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House of Lords

Thursday, 24th June 1999.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Teachers: Recruitment

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether an assessment has been made of the success or otherwise of their campaign for the recruitment of more teachers.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have a range of successful strategies to boost recruitment to teaching, including the £5,000 incentives for new maths and science teachers, which have brought a substantial increase in applications, and the Teacher Training Agency's current advertising campaign. The recent quinquennial review of the Teacher Training Agency has recommended that the TTA makes recruitment the top priority for the next phase of its work.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. The advertising campaign to which he refers, with the theme of "No one forgets a successful teacher" is worthy, but is my noble friend aware that it needs to be associated with better salaries and good long-term projects? What evidence is there that the "golden hello" payments are being successful and, perhaps more importantly, what are the Government doing with regard to research into the attitudes of fifth and sixth-formers and undergraduates towards teaching?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend has raised an important point. I believe that the advertising campaign was successful. Certainly the information line run by the TTA has had 10,000 extra inquiries. While it is early days there is certainly evidence that compared with this time last year we have received considerably more applications from maths and science students who wish to undertake a PGCE. I am not aware of any research that is being undertaken on this matter but I shall take that point back to my ministerial colleagues. I believe that we are creating a virtuous circle; namely, the higher the standards of teaching in schools, the more pupils in schools will think that teaching is a good career for them. In addition, the Green Paper contains proposals to improve the career structure of teachers.

Lord Tope: My Lords, what success has been achieved in recruiting older people with experience in commerce and industry into the teaching profession? Is the noble Lord aware that when such people qualify as teachers they find it virtually impossible to obtain a full-time permanent post in a school, for no apparent

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reason other than age? Are the Government concerned about this problem and, if so, what do they propose to do about it?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord has raised an important issue. I am sure that every Member of this House would be very much opposed to any ageist policy in education or elsewhere. On 14th June we published a code of practice on age diversity in employment which makes specific mention of the teaching profession. As part of our efforts to boost better recruitment of teachers, a new scheme aims to recruit 600 new mature maths and science teachers. It is interesting to note that the scheme will match them to on-the-job training in schools. The TTA has awarded a contract to a company called Timeplan to implement that scheme.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, is recruitment inhibited by the clamour for payment by results? How does recruitment of modern language teachers compare with recruitment of maths and science teachers?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not think there is any suggestion that this is simply a case of crude payment by results. The proposals in the Green Paper seek to reward teachers who perform well in schools but they are measured against careful criteria and a careful assessment process. Certainly there has been concern about the reduction in the number of people coming forward to train to be modern language teachers. We shall keep that situation under close review to see whether any special measures need to be taken. But in addition, in order to attract able people to the teaching profession it is essential to reinforce the message of success which we see in many schools and among many teachers, and to implement the proposals in the Green Paper which seek to reward those people adequately.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, just as no one forgets a successful teacher--as my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington said--equally, no teacher forgets a successful pupil? I can report modestly that my primary school teacher wrote me a letter once a month until the day she died at the age of 96.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I suppose the question to ask is, what did she say?

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what success the Government have had in getting rid of inadequate teachers? How many have been dismissed by use of the fast-track procedure?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am not aware of the figures but I shall certainly write to the noble Baroness. As regards failing teachers and failing schools, we cannot afford to sweep failure under the

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carpet. While the failures are a small proportion in terms of the overall numbers of teachers and schools, it is essential that we tackle those with decisiveness.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House of any progress that has been made with people who were somewhat disparagingly referred to as "Mum's Army"; in other words, parents with good A-levels and good degrees whose children have grown up and who, with perhaps the very minimum of teacher training, might be available to teach in our schools?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we are keen to see teaching assistants and classroom assistants coming into schools. We have plans for a further 20,000 over the next three to four years. Their whole purpose is to enable teachers to focus much more on classroom teaching.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I am not suggesting for a moment that the Government are complacent in this matter, but does my noble friend appreciate that there is still a mountain to climb in the recruitment of teachers? I was a wee bit disappointed to hear that no research is being carried out in this area into the views of fifth and sixth-formers and undergraduates, because what we really want to know is why young people are not going into teaching. Until we find that out we shall not make much progress.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I said to my noble friend that I would reflect on his suggestion. However, I repeat what I said earlier: the clear way to attract more high calibre people into teaching is to ensure that there is a proper career structure, with adequate reward for such people. That is exactly what the Government's Green Paper is all about.

Parliamentary Groups

3.10 p.m.

Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider a greater role for and effectiveness of country-specific and regional all-party parliamentary groups.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the Government recognise the valuable role that country-specific all-party parliamentary groups can play in the development of bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and the country concerned. The Government also appreciate that individual Members of both Houses of Parliament participate in those groups on a voluntary basis, applaud their commitment to the

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development of our overseas relations, and stand ready to offer support and advice to these groups as and when needed.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, the haphazard and ineffective manner in which a large number of groups conduct themselves is, in my view, a lost opportunity. Would it not be better, while retaining the independent nature of the groups, to have properly documented minutes, scrutiny of official policy, possibly in support of the over-stretched Foreign Affairs Select Committee, to address the inadequacy of influence, knowledge-gathering and understanding?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Viscount said that the committees are organised on a haphazard basis. However, it is for the members of the committees to organise their business. On occasions when my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have offered particular advice or support, it has been their experience that that was thought to be interference with the committees. Her Majesty's Government are reticent to offer some kind of blueprint in the way suggested by the noble Viscount. The suggestions he made may be very helpful to individual committees; so far as concerns the FAC, I suggest that he makes his suggestions to the chairman of that committee, Mr Anderson.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, given that the Inter-Parliamentary Union is devoted to the cause of resolving disputes by peaceful means and to promoting the ideals of democratic government, does the Minister think that there are further ways in which her department can complement and build on its work and that of the all-party country groups, especially now in the Balkans?


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