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House of Lords

Monday, 4 December 2006.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Schools: Head Teacher Vacancies

Baroness Perry of Southwark asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, since 1997 head teacher vacancies have remained low and fairly stable—under 1 per cent in primary and secondary in January 2006, which is lower than in January 1998. The National College for School Leadership, which was set up in 2000 and has an annual grant of £79 million, has head teacher training and recruitment at the heart of its mission. We have commissioned an in-depth study of school leadership from PricewaterhouseCoopers. This work will help to ensure that we have sufficient high-quality head teachers in future.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, although he seemed very satisfied with the circumstance of more than 1,000 schools having no leadership from a head because the vacancy cannot be filled. Will he accept that his Government’s policies—both the overweening bureaucracy, which the National Union of Teachers reckons gives secondary heads a 65-hour week, and the culture of blame and shame—partly contribute to this state of affairs?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I have no idea where the noble Baroness gets her figure of 1,000. The latest statistics as of January 2006 show that there are 180 vacancies for full-time head teachers in local authority-maintained schools in England, which represents 0.8 per cent of head teachers in post. I do not agree with her statistics. With regard to the morale of head teachers, all the evidence is that the overwhelming majority of head teachers are very glad to be in their posts and relish the challenges that they face. For example, Dr John Dunford, who is the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said recently:

I do not recognise a picture of low morale at all.

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Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the problem is not essentially financial, although there are particular problems in areas of high-cost housing, but rather one of social support? Will he encourage local authorities to have joined-up thinking and to bring together all the relevant social agencies in support of heads, particularly those dealing with families and children?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s remarks. He is absolutely right about the need for joined-up thinking, which is precisely why we have created children’s services departments that bring together education and children’s social services. On recruitment, we are well aware of the importance of financial incentives, which he mentioned at the beginning, specifically in respect of London. That is why I am glad to say that, since 1997, the top of the head teacher pay scale has increased by 35 per cent in real terms from £56,600 to £93,300, with nearly £100,000 available for leaders of the most challenging secondary schools in some parts of London. We have recognised the importance of rewarding head teachers properly, which has been made possible thanks to the 50 per cent real-terms increase in education funding that has taken place since 1997.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the 2006 Teachers’ Workload Survey published in October, which shows that head teachers work two and a half hours more per week than they did a year ago? Will the Government therefore learn from the success of many job-sharing initiatives in schools for teachers and deputy heads, and take away any barriers to head teachers doing the same thing—sharing their many varied responsibilities with another senior colleague? I am not just talking about delegation.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a valuable point on the need for workforce reform and more flexible working for head teachers and school leaders, not just school staff. I agree with what she said. The practice is increasing in local authorities, but I am sure that we can do more to encourage it, and we will seek to do so.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the figure given by my noble friend Lady Perry was produced by the Association of School and College Leaders? Is he saying that it has it all wrong?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I will explore these figures later, but the ones that I gave are from the national census of head teacher vacancies—figures gathered by my department. As I say, they show 180 vacancies for full-time head teachers in local authority-maintained schools in England as of this January.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, following what the Minister encouragingly said about flexibility, does he agree that part of what deters teachers from becoming heads is that most of them enjoy teaching, especially in primary schools, and their contact with the classroom? Could local authorities be encouraged to make more flexible contracts for our head teachers, so that they could have three or four, or even two, hours a week teaching and keeping in touch with the children?

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Lord Adonis: My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, heads continue teaching in many primary schools, particularly smaller ones. They see this as a vital part of their mission. We do not want to stand in the way of the continuation of those arrangements, which are a matter for local discretion. However, there is more scope for developments such as the appointment of executive heads who span more than once school. That may be a particularly appropriate response for smaller primary schools, which could allow more senior school leaders to continue in the classroom and not take on administrative burdens. There is also the issue of the expansion in the number of bursars serving both primary and secondary schools. Our experience of bursar development—and the National College for School Leadership now has a well judged bursar training scheme—is that it relieves administrative burdens from heads, enabling them to spend more time in the classroom.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, what are the prospects of a rise in the number and proportion of males entering the teaching profession?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am glad to say that, in recruitment to teaching, applications are rising among both men and women. We are at the moment doing a good job of attracting more men into the profession.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, given the importance, on which I think we all agree, of head teachers having the opportunity to teach, is there also a case for attracting people to a second career from other areas where management and leadership have been of considerable importance, in view of the really large businesses that are emerging as a result of the Government’s planning?

Lord Adonis: Absolutely, my Lords. That is why, for example, the National College for School Leadership is pioneering a future leaders programme, one of the aims of which is to recruit talented leaders from other professions with a dedicated training course, so that they can take positions in school leadership. This is particularly attractive to those who started out in teaching and have some educational experience, but went off into other careers and are now looking to train to come back into teaching. Early evidence on this kind of course is promising.

Iraq: Basra Attack

2.43 pm

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My Lords, I would first like to offer my sympathy and condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of those who were killed and injured in the attack of 12 November.

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My thoughts are with them. A service police investigation is being carried out, and a review of operating procedures has been completed in theatre.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we on these Benches also offer our condolences to the friends and family of the servicemen killed. If our troops are to be moved by boat, it is vital that this waterway is secure. Are the Government really satisfied that we can rely for the safety of our troops on the Iraqi Coastal Defence Force once it takes over full responsibility, as envisaged, for the security of this waterway? Can the Minister tell the House what progress has been made on the Government’s pledge to retrieve the patrol boats and the kit taken by the Iranians on the same waterway two years ago?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, we continue to press for the return of the patrol boats taken by Iran. We have not received them as yet. As for the progress made by the Iraqi security forces, we expect to see the development of their ability to patrol areas such as the waterway. However, our prime responsibility is to ensure the protection of our own troops and we do everything we can by reviewing tactics, procedures and equipment to ensure that that happens.

Lord Garden: My Lords, from these Benches we add our condolences to the families of those who were killed in this tragic event, pursuing as they were the strategy that we have heard so often from the Minister. Yet we now know that, just six days before this tragic event, Donald Rumsfeld was sitting in his office in the Pentagon penning a memo entitled “Iraq—Illustrative New Courses of Action”, or, as the tabloid writers would say, his “cut-and-run” memo. Were the British Government consulted on any of the 21 proposals for a change of strategy in that memo, and, in particular, do the Government agree with the extraordinary proposal that there should be no more reconstruction assistance to those parts of Iraq that still suffer from violence?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I have read the news reports about the existence of this memo but I have not seen it myself and am not really in a position to comment on its contents or our engagement—or otherwise—in it. If I can provide the House with any further information on it, I will write to the noble Lord.

As the noble Lord said, I have outlined our strategy to the House a number of times. Our strategy is clear and remains the same: to support the Iraqi Government and the progress of that country; and to assist the development of Iraq’s own security forces to the point where we can hand over to them, and allow them to take responsibility for, the security of their country. We have seen in certain provinces real success in achieving that, though without doubt we have significant concerns about those provinces where violence is at an appalling level, such as in Baghdad. However, we see that the strategy is working in those provinces and we expect to be able to hand over further provinces in the southern area in the coming months.

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Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, the Minister mentioned that we have persisted in our requests to the Iranians to return the patrol boats and the equipment that they seized two years ago. Can he tell the House whether the Iranians have agreed in principle to return the boats or whether we are still waiting for them to say one way or the other? Can he say anything about reports that Iranian-made equipment was used to sink that patrol boat just a few weeks ago in the same waterway?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, we have made progress in that the Iranians have allowed an expert team from the United Kingdom to download data from the GPS devices that were on the boats, which has enabled us to establish to the satisfaction, if I may say so, of an unbiased observer that they were not in Iranian waters but in Iraqi waters. However, the data do not demonstrate that unequivocally. As for the nature of the explosion and the device used in the attack on the waterway, we do not think it wise for us to go into our knowledge and the detail of such an attack.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, did the Minister watch the “Panorama” programme last night? If he did so, what was his reaction? Does he agree that disengagement seems a mighty long time off?

Lord Drayson: No, my Lords, I did not see the “Panorama” programme last night. Therefore I cannot comment on it. As for disengagement, we have a strategy where we can see progress in a number of provinces. We have set out our expectations, but they will be realised only if conditions on the ground support such a handover. We need to see how those conditions develop.

Schools: Reading Initiative

2.48 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, a largely positive assessment of the first year of the Every Child a Reader initiative was published on 7 November, and a copy has been placed in the Library of the House. The Government have provided the Every Child a Reader project with £4.55 million on top of the substantial additional resources available for literacy support through rising school budgets and the primary literacy strategy.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, I remind him that for the past two years key stage 2 results for children at the end of primary school have not met government targets. Does he agree that the Every Child a Reader initiative, in which children aged six who are not

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readers are targeted and can catch up by as much as 21 months in as little as four to five months, is one worth backing and that the Government should put long-term money into?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, as I indicated, we have been backing it with £4.5 million, in partnership with others making £10 million for that initiative. We are looking at the results with great care. We have a spending review coming up and in that we will look at whether it is possible to take further work forward in that area. The noble Baroness is absolutely right: too few 11 year-olds are still not up to standard in reading. They start to fall behind in the very earliest days of primary school; they can largely be identified at the age of six; and they need intensive support. However, I add that if we got the teaching of reading better across all primary schools from the moment that children start in them, which is what we are seeking to do with greater attention to synthetic phonics, fewer would fall behind by the age of six in the first place.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, what is being done to address the problem of the 4 million adults in the UK who still do not have the literacy skills expected of an 11 year-old? Given that many of those people will be parents, how can they read to their children—probably the most important one-to-one relationship—if they cannot read themselves?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we are making a very big investment in adult basic skills to meet precisely the urgent concern that the noble Baroness has rightly highlighted. That has produced a very significant decrease in the number of adults without literacy skills. Those courses in basic literacy are available free of charge to parents, many of them provided by further education colleges in partnership with schools, so it is possible to provide literacy support for the parents directly alongside support for the children.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, have the Government evaluated the benefit to communication skills of children in primary school learning a second language and the effect of those increased communication skills on their ability then to learn to read?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am not aware of a specific evaluation that links the two—that links learning of a second language with learning of the first language—but, as the noble Baroness will be aware, it is our policy to make teaching of second languages universally available in primary schools. We have significantly increased the proportion of primary schools where a second language is now being taught and, as she will be aware, our policy is that by 2012 that should be an entitlement in all primary schools across England.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that children should have an appropriate level of verbal communication before they can be expected to deal with systematic phonics? Does he therefore agree it should be the teacher who decides what kind of

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teaching to use to teach children to read in the very early stages, rather than restricting teachers to a very limited range of commercial phonics packages?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we are not talking only about commercial phonics packages. The advice issued by my department in the primary national strategies has intensive support. For example, the Playing with Sounds handbook is available free of charge to all schools. The noble Baroness is right to say that, ultimately, it must be down to the professional judgment of the teacher, but teachers look to us for advice and guidance. We give strong advice and guidance based on best practice in the teaching of reading. Advice that we have received from Ofsted and other experts in the field points strongly to the relevance and importance of synthetic phonics as the first and fast way to teach children to read.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, some three weeks ago, we discussed the question of speech and language therapists in relation to getting young offenders prepared and ready for education. It was declared that they have a tremendous role in getting hold of children at the age of five and preparing them for education. We were told that responsibility for funding those people rested with primary care trusts. Who is responsible for funding the provision of speech and language therapists for children in school before they enter education and at the basic stages of primary school?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, speech and language services themselves are the responsibility of primary care trusts. They are a health service. Of course, a lot of professionals associated with the teaching of speech and language will in fact be part of the education service and will be located in schools.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, what proportion of children have English as their second language?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I do not have that precise proportion to hand, but I will write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, was the Minister as impressed as I was by the really quite significant improvement in the children least able to read, as a result of the personal input of the Reading Recovery teachers? Not only that, which was impressive enough, but their employment had a much wider effect on the abilities of other children to progress in other literary areas. What lesson does that point to for the future deployment of skilled teachers?

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