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House of Lords

Wednesday, 8th July 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Teacher Training

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with progress on improvements in teacher training.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the Government continue to attach great importance to raising the standards of teacher training as this is a key element in raising standards in our schools. We have introduced new standards and a national curriculum for initial teacher training. Ofsted will be inspecting providers to ensure that our requirements are being met and that all training is of a high standard. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools will be reporting on the effectiveness of those measures. At least a third of the £505 million 1998-99 Standards Fund is for expenditure on in-service training, in recognition of teachers' crucial role in raising standards.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. If it is a truth now universally acknowledged that no one forgets a good teacher, is it not also unfortunately a truth that no teacher can forget a bad teacher trainer? Now that we have from the TTA these admirable teacher-training programmes, does the Minister agree that a great deal still depends upon teacher trainers delivering accordingly? Is the Minister confident that teacher trainers have the ability and, indeed, the willingness so to do?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, that to deliver this ambitious new programme it is vital that teacher trainers are able to rise to the challenge. I believe that they are anxious and willing to do so and welcome that challenge. Of course, the training programmes will be regularly inspected by Ofsted. They will also be monitored by the TTA, which accredits all institutions which provide initial teacher training.

Baroness Macleod of Borve: My Lords, can the Minister say how many men are being recruited to teach young children? In view of the fact that there are so many single parents, many children miss out on having a father. It would be helpful if there were more male teachers at the lower age level.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I entirely accept that it is desirable that we try to increase the number of men who teach in our primary schools, particularly at the lower age level. I believe that approximately

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20 per cent. of primary teachers and a rather higher proportion of primary head teachers are men. However, we must do all we can to encourage young men to enter what is an enormously worthwhile profession.

Viscount Chelmsford; My Lords, I believe the Government accept the importance of teaching information and communication technology to teachers, not just so they can handle it, but also so that they can pass the benefits on to pupils. Can the Minister offer us any information on how that is moving forward?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, ICT--information and communications technology--is one of the subjects that will be taught from now on to all intending teachers. That is part of the reform in the curricula of teacher training organisations. Both primary and secondary school teachers will be expected to do an ICT course and that will start from this September.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her earlier reply to the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. Many of us are concerned about the lack of liaison between training colleges and commerce and industry. We are now bringing more such liaison into partnerships with schools. Are we doing the same with the training colleges?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, there is increasing contact between the institutions responsible for training teachers and local commerce and industry. That is something the Government welcome and encourage.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, in view of the continuing, worrying shortage of good teachers, have the Government given any further consideration to allowing mothers with good A-levels and degrees to teach with only a minimum of teacher training?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the Government are anxious to encourage mature people, whether men or women, into the teaching profession. Clearly, mothers whose children are old enough to allow them to work full time are in a category that we should be encouraging. But it is the Government's view that they should be properly trained before they become registered teachers working in the classroom. That would require them to take a one-year course. The Government are encouraging the development of more part-time PGCE courses, again to support that category.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, a long time ago I recall being surprised and somewhat disturbed to read advertisements for people to become lecturers in teacher training and to see in the advertisement that "teaching experience is not essential". Can my noble friend assure the House that those who are to be involved in this ambitious and necessary programme of teacher training are themselves able to show successful teaching experience?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. It is essential that those

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involved in the training of teachers are well qualified and experienced in teaching. I have not seen advertisements of that kind for a long time. I can reassure my noble friend that the teacher training agency responsible for the accreditation of these courses would not take kindly to an advertisement of that sort.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree with the teacher representatives that there is a recruitment and retention problem at the moment? With the endless billions of pounds that will flow from the Treasury next week following the announcement that is to be made to Parliament, should not the teachers enjoy at least a share of that money in order to address specifically the problem of recruitment and retention?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the noble Baroness has anticipated the money that may be flowing from the Treasury next week. She is obviously more familiar with its decisions than I am. However, having said that, it is extremely important that we do everything we can to promote improved recruitment and retention of teachers, especially good teachers. I shall bear in mind what she has said on this matter.

Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one problem with retention and recruitment is that today's teachers have to deal not just with difficult children but with difficult parents as well? How does she think the teaching profession can encourage a sense of partnership so that teaching is not just left to the teachers but that parents are fully involved in making schools successful?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I very much agree that part of the job of a teacher today is not just to work with pupils but to work with their parents. It is important that in preparing teachers for their role that element of the job should be incorporated into the training they are given. It is also important that in-service training provides opportunities for teachers who want to specialise in the pastoral side of the job, especially in secondary schools.

Students in Need: Income Support

2.44 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider restoring a right to income support and housing benefit during the long vacation to students who are orphaned or estranged from both their parents.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, although this particular group is not mentioned in a recent report by the Social Security Advisory Committee on student provision, a ministerial taskforce was established to consider the support available to care leavers, some of whom may be orphaned or estranged from both parents and in full-time education. The advisory committee's report raised a wide range of student issues. In due course, we will lay

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that report before the House, together with our response and regulations, as a Command Paper. Those regulations will be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses and your Lordships will have the opportunity to debate them fully at that time.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for offering a tiny chink of hope. Is he aware that no student can live for 52 weeks without a home to go to on simply grant and loan together? Is he further aware that students looking for work face the same chance of failing to get it as everyone else? Is he aware, therefore, that students who are orphaned or estranged from their families go through their undergraduate years in perpetual danger of having to withdraw from their studies through no fault of their own? Does he think that that is fair on people whose lives are difficult enough already?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, financial support from educational maintenance grants and student loans is intended to provide for the whole year. However, life is not as simple as that, as the noble Earl has pointed out. In these cases help is available from the access funds. Those funds are available to institutions of higher education so that they can provide selective help to certain students who have serious financial difficulties.

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