versed in dealing with bureaucratic procedures to represent their case. We need a pretty robust code of conduct to ensure that there is a proper, defendable system of appeal.

Ms Abbott: Does my hon. Friend agree that when children are about to be excluded they are often behaving in ways that are appalling and people would not want them in a classroom with their child? Is it not the point that it is better to intervene on behaviour issues much earlier, at primary school age, which is why I want a more diverse teaching work force, with more men? On the whole, they are better placed to intervene on some of the behaviour problems of little boys. Also, what happens after the children are excluded? They end up in pupil referral units, which are just waiting sheds for prison.

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Jeremy Corbyn: I endorse what my hon. Friend says and fully understand that point. We are not in disagreement, and I do not think that the Minister disagrees particularly either. There must be a system of recognising when boys in particular are underachieving, misbehaving or seeking attention—whatever it happens to be, for there are lots of reasons—and giving them the necessary support very early on.

Investment in teaching support staff and learning mentors is good investment, and so is taking such children out of class if necessary and giving them special support in school. That is all good practice and good investment. After all, we all have the responsibility to ensure that all the children going through the education system can achieve the best they are capable of. We should give more support to the learning mentor and support systems in schools and be very tough on the question of suspensions and expulsions.

Taking a youngster—usually a secondary school boy of 13, 14 or 15 who is suspended, excluded or possibly expelled—to a pupil referral unit is not a cheap option. Those pupil referral units are often more expensive than the most expensive private schools in the country, and I am not sure how much they achieve in some cases. As they are very expensive, a question of investment arises.

I do not want to take up too much time, as other hon. Members are waiting to speak, but I want to make a couple of points about my constituency before saying something about teachers’ conditions. There are six secondary schools in my constituency of Islington, North. Because of the system of choice, as it is termed, on moving to secondary schools in our part of north London, the tradition is that children from Hackney schools try to go to Islington, children from Islington schools try to go to Camden, children from Camden schools try to go further out and so on.

There is a process of crossing London and moving outwards, which often means that the most able children with the most articulate parents get into selective schools on the outskirts of London, whereas others, who cannot afford to move house to live nearer an appropriate secondary school, or whatever they might need to do, end up going to the local schools. The intake is therefore not a universal local intake, and in the past the local schools have become almost the schools of last resort. I do not want them to be that.

I commend what the Government have done in investing large sums of money in buildings and other improvements to secondary schools. That has borne a lot of fruit and all six of those schools in my constituency are doing well. They are all getting new buildings, more staff and more support, although they may not yet have all achieved the magic rate of 30 per cent. of pupils achieving A to C GCSE grades. I can well understand the difficulties they have in achieving that, but I was furious when, two weeks ago, the Department announced that three schools in my constituency—Highbury Grove, Holloway and Islington Arts and Media—were on the list of the 643 schools around the country that are of concern.

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