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House of Lords

Tuesday, 18th January 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.

Teachers: Recruitment Campaigns

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the response to the recent advertising campaign for recruitment of primary school and secondary school teachers.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, so far there have been two advertising campaigns as part of the Teacher Training Agency's five-year recruitment strategy on the theme, "No one forgets a good teacher." The first positively influenced a significant number of graduates who later entered teacher training. The second has not yet been fully evaluated. However, during and immediately after it, the number of inquiries about becoming a teacher was markedly higher than usual. A third campaign began last August.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I am pleased to receive that Answer from my noble friend. However, is she aware that in spite of those and other considerable efforts which have been and are being made by the Government, we are failing to attract a sufficient number of teachers to meet the needs of present education policies? That is true in particular in some areas of secondary education. Can my noble friend say what research, if any, is being done with undergraduates and sixth-form pupils to identify their objections and reluctance to train as teachers? We need a clear picture of this serious problem.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I readily concede that the recruitment of teachers in secondary schools is difficult and has been for some years. However, we are improving on the position that existed a few years ago. The vacancy rates are now relatively small. The advertising campaign and other government measures are reducing the shortages, but I concede that there is more to be done.

It is also right to ask what encourages and discourages young people about a career in teaching and the Teacher Training Agency is undertaking such evaluation.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that all of us on these Benches support higher standards of teaching and performance but that in the end a teacher stands on his or her own in front of a class? As teachers are being overwhelmed by

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instructions from the Department for Education, cannot the number of documents sent to them be reduced? I speak for a member of my family who teaches in Tower Hamlets and finds it rather overwhelming.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am sympathetic to the suggestion that it is important not to put too much pressure on teachers by overwhelming them with documents and too many changes. That was one of the reasons why the Government decided not to have root and branch reform of the national curriculum as applied to secondary schools in particular.

We are also trying to reduce the number of documents going to schools and to send them monthly rather than weekly. However, the advertisements emphasise the demands that are made on teachers. I have one in front of me which shows a picture of a young man sitting thinking and saying, "I couldn't decide on becoming a manager, an actor or a diplomat, so I chose teaching."

Lord Quirk: My Lords, does the Minister have any recent data on successful recruitment from abroad? I have in mind, as she may recall from earlier Questions, countries in northern Europe which have a high educational culture, where the teaching of English to all students is of a high level and where, particularly in Germany, there is currently an over-production of teachers.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord specific statistics, but I shall be happy to look into the question and write to him. Clearly, if we can recruit good teachers from abroad, that is desirable so long as their qualifications are of the highest level and their English is perfect. I think the noble Lord will agree that that is essential. However, it would be wrong for us to become over-dependent on the recruitment of teachers from overseas.

Lord Tope: My Lords, does the Minister share my concern that of the Bachelor of Education students choosing to train for primary school teaching, only 12 per cent are men? What is the Government's campaign doing to try to redress that gender imbalance?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, there has been a gender imbalance in primary school teaching going back to the 19th century. I agree that we should try to prevent that imbalance worsening, but there has been a slight shift in that direction during the past decade. Once again, the Teacher Training Agency is looking in particular at ways of encouraging both young and older men because the recruitment of mature students is an important source of supply and often brings in people who have helpful experience. The TTA is addressing that gender imbalance.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, has the Minister considered the possibility of offering scholarships to people who would become teachers? It

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is fairly certain that a number of people who might have decided upon teaching are deeply discouraged by the prospect of debt, more so than many others because teachers are not exactly highly paid. Is there no possibility of special scholarships for people who commit themselves to teaching? If there were scholarships, there would necessarily be a test of their quality and we should know from the beginning that we were taking on people who could become good teachers.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, there is actually no evidence that the current system of student support is discouraging young people from entering teaching: the numbers have gone up rather than down since the new student support arrangements were introduced. However, it may help the noble Baroness if I say that, regarding PGCEs--the largest shortages are, of course, at the secondary level--a system exists where teachers training and studying for a PGCE do not pay tuition fees.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, will the Minister say what evidence there is that young men actually wish to work with primary schoolchildren? Would her resources, currently used to advertise for such schoolteachers, not perhaps be better spent on recruiting part-time male mentors for primary schoolboys in particular, and Afro-Caribbean boys most especially?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, while most young men seem to prefer to enter secondary teaching, there is a core who want to teach younger children. There is no reason why men should not make good teachers of younger children. The noble Earl's proposal for introducing male mentors is not in any way inconsistent with trying at the same time to encourage more young men to enter primary teaching.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, given that the Government have chosen to give above-inflation pay rises to particular groups of nurses, is it their intention to do the same for teachers?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the teaching profession was given an above-inflation pay rise last year. We are now waiting for the recommendations of the review body. It would be quite wrong for me to pre-judge what the review body will say.

Disability Rights Task Force

2.43 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to implement the main recommendations of the Disability Rights Task Force.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I announced yesterday during the Second Reading of the Learning

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and Skills Bill that the Government will be bringing forward a Bill later this Session to give effect to the education recommendations of the Disability Rights Task Force. That will secure comprehensive civil rights for disabled people in school, further, higher and adult education. The Government are already taking forward a number of the task force's other recommendations and are considering the remainder.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I welcome that reply and the early action by the Government on the recommendations on education and their consideration. However, is my noble friend aware that Britain's 8½ million disabled people want more than that? The only hope they have for comprehensive civil rights is the implementation of all the proposals. Will my noble friend agree that the real problem is timing, especially as it is subject to the turbulent vagaries of politics? The best solution, in my opinion, would be to have a specific timetable for every single recommendation so that disabled people know where they are and, perhaps more importantly, the Government know where they are.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am sure that the Disability Rights Commission, the members of which were announced yesterday, will want to remind the Government constantly of the need to have as clear as possible a timetable for implementing the recommendations of the Disability Rights Task Force. However, my noble friend will be well aware that a number of the 150 recommendations of the task force require legislation. It is rather difficult for the Government to have a precise timetable with regard to legislation because it will depend a great deal on parliamentary pressures.

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