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24 Oct 2002 : Column 388—continued

Teacher Work load

4. Linda Perham (Ilford, North): What plans he has to reduce teacher work load in secondary schools. [75267]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): On Tuesday, the Department announced a series of far-reaching proposals, on which I am now seeking agreement with national partners, designed to create more time for teachers to teach. This includes proposals for contractual changes, reform of the role of support staff and a concerted attack on unnecessary bureaucracy. This will contribute both to reducing teacher work load and to raising standards for pupils.

Linda Perham : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and I declare at the outset that I am married to a secondary school teacher. I welcome the package of

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measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris), and join in the tributes paid to her.

Given the importance of classroom assistants in reducing teacher work load, is my hon. Friend aware of a survey conducted by my union, Unison? It found that 80 per cent. of classroom assistants earn less than #8,000. Does my hon. Friend agree that they and other staff supporting the excellent teachers in my borough of Redbridge and throughout the country deserve better recognition in their pay and training for the work that they do?

Mr. Miliband: I am happy to pay tribute to the excellent work that is done not just by teachers but by the support staff in Redbridge and elsewhere. Pay and conditions are a local matter and are negotiated locally, but I assure my hon. Friend that, as part of the package announced on Tuesday, the Government made it clear that a qualifications and training framework that recognises higher-level tasks will now be developed in partnership with the relevant authorities. That will recognise the higher-level tasks classroom assistants will now be asked to perform.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): In paying tribute to the frank, open and honest statement made by the former Secretary of State last night—a refreshing contrast to many other statements made by Ministers on both sides of the House in recent years—may I stress how essential it is that the paper load placed on teachers is reduced? Does the Minister agree that the amount of paperwork that teachers are expected to absorb and master is incompatible with devoting proper time to their teaching duties?

Mr. Miliband: I think it is worth recording my thanks to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, which some people may contrast with the comments made by other Conservative Members in the past 24 hours.

I agree that we need a concerted attack on unnecessary bureaucracy. That is why on Tuesday we announced that a panel of 12 serving head teachers will have a unit of their own, reporting annually in public, with the power to summon Ministers and quango heads, to ensure that we tackle the processes as well as the symptoms of unnecessary bureaucracy.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): As Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee, I associate myself with the tribute to the former Secretary of State. Public life will be poorer for the exit of that young lady from the office. I also welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) to the Dispatch Box.

Will my hon. Friend look closely at the Select Committee's report on early years education which tackles the problem of support staff? Those talented people come into schools to work and should be encouraged to train and upskill so that they become a new talented resource that allows teachers to teach and the quality of education to grow in the classroom.

Mr. Miliband: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The importance of a career path for classroom assistants

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so that they move up the ladder in schools, perhaps to become qualified teachers if they want to, is an important part of the proposals that we are developing. I assure him that we will take on board the comments in his Select Committee report.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): First, may I welcome the new Secretary of State to his post? I understand his uncharacteristic silence and look forward to a constructive exchange of views in future.

I agree with the Minister for School Standards that the former Secretary of State has many admirable personal qualities. Policy failures caused her resignation and changing those policies is a key task for her successor. The root cause of that failure is set out on page 11 of the Government's document on teacher work load. It states:

That is exactly right and a precise description of the Government's policy. Will the Minister admit that his Government have spent years tying teachers up in red tape and that until they stop that, the failures that caused the right hon. Lady to resign will continue under her successor?

Mr. Miliband: Many parents and teachers watching today may draw a contrast between the dignified way in which my right hon. Friend spoke last night and the hon. Gentleman's churlish comments this morning. They may even ask themselves whether the right person ended up resigning.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the amount of money delegated directly to the hands of head teachers has risen substantially under the Government by between 8 to 10 per cent. That stands in stark contrast to the position under the last Government. I am pleased that teachers and head teachers now have more power in their own hands, and we are going to add to that in the months ahead.

Mr. Green: After that performance, the hon. Gentleman should learn not to write his answers before he hears the questions. If he does not agree that pointless form filling annoys teachers, perhaps he will agree with the remark later in the report that

In the spirit of generosity, I commend to the new Secretary of State our policies on home-school discipline contracts and the abolition of independent appeals panels. They would give power back to heads and teachers, remove much unnecessary work and give all children a chance to learn. Will the Government adopt those policies?

Mr. Miliband: The hon. Gentleman should not write his questions before the sitting. He has just changed his policy again. Last week he said in the Chamber that the Opposition would not abolish independent appeals panels; they would bring in local education authority panels to countermand them. He has just said that he has reverted to the old position. He will have to do much better.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): I know that as a former teacher herself, my right hon. Friend the

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Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris) cared passionately about the work load of teachers and its importance in motivating them. She had several run-ins with teacher unions, but does it not speak volumes for her integrity that they greeted yesterday's announcement with shock and sadness? Does my hon. Friend agree that there are lessons for all of us in her message last night about the way we do politics and about the way in which the Opposition go about their business, and a message for the media as well? I take this opportunity, on behalf of my right hon. Friend's Labour colleagues in Birmingham, to pay tribute—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is not the purpose of a supplementary question. The hon. Gentleman should sit down. I, too, have the highest regard for the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris), but we must go through the Order Paper. That is the purpose of our business here today.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): I hope none the less, Mr. Speaker, that you will allow me, on behalf of my colleagues, formally to welcome the Secretary of State to his new position, and to say that we regret the fact that the previous Secretary of State has become yet another victim of the Government's target culture.

On secondary school work loads, does the Minister accept that there are already a very large number of unqualified people in charge of our classes? Do not his new policies simply mean that there will be yet more unqualified people in our secondary schools taking charge of classes in future?

Mr. Miliband: I am pleased to say that the proposals announced on Tuesday complement the Government's commitment to have 10,000 more teachers in our schools during this Parliament. We are not at all ashamed of saying that language specialists, sports coaches and musicians should be coming into our schools, not to substitute for teachers, but to work under their direction and to supplement the invaluable work that they do.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Teachers in Wales will consider that the announcements made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris) this week were probably the most important thing that she contributed to their work, thanks to devolution. What conversations has my hon. Friend had with his colleagues in Wales to ensure that the full implementation of what was announced will apply to the whole of Wales?

Mr. Miliband: I can reassure my hon. Friend that representatives of the National Assembly for Wales participate as full members in the forum that we have established with all interested parties to work through the package, and they will continue to do so.

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