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7 July 2009 : Column 213WH—continued

Mr. Field: There is nothing too sinister. Perhaps I should put on the record my own involvement with the only profession of which I was ever a part. I did not spend long as a lawyer, but I read law at university and became a lawyer afterwards, when I took great pains not to join the Law Society, which I thought an appalling organisation at that time. It was inward-looking and there seemed to be constant bickering among its members. One does not have to be a great philosopher to suggest
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that many such professional organisations have, to an extent, been a conspiracy against the public at large, although that is a simplistic view. The Law Society has come out of itself in recent years—indeed, both the Law Society and the Bar Council have recognised that, as well as being a trade union for professionals, they have a much more important role to play in relation to the public at large, in reflecting some of the concerns that the public have rightly had about the profession.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s comments on board, but the way in which this problem has applied to professionals has pained me. I am not making a cheap point about the National Union of Teachers or the teaching profession; I think the same applies to many of our professions, which have been far too inward-looking in the past. That goes back to an era when there was far less chopping and changing and rapid advancement for people who were able to move out of one social group into another. We now live in a much more mobile society, and amen to that, but too many of our professions have taken too long to catch up with those changes.

I want to touch on what is happening in the city of Westminster, where we have in place an education commission that is carrying out a six-month-long investigation into how we might improve educational outcomes in Westminster schools. It is due to report its findings in mid-September. The commission is chaired by Professor David Eastwood, who used to be the chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England and is now the vice-chancellor of the university of Birmingham.

Like many inner-London areas, Westminster is highly polarised. It is fair to say that a significant proportion of parents send their children to schools in the independent sector, rather than state schools; none the less, the Conservative-run Westminster city council is passionately concerned to ensure that we raise standards and make more valid choices. There have been some ongoing problems with state education in inner London, one of the biggest being that articulate, educated, middle-class parents have voted with their feet and sent their children to school outside the state sector. That is a key reason why the state sector in London generally struggles, although there are some fantastic success stories such as, in my constituency, the primary schools Hampden Gurney and St. Peter’s in Eaton square. The successful secondary schools in Westminster tend to be girls schools such as the Greycoat school on Horseferry road, which is a stone’s throw from here, and St. Marylebone school. In both of those schools, it has been a long-standing head teacher who has helped to raise standards.

In the private sector, my constituency has some of the finest schools, such as Westminster school and the City of London boys and girls schools. Those schools recognise the ongoing commitment and responsibility they have to utilise some of their facilities for the purposes of other maintained schools. That is very much part and parcel of the ethos of living in our highly polarised area of central London.

The education commission’s work has revealed a problem with the ability of local authorities to get involved in improving standards when schools become academies. We have two academies in Westminster, one of which, Pimlico, is in my constituency. Authorities have an ongoing responsibility for pupil welfare, but they have no way of tackling poor teaching standards if
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academies are not doing well. Raising achievement of Westminster children, particularly those in the state sector, is a major priority for the city council’s children’s services department and its partners. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness has rightly said, education is a main way of improving the lives of individuals. In turn, the community benefits through the social and economic contribution that those educated children—the parents of the future—are then able to make. A significant number of children in Westminster do not achieve their full potential for a number of reasons.

We have living in the city of Westminster as a whole about 40,000 people under the age of 19, 20,000 of whom are school pupils; 79 per cent. are from ethnic backgrounds other than white British and 68 per cent. speak English as an additional language. In total, more than 150 languages are spoken by children attending Westminster schools. Our educational settings in Westminster include 12 children’s centres; four maintained nursery schools; 40 primary schools, 26 of which are voluntary aided; six secondary schools, five of which are voluntary aided; four city academies; and two special needs schools. However, as an inner-London borough, Westminster also experiences high levels of migration from and to other London boroughs and the rest of the UK—population churn. What I say in this regard applies to any inner-London area and indeed to many inner-city areas, and it is what I wanted to put on the record today. The mobility of the population, including significant cross-borough flows in terms of the use of health and education services, presents significant challenges and underlines the complexity of service delivery and the importance of information sharing.

Beyond teaching standards, there is a growing issue that needs to be addressed; I wanted to put it on the record, although I appreciate that it is slightly outside the scope of this debate. That issue is the future of genuine parental choice at primary school level. In my constituency in Westminster, we have a large number of voluntary aided schools that prioritise children from a Christian background, whether Roman Catholic or Church of England. That could be a barrier to parents of children who come from non-Christian backgrounds. For example, 78 per cent. of schools achieving above average progress in English and 70 per cent. of schools achieving above average progress in maths are voluntary aided faith schools, either Church of England or Roman Catholic.

That is a problem to which there is no easy solution. In many respects, such schools are great and successful institutions and, in the process of trying to provide a level playing field for all of our children, we do not want to see standards reduced in any way; we want to see standards raised for all children in the future. I appreciate that the problem may not yet have come across the Minister’s desk in her relatively short tenure in her position, but it is a very important matter, particularly in many of our inner cities. In such areas, there has been significant depopulation in the past decades, but those sorts of schools—the voluntary aided schools, which obviously have a long-standing tradition—remain in place.

I hope that the Minister will give considerable thought to how we can try to raise the standards of all pupils, so that all of them, even those who do not come from a
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Roman Catholic or Church of England background, can still aspire. I know from my dealings with particular head teachers of voluntary aided schools in my constituency that they try to ensure, as far as possible, that more and more children from outside those faiths have an opportunity to go to those schools. However, the opportunities for those children are clearly not as great as they would be if there were more community schools that had a local reputation as strong as the voluntary aided schools that I have referred to.

Sir Nicholas, thank you for allowing me to speak in this very important debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness made some very valid points and I look forward to engaging on the subject not just with the Minister who is here today, but hopefully with future Conservative Ministers, because education is the key issue. Without an education system that works for the future, there will be difficulties.

I have some worries, even in the longer term, about the maintenance of the knowledge economy given our demographics, which will become an even bigger problem in the decades ahead. The competitive advantage that we have as a country has been based on having great knowledge. Obviously, we have the benefit of the English language, which is the global language and which will assist us to a large extent, but we need to ensure that we have an educated work force. I am not talking just about the elite, although I personally believe that we also need to educate our elites to the highest standards to become global players. More important in many ways are the 40 to 50 per cent. of people who will never go to university but who will still need to be educated, re-educated and trained right the way through their life. If we do not get school education right and ensure that we have teachers of the calibre needed to ensure that education is of the highest standard, we will find that those people are effectively tossed on to something of a scrap heap for much of the rest of their lives. That is not only unaffordable but ethically and morally unjustifiable.

We have discussed some very crucial issues today. I am encouraged that my own party feels strongly about them and there will be some radical changes, even in the light of the importance that must be rightly placed on the economic problems that will be the big, black cloud over much of public policy and politics in the next decade. I am obviously also interested to hear the current Government’s thinking on how we can ensure the provision of the highest teaching standards for all our children, who will obviously have an important part to play in making sure that our economy and our country can recover their previous position in the decades to come.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair): We shall start the winding-up speeches a little earlier than expected. I call Annette Brooke.

11.45 am

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I also start by congratulating the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart). He expressed some very interesting ideas, many of which I agree with. There are probably other areas that he talked about where I would place a slightly different emphasis. None the less, the important thing that we will agree on in this
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debate is that we need not only an adequate supply but a full supply of highly qualified entrants into the teaching profession. It is how we attack that issue that we need to debate today.

I started thinking about this debate by focusing on the quote that the hon. Gentleman used, when he said that

That must be fundamentally true. Starting at the top, the quality of leadership is of prime importance in any school setting.

The Ofsted figures for 2008-09 quoted in the debate pack, which are about the effectiveness of teaching and learning in meeting the full range of learners’ needs, show that 29.1 per cent. of primary schools were judged to be satisfactory and 1.8 per cent. were judged inadequate, while 32.1 per cent. of secondary schools were judged satisfactory and 1.8 per cent. were judged inadequate.

We can look at the downside and say that roughly a third of schools are judged to be either satisfactory or inadequate. Alternatively, we can look at the upside and say that two thirds of schools are good or outstanding. We must celebrate the excellent teaching that exists and the progress that has been made. However, if I was writing a report on teaching standards, I think that I would conclude that we can and must do much better.

The recent Ofsted report on standards of English in schools states:

In other words, it is particularly the most disadvantaged pupils who are suffering.

We know that about 20 per cent. of children are leaving primary school with inadequate literacy and numeracy. Only half of pupils leave secondary school with five good GCSEs, including English and maths, while 85 per cent. of poor white boys fail to achieve that benchmark. Furthermore, 55 per cent. of schools in the poorest areas fail to achieve the Government benchmark of 30 per cent. of their children obtaining five A to C GCSE grades.

Ofsted’s annual report for 2007-08 says that too many children and young people are receiving services that are “patently inadequate”, especially those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds. That is despite the fact that there have been broad improvements across schools, children’s services and further education.

The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness touched on how we can get rid of teachers who are less than satisfactory. I think that the Government have probably taken a step in the right direction with the proposal for a teacher registration system. Of course there are poor teachers and the renewal of a licence to teach—a system similar to those that already exist in other professions and even, in a sense, for MPs—would help to eradicate those teachers who should not be in schools. However, I always have fears about Government initiatives. In principle, the teacher registration scheme is a good idea, but will it turn into a bureaucratic nightmare that takes up head
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teachers’ time and ends up proving to be very costly? It needs to be done properly, and we need to focus on raising the status of the profession.

We need to look at the context in which individual teachers find themselves, as well as the overall picture. We are right to focus on entrance to the profession, because we are suffering from a long-term problem that has not been tackled satisfactorily. It is true that we have all kinds of initiatives which probably do not amount to much over time, but, if one looks at the statistics, it appears that the old Teacher Training Agency—now the Training and Development Agency for Schools—did not meet the Government’s targets for filling places.

Only since April this year have predictions changed. For obvious reasons—the extra supply of graduates—all places in all subjects will be filled. Even then, there probably will not be enough physicists and chemists to meet the demand because too many biologists have been recruited. We have seen a rise in the level of qualifications held by applicants, and that is to be welcomed.

There are alternative routes into teaching. Most people think that the Teach First scheme is impressive. It has raised the status of the teaching profession, and I agree that the entry, even for a relatively short time, still can make a great contribution. Unfortunately, in the scale of things, the number involved is very small.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Before the hon. Lady moves on to another subject, what would she do about physicists and chemists, who appear not to be necessary because of the biologists? How can we include more physicists and chemists in the group?.

Annette Brooke: Again, we have to go right back to basics. We have a problem, in that there are so few schools that offer the three sciences separately. We have to go back to that before we can bring forward an adequate supply of good science teachers. Obviously, many things can be done with continuous professional development. Training can be topped up. When I was teaching, I did not necessarily always teach my first subject, and I can see that I could easily have been retrained as a full-blown mathematics teacher. There are options around, and we need to grasp them. However, it is a difficult problem, made worse because we sat on it for so long without doing enough.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Annette Brooke: I am a bit anxious about the time. I shall take one more intervention, but then I must move on.

Mr. Stuart: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. Perhaps I misunderstood the time pressures.

Is it the policy of the hon. Lady’s party that it is necessary to get rid of national pay agreements so that disadvantaged schools can pay more—the point I made in my speech—but also so that pay can be higher for those who teach the disciplines for which it is hardest to recruit?

Annette Brooke: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. In our recent schools paper, which was passed at our last party conference, we make the point that individual schools should have more power, including the ability to offer higher pay to those who teach shortage subjects. We need to look at pay and conditions.

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Moving on quickly, I often feel that there is patchy support for newly qualified teachers in this country. Some teachers experience good induction. On a recent visit to Canada with the Children, Schools and Families Committee, I learned that newly qualified teachers receive two years of support, which is much more than we offer.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families secondary school curriculum and staffing survey for 2007 shows that only 56 per cent. of pupils in secondary modern schools were taught maths by a teacher with an appropriate post A-level qualification, compared with 73 per cent. in 11-to-16 comprehensives and 88 per cent. in grammar schools. For English, the figures were 66, 74 and 94 per cent. It is a real problem that many young people are not being taught by people with specialist qualifications, and the situation is worse in the most deprived areas.

The survey reveals that children in the poorest areas of the country are least likely to be taught by well-qualified teachers, which indicates not only that there is a need for more highly qualified teachers, but that there is a particular shortage in the toughest schools. In response to comments made earlier in the debate, I would like to point out that training is needed to deal with challenging behaviour. It is not quite as easy as walking into a job. I am a former teacher, and I have taught in both the state and independent sectors.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): Can the hon. Lady recollect from her teacher training days what training she was given in behaviour management in the classroom?

Annette Brooke: I would not recommend to anyone the training that I had at, I have to say, a prominent university. It was a one-year postgraduate certificate in education. Training in behaviour management is incredibly important, but, as my subject was economics, I would not necessarily have expected to receive it in my training.

We have a problem. Is the market working? Is it the Government’s fault for failing to recruit sufficient entrants, or is it the parents’ fault for not complaining loudly enough? It is all too easy just to look at the problem. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness is right to say that we have to come up with some better solutions.

There is a great deal of evidence that the situation is even worse in primary schools. In its state of the nation report, the Royal Society gave staggering figures showing that the number of primary school teachers qualified in stem subjects was falling. In his review of the teaching of mathematics in English primary schools, Sir Peter Williams considered that only 3,000 teachers currently had sufficient knowledge to qualify as mathematics teachers. The Government accepted all of his recommendations, and I am interested to know what progress has been made in improving the number of qualified mathematics teachers in primary schools.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Annette Brooke: I will continue with my speech so that other people have an opportunity to make theirs.

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