Previous Section Index Home Page

25 Jun 2008 : Column 119WH—continued

25 Jun 2008 : Column 120WH

I regret that I am introducing the phrase “synthetic phonics” so early in my speech, but it is important that reading is taught properly in our primary schools, in reception class and in year one. Synthetic phonics closes the gap between boys and girls, between socio-economic groups, and between ethnic minorities and the rest of the population. It works, and it works particularly well for all those groups.

The hon. Lady is also right about the gender imbalance in the teaching profession at secondary level and particularly in primary schools. A recent survey by the Training and Development Agency for Schools found that most boys thought that they behaved better with a male teacher—42 per cent. said that they worked harder, and 44 per cent. said that it made school more enjoyable. If we want to encourage men to go into teaching, it is important that we provide anonymity for all teachers when accusations are made against them by pupils, because most of the accusations are false and most are made against men. I am sure that that deters many men from going into education.

It is also important that we do everything we can to assist overseas trained teachers to acquire qualified teacher status, and that they do not lose their job and, potentially, their immigration status as a consequence of the rules that are coming into force shortly. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about what is being done to assist those people in acquiring QTS. I agree with the reasoning behind the approach—to ensure that we have properly qualified teachers with all the requisite skills—but we do not want to leave our London schools with some 11,000 fewer teachers as a consequence of the new rules.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) is right when he says that schools in difficult circumstances can achieve. I am sure that they can, and I will come to some examples of that shortly. There is no doubt that London has experienced some serious problems with its school system, and that in some parts it continues to do so today. There is also no doubt that the London Challenge has been successful in raising achievement levels in London schools, with 47.9 per cent. of pupils now achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths. But even though the rise in standards in London during the period of the London Challenge has been greater than the rise nationally, it is not acceptable that more than half of London’s 15 and 16-year-olds are still not achieving five or more good GCSEs including English and maths. The children’s plan aims for 90 per cent. of children to achieve five high GCSE grades, which should include English and maths. As the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said, in too many schools there is a culture of low expectation that really is not acceptable.

On Monday, I visited the London Oratory school, which is a fantastic school where every child, regardless of their ability or background, is expected to work hard and achieve. I found that behaviour was immaculate, pupils stood up when an adult entered the classroom, they studied the three separate sciences, a modern language is compulsory to GCSE level, extra-curricular activities are extensive, competitive sport is important, the uniform of blazer and tie is strictly enforced, and 96 per cent. achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A to C, including English and maths. One can understand why the former Prime Minister sent his children there.

25 Jun 2008 : Column 121WH

London Oratory is a comprehensive school. Its pupils have a genuine array of abilities and social backgrounds, albeit that it is a Catholic faith school. Instead of obsessing about its intake, we should seek to replicate its approach to education generally.

As the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington correctly pointed out, there is a real teacher recruitment problem in London schools, and the teacher vacancy rate is twice the national average. There is also a higher teaching staff turnover rate in London—at 22.3 per cent., it is significantly higher than the national rate. In London, 35 per cent. of teachers have fewer than six years’ experience, compared with 29 per cent. nationally.

Those problems are not encountered at the London Oratory, where staff turnover is just 5 per cent. That provides the stability that the hon. Lady mentioned during her contribution. The school has no problems recruiting academic specialists in their subject, whether it be physics, French, Latin, history or English, and that is because the school is a happy, well-ordered and calm place where children are free to learn and where the ethos is that pupils are expected to study hard and to do extensive homework every evening.

I accept the hon. Member for Islington, North’s point about facilities for doing homework. If children have difficult backgrounds, if there is no place for them to do their homework, and if there is no peace and quiet in the home, the school really should be making provision for them to do their homework at school in homework clubs after school. That is the right approach. There certainly should be no excuse in such circumstances for not doing homework, or for not setting it.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am certainly not in favour of schools disregarding homework because of home facilities. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that they have to provide the necessary support and facilities during lunch breaks and after school, and through breakfast clubs and so on. The school must do the best that it can. But I caution him against measuring every school in London against the London Oratory, which is not exactly a community comprehensive school of the sort that I have in my constituency. It takes pupils from a wide range across London. After all, as a faith school, it is entitled to select a proportion of its intake.

Mr. Gibb: I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about the London Oratory. It is a faith school and it does take in pupils from a wide area of London, but it has a socially diverse mix of pupils. The mix may not be as diverse as some schools but, nevertheless, it is diverse.

The curriculum at the school is very academic. It is based around the foundation subjects, and teachers have the challenge and enjoyment of teaching their subject at A-level as well as to pupils as young as 11 or, in some cases, as young as seven. They also teach less able children in their own subject and children with special needs—there is a special needs unit at the London Oratory. In all cases, the atmosphere is one of good behaviour, respect for others and hard work, and that is why the school has no problem recruiting high-calibre teachers and why its staff turnover is low.

25 Jun 2008 : Column 122WH

To take on directly the hon. Gentleman’s point, the same ethos applies at Mossbourne Community academy in Hackney—I believe that it is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington—where 50 per cent. of the school’s intake qualifies for free school meals and 40 per cent. speak English as a second language. It has the same focus on academic standards and achievement, the same approach to behaviour and uniforms and the same high expectations for the children. I believe that when GCSEs are taken for the first time next year, the results will approach those of the London Oratory. The only difference between the London Oratory and Mossbourne academy is the age of the school, with the former being more than 100 years old and the latter just four or five years old.

If we are serious about raising educational standards in London, we need to look at both those schools and ensure that we replicate their approach across all schools in the capital.

The hon. Lady raised some important issues about ethnic diversity among the teaching profession. In London, about 11 per cent. of teachers are from an ethnic minority. The proportion is far lower than the population that they serve: across London, about one fifth of pupils in primary schools are from an ethnic minority. We need to understand the reasons for the discrepancy.

Many teachers from ethnic minorities have reported having to deal with incidents of racial harassment or discrimination. An internet survey carried out by the Teacher Support Network in 2006 found that 61 per cent. of the 238 respondents reported being harassed or discriminated against by managers within the school. That is totally unacceptable, and of course will deter someone from entering the teaching profession. There is also evidence that teachers are encountering racism in the classroom. Raising standards of behaviour in our schools is key. We have to give head teachers the powers they need to exclude persistently disruptive and abusive children. Poor behaviour is one of the prime reasons that teachers give for leaving the profession.

We should also consider whether educational opportunities for many children from ethnic minorities are as available to them as they are to the rest of the population. Schools in the inner cities, which have tended to be weaker and to have lower expectations than schools elsewhere, tend to be the ones that serve poorer populations and those from ethnic minorities.

In my view, the school must be regarded as being at fault, not the children. At Mossbourne community academy, 80 per cent. of the children are from an ethnic minority and 50 per cent. qualify for free school meals. However, having visited that school, it is difficult to distinguish it from one of the better performing independent schools: its only distinguishing feature is its modernity.

Despite all that has been achieved in London schools, more needs to be done to raise standards. Some 20 per cent. of pupils are still not achieving level 4 in English at key stage 2; 24 per cent. are not achieving level 4 in maths; 52 per cent. are not achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A to C, including English and maths; and the average A-level score per candidate in London was 259 in 2006, compared with 289 nationally. High expectations and structured, consistent behaviour policies are key to raising standards and being able to recruit high-calibre teachers. We also need to make it easier for new schools to be established by parents and by education
25 Jun 2008 : Column 123WH
foundations, including the United Learning Trust, the Mercer’s Company, ARK—Absolute Return for Kids—the public schools, the Woodward Trust and so on.

There is no doubt that the London Challenge has made some progress, but there is still a long way to go before we can be content that standards of education and behaviour in London schools are at an acceptable level.

4.2 pm

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on securing this debate. I thank her for raising the important issue of the teaching work force in London and particularly for mentioning the levels of achievement of black boys. She has championed that cause and has real expertise in that area and it is right that she should continue to challenge us on the issue. If she wants to meet me and the Training and Development Agency for Schools to discuss teacher recruitment further, I should be happy to do so to tap into her expertise.

Despite what my hon. Friend said about the area of the country that I represent, I was brought up in this city, but in outer London rather than inner London. Our capital city is, as she described it, a paradox of wealth and disadvantage in close proximity. It is an international powerhouse of business, innovation and economic success, yet it houses some of the most deprived areas in the country. The Government are committed to treating those pockets and concentrations of deprivation to lift people out of poverty through education, among other things, give them the opportunities to succeed and ensure that those opportunities are for all, not just luck of the draw. That is what this Government stands for: removing the juxtaposition of privilege and disadvantage that exists not only in our London communities, but can exist as a division between our schools, too. I am grateful to all hon. Members for paying tribute to the London Challenge programme, which has gone a long way to making that happen.

In this Chamber last week, I described my noble Friend Lord Adonis as a hero of the labour movement for what he has done in London. I reiterate that in respect of what he has done for the London Challenge, supported so ably by Tim Brighouse and, now, by Mike Tomlinson, who did such particularly good work in Hackney prior to taking on the London Challenge role.

Some 10 years ago, our capital limped behind the national average in GCSE results, both in the number of students gaining five higher level GCSEs, including English and maths, and the number simply gaining five or more GCSEs in all subjects. Now, London is ahead on both counts, improvement across the capital's schools is faster than anywhere else and we are closing the gap. On the GCSE measure, there has been an extraordinary 24.5 per cent. improvement in inner London schools since 1997.

My hon. Friend is committed to the philosophy of equality, fair access and high standards, as she has shown in her valuable work, for example, through her London Schools and the Black Child initiative. She shares my conviction that every school should be a good school. That ambition begins with the work force.
25 Jun 2008 : Column 124WH
We can invest in buildings, equipment and facilities, and we do so. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South—

Jeremy Corbyn: North. Where Arsenal is.

Jim Knight: Sorry, I mean of course my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). I am grateful for his kind comments in this regard. It is important that we continue such investment. However, what makes the biggest difference between a good education and an average one is the quality of our teachers. Investing in that human resource—in our professionals—is vital if this country is to become a world leader in education: it is vital for the transformation of local communities, with children in school learning and fully aware of those who live around them, and vital for our young people, who will be given a real chance in life to fulfil their potential, realise their talents and be all that they can be.

We inherited a decline in people taking up teacher training. By 1999, numbers of new trainees had been in free fall for eight consecutive years. We have managed to break that fall by introducing incentives and training bursaries. Now, we have more teachers than ever before. In England, we have almost 2,000 more full-time equivalent regular teachers than last year and more than 40,000 more than a decade ago, which is almost two more teachers for every school in England on average, and in London, local authority schools have 7,500 more than a decade ago, boosted by 6,500 occasional and full-time equivalent unqualified teachers, instructors, overseas-trained teachers—I will talk about those later—and so on. Last year, the teaching sector was the second most popular choice for graduates leaving university, which is a massive step forward from where we were. Recruits are up, vacancy rates are down and even in London the vacancy rate is only 1.2 per cent., against the national average of 0.6 per cent. So I would hardly call it a crisis. However, there is, of course, more to do.

In addressing some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, I start by saying that, of course, my Dorset constituency does not reflect the ethnic make-up of and rich diversity in London. I represent an almost homogenous white community, except for the young offenders’ institution on Portland. The vast majority of the inmates there are from London and are black and many of them have special educational needs and were excluded from school. I have visited that institution and talked to the governor and the prison staff, who tell me that some of the problems in London are reflected in the prison, in terms of gang trouble and so on. Talking to the young people there and hearing about the experience of growing up in London reinforces my determination to do more along the lines that my hon. Friend has described.

We need to continue to address underachievement with black boys. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) was right to say that, after Gypsy and Traveller children, the biggest area of underachievement is actually white working class boys, but there is still a significant issue with black boys that we need to address.

Ms Abbott: This is a much-contested piece of statistical information. What we might call the league table varies in different parts of the country, but in London black boys are actually still the lowest-achieving group.

25 Jun 2008 : Column 125WH

Jim Knight: I do not have the detailed breakdown for London. My hon. Friend may well be right and there is no reason for me to disagree with her on that. Like the hon. Member for Yeovil, I think that it is important that we pay tribute to some of our positive role models, such as Sir William Atkinson at the Phoenix school, whom I congratulate on his knighthood. I was delighted that Tim Campbell, the former winner of “The Apprentice”, who grew up in Newham in east London, is now working with us on promoting the diplomas and is a positive role model. I was delighted today to visit the Guru Nanak secondary school in London, the only Sikh secondary school in the country, which achieves 73 per cent. five A* to C grades, including in English and maths, and almost 100 per cent. of the pupils are achieving at that level despite having English as an additional language. That is a fantastic school.

A lot of the things that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) said about his favourite schools, I could say about Guru Nanak and I recommend it to him. It is an example of a school with a high proportion of ethnic minorities doing well, but in that case they are largely from the Asian sub-continent by ethnic origin rather than being black Afro-Caribbean pupils. It can be done.

My hon. Friend made some points about governors. We are addressing the matter with a review of governance, and part of our agenda is to examine community cohesion and representation on governing bodies. I am also interested in the role of parent councils. I had a meeting yesterday with some people from Hackney with expertise in parent councils, which have a role in reflecting the parent voice more accurately and the range of parent voices properly to reflect the community

The issue of more male teachers is equally important, and my hon. Friend was right when she said that there has been a decline since 1997 when there were 17 per cent. male teachers in primary schools and there are now 16 per cent., and in secondary schools there were
25 Jun 2008 : Column 126WH
48 per cent. and there are now 43 per cent. We are concerned about that, and when recruiting we are trying to use more images of men teaching. We are trying in various ways in our recruitment advertising to promote the profession to men without breaking discrimination law.

Similarly, in trying to recruit more minority ethnic background teachers, there is an agenda for widening access, but the figures are more encouraging. In 1999, there were 6 per cent., in 2003-04 there were 9 per cent., and in 2006-07 there were 12 per cent. The latest recruitment figures for initial teacher training have exceeded the 10 per cent. target and we are recruiting close to 13 per cent. into the profession. We take that very seriously with TDA, but I shall be happy to discuss it further with TDA and my hon. Friend.

We can and should do more through public relations and otherwise, as well as with refugee teachers, and my hon. Friend has raised that in the past. The Employability Forum has recommended that refugee professionals wishing to access jobs in education are helped to do so, and we have provided more than £1 million for that.

There are issues about overseas-trained teachers, to which I would respond if I had time, because there is a good answer to be had. Issues about housing have been raised and I could respond, but housing costs in Dorset are prohibitive for newly qualified teachers, so the problem is not just in London.

The Government have done more than just address the previous decade’s fall in teacher numbers; we have done more than just redress the balance of reward and recognition; we have included individuals from a more diverse cultural pool; and we have started to shape the educational landscape to help high standards to flourish and to weed out underperformance. We must do more, and I am happy to work with my hon. Friend on that, and to get rid of the juxtaposition of wealth and disadvantage, and of uneven opportunity that London epitomises so that our education society is fairer.

Next Section Index Home Page