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Teaching Profession: Public Appreciation

2.57 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the support, enthusiasm and commitment of good teachers underpin all that we are trying to achieve in driving up standards in schools. We must, and do, take every opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the best of the profession.

Last month, the Government announced the National Teaching Awards. This month the Secretary of State will present certificates to the first cohort of successful candidates for the new national qualification for headteachers. The Teacher Training Agency's campaign, "No one forgets a good teacher", has also helped to raise the profile of teaching.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging reply. Does she not agree that, in a society in which success is increasingly measured in material terms alone and in which the spirit of service can be too easily demeaned, it behoves us all to spend a good deal more time talking up the dedicated and devoted service of the majority of the teaching profession and also to ensure that, by the conditions of service which the profession enjoys, its significance to the future of Britain is recognised? Does my noble friend agree that this is an urgent issue if the worrying signs in the recruitment of teachers are to be put right?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords, I very much agree with what my noble friend has just said. It is extremely important that we talk up the commitment of the many hundreds of thousands of excellent teachers who work in our schools. It is one of the most important professions that any young person can take up. To have charge of our children and to teach them is enormously important. It is also important that the right terms and conditions of service are provided for teachers. It is for the School Teachers' Review Body, the independent pay review body, to recommend changes to teachers' statutory pay and conditions of employment.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the figures showing the decline in the number

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of those taking higher education courses which lead to primary school teaching? Does she believe that particular action needs to be taken, including higher initial pay, to encourage people to take up primary teaching as a potential career?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, there is concern about the number of recruits to training places for both primary and secondary teachers. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that places for primary school teachers are over-subscribed. The Government are more concerned about recruitment to the secondary school teaching profession where shortages are greater. The Government are taking action to monitor what is happening and to encourage as far as possible many young people and also mature entrants to apply.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does the noble Baroness's reply to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, mean that the Government welcome the drop of 15 per cent. in applications for Bachelor of Education courses for primary teachers? Is it not regrettable that although the fees have been waived for students doing a PGCE in a fourth year for the Certificate of Education they have not been waived for young people taking four-year Bachelor of Education degree courses in our universities in higher education?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, of course the Government do not welcome the decline in the number of applications for teacher training places, wherever that may be. However, for next year those teachers who are taking four-year B.Ed. primary teaching courses will continue on the same basis as at present. Teachers who decide to take PGCEs will be starting a new course. The Government have decided to make a concession. However, we shall be monitoring the position as regards potential primary schoolteachers on four-year B.Ed. courses.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it is important to attract male teachers into primary schools so that boys can have appropriate role models?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, yes. It is very desirable for more young or mature men to enter primary teaching. At the moment the proportion is approximately 20 per cent. I do not believe that it has changed much in recent years. But anything that can be done to enhance that proportion would be highly desirable.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is it not important above all that students should appreciate what their teachers do for them? Therefore, will the Government find a way of encouraging students who, at any rate, have obtained A-levels to write to thank the headmaster of the school for the help that they were given in doing so?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am not sure that that is for the Government. I certainly agree that

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showing appreciation is always very nice. As a former university teacher, when I received such letters it made my week. I certainly believe that parents might encourage their children to write and thank the teachers who have supported and helped their pupils. It would be a good thing for them to write and thank the teachers. It is not really a matter for the Government.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, will the Minister accept that the decline in the number of applications for B.Ed. courses has placed in some financial difficulty higher education institutions which have a major element of teacher training? Does she further accept that some of those colleges are now at some risk? They are colleges which, in the past, have had a fine record of producing committed and highly valued teachers. Does the Minister accept that their future should be as secure as possible?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it is extremely important that the future of such institutions should be secure. The Government have absolutely no evidence that they are in fact insecure. As I said earlier in answer to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, there is substantial over-subscription for primary school B.Ed. courses. So although the total number of applications may be down, the Government do not expect places to remain unfilled.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in view of what the Minister said about the problem of recruiting secondary school teachers, can she say why there appears to be such difficulty in secondary teachers with considerable experience finding jobs? I believe that, primarily, it is because of the pressures on school budgets, which means that the schools are more inclined to employ newly qualified teachers rather than those who have some seniority in the profession.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, mature entrants to the profession should not be affected. If they are starting as teachers their salaries will not be any different from those of young people starting in teaching. There is no reason whatever why any school, even with pressures on its budget, should reject a newly qualified mature applicant compared with a newly qualified younger applicant.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the noble Baroness has not answered my question. It was about experienced teachers with several years seniority in the profession. It was not about mature teachers.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I apologise if I did not fully understand the noble Baroness's question. The Government do not have evidence that well qualified senior teachers in secondary education are failing to find jobs. On the contrary, I believe that schools are very pleased to be able to recruit such people, particularly in shortage subjects.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that among those with responsibility in colleges of

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education there is growing anxiety about the problem of recruiting to the profession people in sufficient numbers and of the right calibre? Does she not agree that, on reflection, we have had a surfeit of headlines which seem to denigrate the profession? Does she further agree that it is important for someone like her, with her commitment to the profession and her understanding of it, to have a word with some of those who might change the form of their remarks to a more encouraging tone?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am not sure that I can change the approach of headline writers to these matters. However, I believe that it would be very helpful if newspapers were to report more favourably on the many successes of our schoolteachers throughout the country.

Teaching and Higher Education Bill [H.L.]

3.7 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reasons be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons reasons be now considered.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line refer to Bill (145) as first printed for the Commons.]


Clause 19, page 14, leave out lines 31 to 49.

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