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House of Lords

Tuesday, 17 June 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Schools: Teacher Training

Baroness Perry of Southwark asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the number of teacher training places being filled is sharply up since 1997, thanks to a 16 per cent real-terms increase in teachers’ pay and generous new recruitment incentives, including PGCE training bursaries of up to £9,000, golden hellos in key subjects of up to £5,000 and training salaries of about £15,000 for mid-career entrants into the teaching profession, who now contribute one in seven of new secondary school trainee teachers.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, if he made the comparison not with 1997 but with last year, would he not feel some concern that there is a drop-off, particularly in the key subjects of mathematics, ICT and modern languages? Does he accept that possibly some of his Government’s policies—surrounding teachers with bureaucracy, testing and naming and shaming—have made teaching a less attractive career for young people today?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the decline since last year is small, and the number of places being filled has reduced partly because of demographic changes in the pupil cohort. However, I certainly do not accept any of the rest of what the noble Baroness said. Let us take mathematics. In 1997, the then Government filled 1,460 places for trainees in mathematics; last year, the figure was 2,000. That is thanks to all the changes that we have brought about, including significantly increased recruitment incentives and much higher pay, which is up by nearly one-fifth in real terms. As for what she said about burdens on teachers, real-terms education spending has nearly doubled under this Government since 1997. A significant proportion of that has gone into paying teachers better and ensuring that we have 40,000 more teachers. I do not think that the comparison with 1997 does any credit at all to the Conservative Party.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, the Office for National Statistics has forecast an increase of 500,000 in the number of children of primary school age by 2015, pointing to the need for an extra 3,000 teachers in primary schools a year. Do the Government feel that they can respond to that?

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Lord Adonis: My Lords, we believe that it will be possible to respond to that. The recruitment for primary school teacher training places has risen from 11,790 in 1997 to 18,320 last year, which is an increase of 55 per cent. As the noble Lord rightly says, with the changes in the pupil cohort we will need more in due course. However, on the basis of our success in recruiting in recent years, I believe that we will be able to meet the additional numbers.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, is the Minister aware of today’s Ofsted report about science teachers, which says that they lack confidence and teach too much to the test? Does he therefore consider that, particularly in primary schools, specialists are needed—not only maths specialists, on which the Government have made an announcement today after their own report, but also specialists in science and reading—to assist the generalist teachers so that they have the confidence to teach the subject well, not simply by using pre-prepared packages?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the appointment of more specialist subject teachers in primary schools is a big issue that we will need to address over the coming years. As the noble Baroness rightly said, we have taken a significant step forward today by announcing that every primary school will either have, or have access to, a lead specialist in mathematics so that we can raise standards in that subject. We need to look at the implications for other subjects over time. That will not necessarily be by recruiting more dedicated specialist teachers, because of course most primary school teachers do a BEd and so have a more generalist training; it may well be by providing more incentives for professional development in particular disciplines so that we have a more specialist capacity in primary schools.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is a great deal of concern about the low numbers of male teachers in primary and secondary schools? What are the percentages of male teachers in both kinds of schools and what are the Government doing to increase their number?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I do not have those statistics readily to hand. As the noble Lord says, there are not enough male teachers, in primary schools in particular. When we last debated the issue in the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, urged on me the virtues of all-male shortlists for primary school teachers. I did not think that we could accede to that, but we have recruitment campaigns targeted at getting more men to come forward for teacher training places, which seem to be yielding some dividends.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, given the contribution of schools of a religious character to the maintained system, it is important that there should be a good supply of teachers, whatever their faith position, if any, who understand such schools and what shapes their ethos, as well as the nature of faith and the contribution that it makes to personal development. Given reports of increasing difficulty in recruiting teachers with a suitable background, particularly at senior management level, is the Minister satisfied that there is adequate provision in our HE institutions

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to train and support such teachers? If not, will he indicate what the Government intend to do about the issue?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we need more RE teachers, which is why religious education is one of the priority subjects in recruitment. As such, trainees in RE qualify for the £9,000 higher-level bursary and for a £2,500 golden hello. We are putting significant resources behind the recruitment of more RE teachers. Although, as the right reverend Prelate says, we need more, the numbers have gone up. The number recruited into secondary training places increased from 640 in 1997 to 790 last year. The trend is in the right direction, but we fully accept that we need to do more to encourage good candidates to come forward.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, what steps are being taken to analyse and monitor teacher retention among those increasing numbers who are coming into the profession to ensure that they remain there?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, this is one of the prime responsibilities of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, which works closely with higher education institutions and schools to ensure that we do all that we can to support teachers better, particularly in their induction year. We have new support for trainees in the induction year before they reach qualified teacher status precisely to ensure, as the noble Lord says, that we have a lower wastage rate than in the past.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, what makes the noble Lord think that able and committed people will come into and stay in teaching when the Government make a huge point of the fact that so many schools are failing and that, when they fail, they are either taken over by another school or closed? How does that encourage able people?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Baroness is referring to the National Challenge strategy that we launched last week in respect of 638 schools that are below the threshold of 30 per cent or more of pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs, including English and maths. That figure of 638 compares with the figure of 1,610 in 1997, so there has been a huge reduction in the past 10 years. Our message to the schools is that, with the benefit of the £400 million investment that we are making to support schools at the lower-attaining end of the spectrum, we believe that it is possible to eradicate that figure of 638 once and for all. That will make the education system much more attractive to potential teachers, as well as to parents and pupils.

Food: World Supplies

2.45 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool: asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, our assessment is that there is no global food shortage. This is backed up by the World Bank and other international and UK think tank analysis. Recent price rises have significantly increased the cost of food, hurting the poorest most in urban and rural areas. The Government are taking the lead in pressing for co-ordinated international action to address immediate food security needs, improve policies, bring a rapid conclusion of the Doha trade round and boost agricultural productivity in developing countries.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, how does the Minister square that statement that there is no world food crisis with the statement of the World Food Programme that there is a silent tsunami which will plunge more than 100 million people into hunger and leave instability and riots in its wake? At the G8 summit in Japan next month, will the Government, in their attempts to co-ordinate an international response to this crisis, not look again at issues such as the reassessment of subsidies for biofuels, the distortion of trade policies, the bolstering of food production and emergency assistance to help the poorest farmers through this immediate crisis?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Government entirely accept that there are serious problems of supply, particularly in developing countries. They believe that they are making their biggest impact by encouraging the UN-World Bank taskforce, which is developing a comprehensive framework for action, in setting out how donors, agencies, developing countries’ governments and NGOs can work together to respond. Elements that they will consider include increasing humanitarian assistance, boosting small-farm production, reducing trade restrictions and export bans, addressing macroeconomic imbalances, improving monitoring and social protection, improving international markets, and developing a consensus on the use of biofuels.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, with riots in many parts of the world by starving people protesting about food prices, what are Her Majesty's Government doing to encourage the Chinese and Indian Governments, with their large economic projects in Africa and Burma, to develop the local agriculture that would help alleviate the starvation of many of these communities?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I can only repeat that we are trying to work through the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF to produce a co-ordinated impact. The way forward on hunger and poverty throughout the world is very complex. Crucially, it is about improving local capability and infrastructure, and creating free markets, so that the world supply can be properly balanced.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, what efforts will be made to ensure that women and girls are particularly protected, given that they are especially vulnerable at times of crisis? Does the Minister agree that this is a crisis in which the EU, standing united, has a huge capacity to help?

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Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the programmes do not particularly target women and children, but among DfID’s general policies there is a specific gender policy that recognises the tremendous contribution that women make in developing societies. EU member states are working together, particularly through the United Nations in the programme with the World Bank. They have done a lot of work; they had a successful meeting in Rome and there is consensus among donor countries that the way forward is in the right direction.

Lord Maxton: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the ways of increasing the supply of food in the future is to lift the restrictions that we and our European partners have imposed on the development of genetically modified crops, and actively to encourage a massive increase in investment in this science?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I shall not be tempted too far into that minefield. We recognise that genetically modified technology could contribute to world hunger, but that will not solve the problem on its own. Technologies, including genetic modification, have risks. DfID is working with Defra and the international community to ensure that developing countries can make informed decisions on whether to develop or import genetically modified organisms.

A key area of the DfID programmes is £1 billion over the next five years going into research in general, £400 million of which will go into agricultural research. I am sure that parts of that research will contribute particularly in understanding the risks and benefits in this area.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the current situation, which looks as if it will continue for some time, provides a golden opportunity to get rid of subsidies and import and export barriers, thus enabling world markets to provide a market response to the increase in demand?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, briefly, no and yes. Certainly the price stimulus is helping to focus attention on barriers. The CAP modifications that will come about if the Doha round is successfully concluded will reduce barriers. It is strongly the view of Her Majesty’s Government that that will contribute. In fact, food prices are starting to moderate. The Food and Agriculture Organisation expects next year to have a 3.8 per cent increase in cereal output. This news, together with some major removal of various protectionist decisions, has led to wheat being about $280 a tonne, down from $430 in March. Rice, which was $1,200 in May, is now less than $800, and the only crop that is staying stable is maize, at about $200 a tonne.

Immigration: Detention Centres

2.52 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, we always consider all options for enforcing the rules and removing illegal immigrants, from detention at one end of the spectrum to measures to promote compliance for low-risk people at the other. We remain convinced that it is necessary to detain people as a last resort to enforce returns. The additional detention capacity announced last month will enable us to remove more immigration offenders, including foreign national prisoners.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, why has the Minister not answered my Question for Written Answer, tabled on 5 March, concerning the Chinese community of illegal immigrants? Perhaps that is because at the current rate of repatriation, despite a secret MoU signed with the Chinese Government, it will take some 400 years at 100 people a year being repatriated, as some 40,000 are estimated to be here. Does he think that he can build his way out of this situation? Who is the winner? It is certainly not the UK taxpayers; not the immigrants who are left in limbo; and not the UK Chinese restaurants that have been raided and left with enormous fines. Are there any winners?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, first, I apologise to the noble Baroness for failing to reply to her Written Question. It is going through the process and I shall be responding soon. We have a good tale to tell. We are firm but fair, and the number of people applying to get into the country is reduced to a quarter. We returned 63,000 people last year, 4,200 of whom came out of our prisons, including 20 killers, 200 sex offenders and 1,100 drug offenders. All were returned. This is a very good story and I am proud of it. Notwithstanding what some people might say, this is still a splendid country and masses of people want to get here, so we must have firm rules for returning people.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, How will the Government recoup the £30 million lost at Bicester and what improvements have been made to Harmondsworth since that severe report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons two years ago?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Earl raises a good point about Bicester. We have learnt a lot of lessons there. It was going to be built as an accommodation centre—the situation was different at that time. There were, understandably, a lot of local objections. There were issues over planning, and then the number of people trying to get into the country reduced dramatically, as I have mentioned. Yes, it was a badly run project; we have accepted that and we have accepted the PAC’s report. We have learnt a great deal, and the new buildings that we are constructing have benefited from that.

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