§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned. —[Mr. Heppell.]9.30 am
§ Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)
I called the debate for one simple reason. During the past few months I have spoken to teachers at all levels—from secondary heads to supply teachers—and without exception they have given me the same message: there is a mounting crisis in our schools. The Government seem not to realise that many teachers are at the end of their tether, and they need someone to speak up for them. I cannot make the Government change what they are doing—nor, it seems, can the teachers—but I can explain in straightforward terms what, according to teachers, is going wrong.
Before telling the Minister about the problems that the Government need to get to grips with, I pay tribute to those heads and teachers who are battling to keep their schools going, and who are delivering better results despite the problems that they face. They deserve the thanks of everyone in the House and in the country. It is to be regretted that, at times, my party has not enjoyed the best of relations with the teaching profession. Today, without qualification, I offer teachers thanks for keeping things going when so many of them are frustrated by the conditions in which they work.
At the heart of the problem is a Government who came to office promising to modernise Britain, but who, as far as I can see, have found a way to modernise only socialism. Today's Labour Ministers have lost none of their predecessors' instinct to run every aspect of our lives. If something is not working, their solution is to regulate and micromanage. Extra money has to be spent on special initiatives decided in, and controlled from, Whitehall. To ensure progress, every organisation is required to produce long and complex reports and plans that no one ever reads. In Labour Britain, no one is free to deploy resources according to local needs and realities; instead, they must follow the diktat of the departmental textbook. Nowhere is that more true than in our schools, and it has to stop.
Having served on the governing body of a small first school, I have seen at first hand the endless flow of paperwork from Whitehall. On giving up my governorship 18 months ago, I never imagined that matters would get worse, but only last week the chairman of the governors and the head of a primary school in my constituency told me that this autumn they have had to deal with six new Government initiatives, and that four or five more have to be responded to by January. Yesterday, I was told that 20 new documents requiring action by primary schools have been sent out since 1 April.
Because the governing body consists of volunteers, most of that work lands on the desk of the head teacher. She told me with some frustration that she now has little 2WH or no opportunity to do what she really wants to do: spend time in the school helping her staff to educate the children. Under this Government, our head teachers—by definition, our best teachers—are being turned into a generation of pen pushers.
It is not only head teachers who are frustrated by the weight of paperwork on their desks. Last year, one local head told me that he recently lost two good young members of staff because theywanted to get a life".In a letter to the minister written earlier this year, a local Union official said thatthe majority of young colleagues who leave teaching cite the difficulty of having a life outside of the job— and the workload associated with it.One of the most consistent messages from the teaching profession is that teachers do not feel free to do the job that they are qualified to do. Teachers say that Whitehall seems to want to tell them what to do step by step. There is no need to take my word for it. Last week, one head—not from my constituency—told me that the Government are over-interventionist, our children are over-measured, there is initiative overload, and the Government do not wait long enough to see what works. She described the Government's education policy in a manner that I believe constitutes unparliamentary language, and went on to say thatthe government has taken the joy and inspiration out of teaching.The mood of intervention that seems to permeate the Department for Education and Skills has been most visible in the Government's approach to the pre-school sector. In the past few weeks, I have visited several pre-school groups in my constituency and been shown the increasingly complex bureaucratic framework within which they are being asked to work. It features complex curriculums, onerous qualification requirements for half the staff of a small playgroup, and huge amounts of paperwork that must be completed by people who are either volunteers or low-paid part-time workers. As a result, many groups will close and those that remain will struggle to attract people.
There is real concern in schools about the consequences of the Government's plans to bring in more classroom assistants and to develop their role. If the purpose of the exercise is indeed to strengthen the adult support offered to young children, that is desirable, but some people doubt that. In the letter to the Minister that I quoted a moment ago, my local union leader wrote:We welcome the greater consideration given to the training, development and career development of support colleagues; they do an impressive job, often for salary returns little better than the basic minimum wage. We are concerned, however, that their role is to go beyond their traditional and appropriate one, and they are to be encouraged to 'look after' pupils whilst teachers are freed to prepare work.He continued:It is very sad that the government department responsible for education singularly fails to understand the basic process of teaching and learning—not only does the approach suggested misunderstand the nature of the educative process, it also runs counter to other directives on appropriate and adequate supervision.Local teachers have expressed similar fears to me.
§ Patrick Mercer (Newark)
I raised a similar issue with a head in my constituency who felt that the role of teaching assistants as set out by the Secretary of State reflected a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of teachers in classrooms. He said that the right hon. Lady's vision of the role of teaching assistants meant that teachers could give out work at the beginning of the class, then put their feet up or leave the room; yet the interactive nature of teaching these days means that classroom assistants must work together with teachers.
§ Chris Grayling
I agree. The anxieties expressed by members of the teaching profession about a potentially good initiative that might prove to be totally inappropriate leave the Government with considerable food for thought and the challenge of ensuring that they get it right.
The fears that my hon. Friend and I have described were echoed in the conclusion of the letter. It says:There is disenchantment among young teachers that must be addressed. We ignore that disenchantment at our peril.A recent piece of research undertaken at Liverpool university throws further light on the problem. It states:The resignation rate from schools is rising sharply".It says that on an annualised basis, the resignation rate from schools over the past summer was just under 16 per cent., up by 4 per cent. since 1999, and that the biggest factor behind those resignations was work load. Around half the teachers leaving the profession were doing so without any particular immediate plans. More worrying still, the research reveals that the age profile of the teaching profession is rising; it is not renewing itself. There are far more teachers in their 40s than in the early stages of their career. That risks storing up enormous problems for the future.
In my county, Surrey, and in many other parts of the country, disillusionment with teaching shows in what has become a recruitment crisis. There are simply not enough teachers coming on to the job market to meet the needs of our schools, and many who are currently in teaching jobs are leaving the profession. During last week's Education questions, the Secretary of State emphatically denied that there was an exodus from the profession, especially by young teachers. However, when I talk to head teachers I hear a very different story. In the past few days my colleagues and I have spoken to most of the head teachers in our county. They say that not only do local schools face severe recruitment difficulties, but that during the past year around half have lost staff from the profession, many of whom were younger, newly qualified teachers.
The Government continue to claim that talk of a recruitment and retention crisis in schools is scaremongering, and that most posts were filled during the summer. That may be numerically true, but the reality is rather different. Most heads say that the quality of new, British-trained teachers is good, but that there are too few of them. One head told me that the closest response to one advertisement that he had placed came from Romania and the next closest was from Papua New Guinea. Another said that he had filled places with teachers from Africa and that a huge amount of management time was needed to bring them up to the standard necessary to do the job properly for his pupils. Another said that although he had filled 4WH 18 vacancies, only nine of the teachers were up to the job, adding that he had had no choice. Other heads said that many applicants have little or no experience of the national curriculum and the learning frameworks that the Government have established in this country. More than half of Surrey schools say that they have staff teaching subjects for which they are not qualified, and I suspect that that pattern is repeated in many other parts of the country.
Where vacancies persist, cover is provided by supply teachers or by shuffling staff internally, but more than half the heads to whom we spoke said that they were concerned about the worsening quality of the supply teachers to whom they have access, because there are not enough good supply teachers to go around. Those who manage to cover vacancies internally say that that places huge pressures on other staff, taking precious time for lesson preparation which must then be done outside school hours.
The cost of recruitment is also enormous. One head told me during the summer that he had spent more than £35,000 on agency fees in his attempts to recruit staff. Others have had to pay for visits overseas to find teachers.
§ Angela Watkinson (Upminster)
A school in my constituency of which I am a governor had to advertise several times and incur the associated expense. The head teacher, accompanied by several other head teachers, went to Australia to carry out block recruiting and interviewing. Does my hon. Friend agree that appointments made in that way are unlikely to be long term and that people coming halfway across the world are likely to do so because they want only to visit Europe, so the problem is likely to recur in six months or two years? It is unlikely that heads will achieve adequate staffing with such recruitment methods.
§ Chris Grayling
My hon. Friend makes an apposite point, which is reflected in the fact that many head teachers are happy to conduct telephone interviews with teachers from overseas and some do not even meet such staff before they arrive to work. Perhaps the greatest burden is on the time of head teachers. Many say that they have done little except tackle recruitment problems for the past few months and that the strain has been enormous.
Before the Minister adopts the classic Government defence position and says that it was all the fault of the Tories, I shall quote a letter that I received in the summer from the head of a community college in Sussex who was complaining about the lack of applicants for jobs. He said:The situation is a clear contrast to the situation five years ago, when we were disappointed if we received less than twenty applications for any post, and averaged over fifty.Today, most schools feel lucky if they receive more than one application for a post.
I expect that the Minister will laud the importance of the Government's recruitment and retention fund. While welcome, the extra cash has, however, been erratically divided and is too little to have a long-term impact. Surrey, for example, received £650,000, which is considerably less than many other problematic areas whose problems are often less severe. However, it 5WH allowed many heads to pay for advertising and other recruitment costs, which is welcome. More worrying is the fact that many have had to use the cash to pay extra to secure new recruits. They face being left with financial problems when the cash runs out, but they say that they have no choice.
Funding for Government initiatives is another area of concern for heads and one that is causing mounting frustration. Instead of simply providing more cash for schools, the Government have ensured that a significant part of the additional funding provided is ring-fenced and time limited. The Department decides how much is provided and what it is spent on. That is classic micromanagement of the sort that Ministers seem so determined to pursue. Heads in my constituency tell me that they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to match specific pots of money allocated to them under the standards fund to potential needs so that the money can all be used, but they say that the specific allocations rarely meet the needs of the school. Why is it not possible simply to give schools the extra cash and the freedom to spend it on the things that they know they need, rather than the things that the Department says they need? Schools have little discretionary money after teaching and other fixed costs are paid for, so it is madness for the Government to spend so much time trying to manage the small remaining amount of school expenditure.
Another problem is that funding is now provided on a time-limited basis. The best example is that of threshold pay. The Government initially allocated £400 million in their first grant to schools to meet the cost of threshold pay; now they say that next year's grant will be £250 million, and they have made no specific commitment for subsequent years. They say that funding will be increased to meet the scheme's requirements, but I am not altogether convinced, nor are many of the heads to whom I have spoken. They want reassurance that 100 per cent. of the cost of threshold pay will be put into school budgets in future. Otherwise, many will be faced with having to ration threshold pay by limiting it to fewer staff than are entitled to it. Many feel that they face that choice today, as few have the budgetary freedom to absorb the extra costs if the Government do not pay.
It is not just frustration with bureaucracy and overwork that is driving teachers to despair and, too often, out of the profession; there is real anger in many schools that teachers have no sanction against unruly and antisocial behaviour in the classroom. Every week, dozens of teachers are assaulted in the classroom. A couple of weeks ago, The Guardian reported the case of a music teacher in north London who was headbutted twice, kicked in the testicles, and smashed on the head with an iron bin by a pupil in his classroom. He had to be operated on and could not eat solid food for a fortnight. A recent survey by Warwick university reported that 80 per cent. of teachers believe that pupil behaviour has worsened during their time as teachers. The research undertaken by Liverpool university to which I have already referred found that pupil behaviour is the second most common reason given by teachers for leaving the profession. The attacker of that north London teacher had already been involved in several violent incidents but had not been excluded. Hundreds of other troublesome and disruptive pupils 6WH have also escaped action in recent years, while others have escaped on appeal after an exclusion decision: in answer to a written question in the summer, the Department told me that approximately one third of exclusion orders are overturned. I know of cases in which pupils excluded from school for dealing in drugs have been reinstated on appeal. What message of support does that send to teachers and heads in such schools?
To some extent, the Government have seen the error of their ways, but instead of totally reversing their recent policy, they have apparently only declared a moratorium on the exclusion process. Can the Minister clarify whether the Government will allow exclusions to return to the levels of five years ago? The current position, in which teachers are under the spotlight for their conduct, is absurd. They frequently end up in court charged with assault after losing their temper with pupils, whereas pupils can get away with almost anything. Is it any wonder that teachers feel betrayed and abandoned, and that so many leave in frustration because they feel powerless to prevent antisocial behaviour in their classrooms? One head said to me:Too many parents seem to want to pursue minor incidents until they are in front of the courts.Another, expressing his staff's frustration, said:None of our parents ever seem to be willing to admit that their children could have done anything wrong.The teacher assaulted in that school in north London said:Middle-class theories about being nice and letting children work through their anger in these kinds of situations don't work. They need to have boundaries. This inclusion idea is potentially good, but is only half worked out. I want the issue of staff in inner-city schools addressed. We have to realise that we are breeding a whole generation of children that are growing up with no values.
§ Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because discipline in schools and dealing with unruly pupils is an important subject. However, to rely solely on exclusion and getting those pupils out of schools is not sufficient, although I suspect that that is what happened under the last Conservative Government. It simply means that those kids are on the street, growing up without the values that he mentioned, and that they might end up causing far greater problems to society. If he wants to rely on exclusion, he must also ensure that his party puts the relevant money into other forms of education and providing somewhere else for those young people to go, so that they might be made into better citizens than his solution, putting them out on the streets, would make them.
§ Chris Grayling
There is no question of simply relying on exclusion, but not having exclusion as a weapon creates a vacuum in schools that exacerbates the problems for teachers. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the last couple of years my party has advocated the creation of stronger units to deal with problem pupils. We need a very wide-ranging approach to policy on tackling the problem, but see no signs of that coming from the Government.
§ The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms)
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. From September, for the first time we will be able 7WH to offer full-time education to anybody who is excluded from school. I am sure that he and the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) will welcome that helpful move. Under the Conservative Government, children who had been excluded were often given only a couple of hours teaching a week, which led to all sorts of problems elsewhere in the community.
§ Chris Grayling
I welcome any steps in that direction, but it is fair to say that in far too many cases troublesome pupils are kept within the schools, thus exacerbating the problems and undermining the authority of the heads and the teachers. Heads and teachers feel that they have absolutely no sanction against pupils in their classrooms who are disrupting the life of the school. That problem must be solved.
§ Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater)
That is an interesting point, because in my part of Somerset, which is extremely rural, we cannot exclude disruptive pupils because there is nowhere for them to go. Our problem is that there is currently no funding to enable them to be taught within the class system. I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister agrees with me funding is essential if the system is to be made to work. My question is, where will the funding come from?
§ Chris Grayling
It is partly a matter of delivering funding to the right places. It is clearly wrong that in a county such as Somerset there is no alternative to inclusion. However, funding is not the whole of the issue. It is about the Government sending signals, providing a legislative framework, and giving teachers protection against false allegations by pupils. All those things will help to rebuild the confidence of the teaching profession.
Even in high-cost counties such as Surrey, the twin issues of classroom behaviour and overbearing bureaucracy dominate concern about the profession, despite the real problems caused by high housing costs and disparities between pay in London and areas just outside. Those issues must be tackled as part of the Government's solutions to the problems, but doing so will not on its own deal with the teaching crisis in our schools.
I end with some messages for Ministers. Start by taking a year out. Do not introduce any new initiatives for the next 12 months, and give what has already been done time to bed down. Look at what can be done to scrap the burden of regulation on schools. Let me offer some ideas. Why not rationalise all the reports that teachers have to produce for schools, the Government and local education authorities into a single annual report from the head and the governing bodies? Is not one fat document a year enough for any school? Limit the number of consultation documents sent to governors—they do not meet that often and they cannot cope. If anyone thinks that they can cope, they should attend a few governors meetings to find out.
Stop trying to micromanage school budgets; instead, give them new money and tell them that they are expected to do certain things with it, but leave it to the schools to deal with how and when those things are done. If a school has done those things successfully, let 8WH it use the money for the things it really needs. Give heads and governors back the full right to exclude pupils in the interests of their staff and other pupils, and give teachers more protection against false allegations. Above all, apply common sense. Mothers do not need to do courses lasting a year or more to be qualified to work a couple mornings a week in a local playgroup. If many young teachers are leaving the profession saying that they want to get a life, not everything can be right in the teaching profession. Do not believe only the statistics; when so many heads say that something is wrong, it just might be true.
My local unions concluded their letter to the Minister with these words:We look to the Government to do something to restore teacher morale and make a start to address the underlying causes of our current staffing crisisI could not have put it better myself.
§ Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing this debate and I join him in paying tribute to the hard work of teachers. Briefly, I want to focus on a number of specific issues facing teachers in my constituency. In particular, I would like to warn my hon. Friend on the Government Front Bench of an impending bid, from my constituency, for additional funding.
I pay tribute to two particularly hard-working and experienced teachers, Jane Bester and Wyn Churchill, who mentored me throughout my brief teaching career before I entered the House.
I am lucky in Harrow, West to have successful schools, which are products of a strong comprehensive school system and ethos. There is a strong partnership between those comprehensive schools and the local education authority. Harrow LEA has just had a positive Ofsted report, but it is not complacent; the report was not perfect, but extremely positive. Schools in Harrow, West have strong leadership, generally supportive parents and, above all, good teachers. All the high schools, in partnership with the LEA, have decided to apply for specialist school status. I flag up the bids by Nower Hill high school and by my old school, Hatch End, which has bid for arts specialist school status and is awaiting with interest the Department's decision on whether it will be given. It is keen to hammer home the message of successful delivery of arts provision and did so to the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, at the beginning of the May general election campaign.
I share the concern of the teaching profession on issues such as the retention of teachers. I do not dismiss the issue of the recruitment of teachers—much progress has been made on that and the effort must continue. However, retention requires proper financial stability in schools, and not an on-going fear of redundancy. When I was first elected to the House, the then Liberal-controlled Harrow council cut school budgets by 2 per cent. It took two to three years for the effect of those cuts to be felt in all schools; many teaching posts were axed and additional pressures were consequently put on teachers.
9WH Additional money that the Government have advanced to schools has been welcome. All schools in my constituency have been able to appoint additional classroom assistants, and that has also been welcome. Additional resources have been put into either recruitment of additional teachers where necessary, or into the delivery of classroom material. One school has received its first lick of paint inside the building for more than 15 years. That is proof of the benefit of additional money from the Government and of the financial pressures that existed under the Conservative Administration.
I accept the concern about work load, which the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell also acknowledged. From my time teaching, I remember that work load understandably concerned teachers. I remember the frustration of the numerous reports that one had to produce and the considerable paperwork that had to be tackled to deal with children with special educational needs. Those factors still exist, but I welcome the fact that the Government have set up a working party with teaching representatives to consider those issues. I look forward to the Minister rolling out information about what that working party has produced.
The retention of teachers after they have been working for two or three years is important, and especially in London. Many head teachers tell me that house prices in London are a problem. After working for several years and establishing themselves in the community, teachers may want to move on to the house-price ladder. They will experience difficulties in securing a mortgage, and I would encourage my hon. Friend the Minister to remember that. As a London Member, he is aware of the pressures of house prices. I hope that his Department will review that closely.
I shall focus on teachers' working environments. In my constituency, the Rooks Heath high school and the Roxeth Manor first and middle schools are based in buildings that are more than 50 years old, which is inappropriate for any modern school and the community. The head teacher, teachers and governors have worked with the local authority to assess what a 21st-century school needs. Schools need an injection of capital investment way beyond that available via traditional capital routes, or the council's resources. The council—in partnership with Rooks Heath and Canons high school in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty)—is preparing a PFI bid for submission to the Minister's Department shortly before Christmas. The bid includes 14 schools in the Canons and Rooks Heath clusters. Those schools are targeted for support because they have the highest levels of deprivation in Harrow.
Politicians, teachers and head teachers in Harrow are frustrated that the borough is perceived as an affluent leafy metropolitan suburb with low levels of deprivation. In truth, Harrow has pockets of high deprivation, which are served by Canons high and Rooks Heath. Those schools have the highest number of pupils entitled to free school meals, pupils with special educational needs and pupils with English as an additional language, and rank highly on other indices of social deprivation.
The PFI funding for the Rooks Heath and Canons clusters will tie in with the Government's agenda as published in the schools White Paper. The funding will 10WH be focused on how schools can continue to raise attainment in the transition years from primary to high school. It will also develop the 14–19 curriculum by providing additional vocational and traditional academic study routes, which will be delivered in schools with the further education sector's and other partners' support. It will ensure that outdated music, arts and leisure facilities on both of the sites to which I have referred will be modernised, and that investment in classroom information technology and in teaching and learning facilities will be provided.
I urge the Minister to consider the Harrow bid sympathetically so that the borough may tackle the problems of teaching in old buildings that have lacked investment during the past 50 years. The bid would bring important community benefits. I look forward to hearing about further moves to assist the retention of teaching staff, particularly in London, to reduce the work load on teachers. As I stressed, I look forward above all to hearing, in future no doubt, that the Minister and his Department will support the PFI bid from Harrow to tackle some of the problems in my constituency.
§ 10.5 am
§ Patrick Mercer (Newark)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this morning, and I thank hon. Members for the contributions that I have heard so far.
I come to the debate with no experience of teaching other than that of being a student many years ago. However, my experience as a newly arrived Member has taken me to the core of the teaching difficulties and strengths in my constituency, from Newark in the south to Retford in the north. The challenges that face teachers in my constituency are broadly the same, but I shall concentrate this morning on the difficulties in the Bassetlaw area, to the north of my constituency, where I live. I am sure that the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) is familiar with many of the problems and will reflect on them when he speaks in due course.
I remember that when I was at school there was always a leavening or sprinkling of mini-skirted female teachers, and young men out on the field who taught us rugby, cricket or whatever. They were perhaps much more able than the older generation of teachers to sympathise and empathise with the students. Clearly, the older teachers were there to provide maturity, gravitas and judgment, but the younger teachers were terribly important—particularly the female ones, I might add. Going round the various schools recently, I was struck more than anything by the fact that those young teachers are no longer to be found. From the top to the bottom of my constituency, I do not see them.
If we consider the Retford area, the reason becomes fairly clear. There are three secondary schools in Retford—King Edward VI school, the Elizabethan school and Ordsall Hall school—all of which provide excellent services to the best of their capabilities to the students. However, there is overcapacity: there are more places available than students to be taught, with the result that teachers face a difficulty with regard to where skills are concentrated.
Slightly further south is the excellent Tuxford comprehensive school, which offers a much better performance at sixth-form level than any of the three 11WH schools in Retford because of its concentration of teachers. I am not criticising the schools in Retford, but things are difficult for them. As a result, if a student from Retford wishes to study, say, a combination of geography, German and economics, they cannot be taught only in Retford; they have to move between one or two sites in Retford and down as far as Tuxford, which is about seven miles away. Bus services do not exist, and youngsters frequently have to use taxis to get to and from the sites.
The frustrations felt by teachers are considerable. Many of their school sites are in a poor state of repair and under-resourced in terms of facilities. In addition, there are difficulties in trying to find a student coming from or going to Retford who is persistently late and whose lessons are persistently curtailed, because of the travelling and the conditions involved. All that builds up to a great level of frustration for the teachers, who are trying to teach these young people.
This morning, I spoke to the head of the sixth form at Tuxford comprehensive school, who gave me a good understanding of the situation facing the teachers there. Among the staff, there is only one young teacher, a 23-year-old. That excellent young man has a very good background with his postgraduate certification of education and is making a first-class start at the school. However, he complains, exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) said, about the business of getting a life—we seem to come across that phrase all the time. As far as that young man is concerned, 5 o'clock is knocking-off time, when he should be able to get on and do other things, but he is faced with a work load of marking or bureaucracy that takes him away from what he believes are his core skills: teaching, inspiring and leading young people of north-east Nottinghamshire. He told me that last night he spent time filling in the same form for the Department for Education and Skills, the local education authority and the Teacher Training Agency, which all sought the same answers. If they had been on the same form, he would have lost two thirds of his work load last night.
That 23-year-old is being paid about £22,000 a year, which is similar in Newark to a junior manager's wage at the British Sugar plant or to a skilled ball-bearing maker's at NSK-RHP. Comparisons are invidious, but that young man has trained hard, is highly motivated and believes that his pay does not match his contemporaries' pay. There is no doubt that the pay is better after five or seven years, but as the teacher from Tuxford told me, about one third of young teachers in north-east Nottinghamshire leave at the end of their first year. Approximately half the remaining two thirds leave within five or seven years.
That teacher made a point that I have observed on the ground and that was raised this morning: there seems to be a gap between a smattering of people in their early 20s and mature teachers in their late 30s and early 40s. The recruiting difficulty faced by schools in Nottinghamshire can be contained at the moment, but in 10 years or less, difficulties will begin to bite. Tuxford school recently advertised for a humanities teacher, for which there were nine applications; five years ago, the same advertisement attracted 72 applications.
12WH Conditions at Tuxford school have improved, and we are delivering a better service. Results are better, but young people still do not want to teach in the scattered rural community that I have the privilege to represent. Teachers have been damned left, right and centre, but standards continue to improve. At Tuxford school, GCSE results have improved by 9 per cent. since last year despite the fact that it is overcrowded, classes are much larger, facilities are poor, there is no gymnasium, and water pours in through the roofs. All that is being assessed, and I do not suggest for a moment that the state of education in my constituency is parlous. None the less, it is not an attractive proposition for a young teacher to endeavour to teach in such conditions.
Our teachers provide the future lifeblood of our nation. Our children are our most important investment. We must set teachers free so that they can teach, inspire and follow the vocation that most of them have sought.
§ Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on obtaining the debate on an important subject which I am delighted that we have the opportunity to discuss today. Much is still going wrong in schools. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), but many of his criticisms about the current situation could have been made about the last Conservative Government: during their tenure, bureaucracy in schools increased and there was a lack of funding for buildings, which he mentioned. Water came through the roofs, and there was a gradual deterioration in teacher morale, which I accept has not become any better under this Government. However, it is difficult to see how those criticisms would be overcome by the £20 billion cut in Government services that we were promised by the leader of the Conservative party during his leadership election. Although I accept the criticisms, the Conservative party is not offering any sincere answers.
If, as they say, the Government are serious about education being a top priority—it should be for economic reasons, but also for social and democratic reasons—the state of the teaching profession will inevitably be a key measure of the success or failure of their policy. Flowery rhetoric and warm words will count for little if there are no qualified and well-motivated teachers in classrooms who want to, and actually do, teach children. The Government's failure on that basic score tarnishes their education record. The much-delayed Education Bill, which will be discussed in the Chamber this afternoon, is 200 pages long and has 211 clauses but it contains nothing to solve the problem of teacher shortages.
The problem is severe; there is an alarming crisis in recruitment and retention. The chief inspector of schools in England said that the shortages are at their worst level for decades, and the figures for teacher vacancies make grim reading. It is a game of two halves: there is a problem in recruitment and in retention. According to a survey conducted by the National Union of Teachers, of every 100 final-year trainee teachers, 40 will not enter the classroom and a further 18 will leave the profession within three years. According to departmental statistics—the Government's own 13WH Figures—primary vacancies have doubled and secondary vacancies have trebled under the Government. In each of the past three years, about 30 per cent. of newly qualified teachers were not in post by March of the next year.
I welcome the fact that the numbers of posts have increased, but that is the Government's constant reply to our complaints about the number of vacancies. What is the point of going for an increasing number of posts, claiming that they will reduce class sizes, if the Government do not manage to get teachers into the classrooms to fill those posts? Not enough teachers are being recruited, which means that there is a 51 per cent. increase in the number of supply teachers or instructors, with more children being taught by unqualified teachers.
As this is science year, we should remind ourselves of the acute crisis in the core subjects of science and maths. Official statistics for January 2001 show that vacancies for maths teachers have increased sevenfold over five years. Three years ago, according to the Open university centre for mathematics education, about one in 10 secondary maths teachers had no subject qualification beyond A-level. Now, 45 per cent. of staff teaching the subject to 11 to 14-year-olds have limited knowledge of maths and little or no training in teaching that subject.
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report "Science in Schools" found that the proportion of those beginning the postgraduate certificate in education with third-class degrees or lower was markedly higher in maths and science than in arts subjects: it is 37.7 per cent. in physics, 36.5 per cent. in maths, 33.8 per cent. in chemistry and 15.2 per cent. in biology. That compares with 7.4 per cent. in geography, 6.9 per cent. in English and 5.3 per cent. in history. Many of those who are going into teaching the vital subjects of maths and science have worse degrees than those going into arts subjects.
The second half of the game is retention: why are so many of our teachers leaving the profession? In April, the NUT produced a research study on the reasons why teachers are leaving the profession. As many as 82 per cent. of respondents said that the pressures of the work load were an important factor in their decision to leave teaching, and 49 per cent. mentioned the lack of time available for fulfilling their duties and professional development, and not being able to balance competing demands of work and home. About 56 per cent. felt undervalued and undermined by negative publicity and constant criticism. Stoked by Government and press criticism, teaching is nowadays perceived as a low-status profession.
About 22 per cent. of teachers mentioned the perceived unfairness of recent recruitment initiatives, which benefited new recruits but not the profession as a whole. What does that do for retention? Performance-related pay is also seen by many as divisive. Some 27 per cent. expressed frustration at the lack of resources, and particularly at the state of the school buildings and classrooms in which they had to work. Give people unpleasant places in which to work and they will not want to stay there. About 20 per cent. mentioned their feeling that the classroom has now become a place for targets, not children. We face a crisis in recruitment and retention in teaching, which is being underpinned by a perceived lack of status of the profession and a justified sense that we are failing to value our public servants.
14WH What has been the Government's response? We have seen expensive and headline-catching initiatives, but a failure to tackle key issues. On fast track, £9.2 million was poured into private sector companies to recruit only 111 teachers. Targets for advanced skills teachers were hopelessly missed and, most staggeringly, the Government have reduced the number of training places for postgraduates from 19,169 in 1997–98 to 16,611 in 2000–01. It now appears that the undergraduate route is being allowed to wither on the vine, with a 25 per cent. drop in recruits since 1997. A recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research said thatthe current three year expenditure plan could generate up to an extra 70,000 jobs by 2004—in stark comparison with Labour's manifesto pledge of an extra 10,000 teachers.What can we do to overcome the problems? We should never forget that the recruitment and retention of teachers is not in the main about financial incentives and reward. People do not go into teaching to make money—if we tried to tell a teacher that, they would laugh in our face—or to be very important people. They go into teaching because they want to teach. They want to pass on to the next generation their knowledge and understanding. The Government must take note of the widespread feeling in the profession that teachers are being undervalued and talked down by politicians. I must also say that Chris Woodhead has much to answer for.
As a young man, I was lucky enough to do a year's teaching. It taught me a lot. For one thing, I realised that I would never make a teacher. It is much too difficult a profession. It taught me also that teachers get far the most out of their pupils by being lavish with praise when they get things right, and stinting with criticism when they get things wrong. Pupils in our country are no different from the pupils whom I taught in Cameroon and Uganda years ago. They are most effective when they are encouraged to repeat the things that they do well and least effective when they face carping criticism for the things that they try to improve on.
In education as in social services and the national health service, the Government have tended to pursue a naming-and-shaming policy instead of what should be a value-and-encourage approach. We must restore the ideals and status of public service if we are to improve services significantly. The currency must be more than just funding, important as it is. It must include trust in our teachers to do a good job without the burden of restriction on everything that they do, and trust that they will strive for improved standards even without the burden of highly misleading league tables. If the Government constantly send a message to teachers that they do not trust them to do a good job, they will not, and the Government will get the teachers that they deserve.
§ Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing the debate. Since my election to Parliament, I have enjoyed visiting schools in my constituency. Let me place on record the dedication and commitment of teachers and the leadership of head teachers who are doing a good job in difficult circumstances. The message that I am always left with 15WH after a meeting with teachers or a visit to a school is the problem that they face with recruitment and retention of teachers.
Last week, a head teacher told me that a newly qualified teacher is usually at school for 10 hours a day, works at home until 9 or 10 o'clock in the evening and gives up a day at the weekend. If teachers are under such pressure, it is not surprising that they cite work load as a reason for leaving the profession. That head teacher spends two days a week trying to resolve recruitment issues and has been doing so for nearly a year; that time could be better spent elsewhere. He is seeking three teachers in key subjects. When I asked him what would happen if he did not find them, he said that he would have to rejig the timetable and existing teachers would have to pick up more classes. They would lose some of their non-contact time and would have to spend longer preparing for lessons and marking work. I cannot imagine that having a favourable effect on their morale, so the recruitment and retention crisis will deepen.
When the head teacher advertised for a physical education teacher, there were six applicants: four from Australia, one from New Zealand and one from Zimbabwe. Previously, he would have expected several applicants from the UK. Other head teachers in my constituency have commented that, whereas a few years ago they would have expected five or six teachers to apply for a job, they are now lucky if they get one or two. The head teacher whom I mentioned received £20,000 from the Government to help with recruitment and retention. He refers to it as "the Chancellor's gift." It was not much of a gift, though: with 50 teachers at the school, it amounted to £400 per teacher. In summary, teachers face the following problems: a heavy work load, fewer teachers, more work given to fewer staff, fewer applicants for jobs and paltry support from the Government.
The problem is reflected across Hampshire, where there were 57 vacancies in 1998, 93 in 1999, 142 in 2000, and 175 this year. The Minister could respond by saying that there are now more teaching positions, so let us consider the rate of vacancies: 0.7 per cent. in 1998, 1.2 per cent. in 1999, 1.8 per cent. in 2000, and 2.2 per cent. this year. The number of vacancies is increasing faster than the number of teaching posts, demonstrating that there is a problem of recruitment and retention in the teaching profession and that the Government are trying to ignore it.
In their White Paper "Schools: Achieving Success", the Government set out their objective for a fivefold increase in special schools. However, as the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) indicated, the number of teaching vacancies in those schools is also increasing, as are teaching vacancies in subjects that the Government want to encourage, such as maths, information and communications technology, physical education and modern languages. I do not believe that they will achieve their objective of a fivefold increase in the number of special schools by 2005.
The other dimension is that the problem of teacher recruitment is affecting pupils. This morning, Mike Tomlinson said that one reason why improvements in numeracy and literacy had stalled this year was the disruption caused by teacher shortages. When we 16WH discuss the problems of the teaching profession, we must not forget the needs of pupils whose education is being impaired because of the Government's failure to tackle the recruitment and retention crisis facing teachers.
§ Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater)
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing this debate. I intend to talk about my constituency in rural Somerset. One of the big problems in recruiting and retaining teachers is the sheer scale and the size of the place. Some people who attend schools in Minehead have to leave home before 7 o'clock in the morning. They cannot get in if there is snow or ice, or flooding, as there was last year. Therefore, much of the work load of teachers involves trying to keep children up to date and up to speed with what they should be doing.
The worst and the best schools in Somerset are both in my constituency. When one looks at the reasons for that difference, and talks to the two head teachers, one discovers that the best school has no great problems recruiting teachers, but the worst school simply cannot get staff. The ethos is that a school that is achieving will get the staff it needs, but schools that are not achieving will never be able to catch up. At the moment, the worst school is short of seven teachers.
The other problem that we face in rural Somerset relates to class sizes. A school with two teachers that is on the borderline of being eligible for a third teacher will not get one, so it will have to double its classes. In other words, class sizes in rural Somerset are growing because many schools are getting bigger. For example, the middle school in Minehead was built for 500 pupils and because of the vagaries of the area it now has 750 pupils. Nothing can be done about that. The size of the classes means that the school cannot recruit the extra teachers that it needs.
There are also problems involving special needs. Many children in Somerset have special needs and although that is the case in most parts of this country, schools in rural Somerset cannot get special needs teachers to be at the school when they are required because they have to cover such a vast area. The best we can get is a couple of hours a week from the special needs teacher, and on some days one person may have to look after a class of 20 special needs children. That is obviously wrong. We cannot retain special needs teachers because when they have worked in Somerset for a short period they tend to go to Bristol or Exeter or one of the other larger towns where they do not face quite the same problems of movement and of scale.
Another problem was that the local college could not get sufficient resources from Government so we had to raise the £50,000 required for TEC status. An area with the smallest district council in the United Kingdom, with a total budget of just over £4 million, had to raise £50,000. We raised £65,000 from local businesses—and the biggest business is tiny—because people felt that education was not working for their children and other children in their community. That demonstrates the problem that we face.
We also have the problems of transport and travelling. As I said, some children have to travel two and a half hours to get to school and the problem is 17WH getting worse. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) to go on about this, but his party is in charge of Somerset and much of what has been going on is due to the inability of his party to grasp what education really means to the children and the people of Somerset.
§ Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)
I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing this morning's debate. Today, Parliament is rather dominated by education and that is a good thing. We cannot get enough of the subject. The more we discuss it and thrash out the problems and ideas that are before us, the better chance there is—I hope—that the Government will begin to get their policies somewhere near correct. Every child has only one chance of getting a good education and if that chance is lost, it is lost forever. That is why the subject is most important, and it is good that we are discussing it all day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell made an excellent introductory speech, having researched many of the problems in his constituency and his county. Many of those problems also occur in other parts of the country, and it has been interesting to hear about the contrast between different areas.
Surprisingly, I agree with the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) who highlighted the difficulties caused by house prices and living costs for young teachers in Harrow and London. That problem is reflected in my constituency, which is just outside London. Teachers there do not get a London allowance, but house prices are just as high as in his constituency. The Government's plans to overcome that problem will not work, and it will be interesting to hear the Minister's reply.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) highlighted a variety of problems including that of overseas recruitment. It is good that people from other countries want to come to the UK to teach. It adds to the wealth of knowledge and experience that is being brought into our schools, but the cost of recruiting overseas teachers is enormous. Indeed, the cost of recruitment is often ignored—it can cost more than £10,000 to recruit a senior teacher to a school in south-east England. That money is lost if the teacher leaves the school after a year or two, and the recruitment cost must be borne again. It is a bad investment that does not work, as money that should be used elsewhere in teaching goes down the drain. In some areas, the problem of recruitment and retention is worse than what we have heard today.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) waxed lyrical about the NUT survey, and I am glad that he did because it means that I do not have to do so. He did not mention that 9 per cent. of those surveyed said that teaching is better in Scotland. I shall say no more, but as one who was educated in Scotland I am prejudiced. I admit that that experience was some time ago, but I am glad to know that some people still think that education is better in Scotland.
§ Mrs. Laing
I do not think that it is better because of who is in charge. That is another matter and one that is not for this morning's debate.
The other matters that are addressed in the NUT survey are quite enlightening, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newbury for going through them in such detail. One important point on which I agree with him is that people do not go into the teaching profession in order to make money, but because they have more altruistic goals in mind. Most people become teachers because they want to teach. Simplifying the problem in terms of finance does not help to solve it. As he said, it is the morale of teachers that matters. However, I would not suggest that in order to improve morale no teacher should ever be criticised. As with any other profession, there are excellent teachers, good teachers and some not good teachers. In order to give children the education that they deserve, we must find the teachers who are not performing well and help them to improve.
I did not think that I would ever find myself saying four times in two minutes that I agreed with the hon. Member for Newbury, but I agree with him that it does not help the situation when the media use isolated incidents to vilify the teaching profession. The profession does not deserve that. Nor do the many thousands of excellent teachers who are out there working hard and doing a good job. We must make sure that, while we criticise those who are not doing well, we also praise those who are doing well.
In some schools in my constituency I have seen enormous differences made because of the personality, approach, energy and enthusiasm of the head or particular teachers. One person can make a huge difference to the lives of many young people. We have to give teachers the chance to make that difference.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) emphasised the increasing rate of teacher vacancies. It bothers me enormously to hear the Secretary of State and other Ministers give us endless statistics about the numbers being recruitment and the rate of recruitment in an attempt to pulling the wool over the eyes of those who study the statistics —[Interruption.]—I sense some dissension among Labour Members, but it is no good simply looking at the numbers and saying that more people are going into teacher training and more teachers are being employed in schools. If teachers are not being retained, if they are unable to develop their own professional ability, if they are not teaching the subjects for which they are qualified, at the level for which they are qualified, the numbers become meaningless. Merely putting a teacher in front of a class does not mean that the class is being taught properly. If the teacher is not sufficiently senior to be teaching at that particular level or is qualified in chemistry but teaching physics, that might solve the Government's problem with statistics, because it looks good in statistical terms, but the parents and children involved know that it is not nearly good enough.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) highlighted the disproportionate effect of teacher shortages on the worse performing schools. That is one of the biggest problems which has not been properly discussed. Perhaps the Minister intends to address it in the next few minutes.
19WH In my constituency, where I have made a study of the subject for some time, the better schools have minor problems in recruiting and retaining teachers. The worse schools have an enormous problem. The result is a downward spiral of educational achievement in some schools in some areas. The better schools are managing to keep their heads above water and provide a decent education, but the worst schools are being affected disproportionately. I sincerely hope that the Minister has taken the problem on board and he will find some way of addressing it.
I have a few straightforward questions for the Minister. First, does he recognise that there is a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention? I asked that question of the former Secretary of State for Education a few months ago in respect of my county, Essex, and he said that there was no problem and no crisis. I can tell the Minister that parents and teachers in my constituency were furious at that. They know that that there is an enormous problem that is becoming a crisis. If the Government do not even recognise that there is a crisis, there is no hope of solving it. If the Government do recognise it, we have some hope and perhaps we can work together to try and solve the problem.
Secondly, does the Minister appreciate the burden placed on teachers by bureaucracy and interference? It has been mentioned frequently this morning and it also emerges from the NUT survey. That is the direct responsibility of the Government and local education authority as they produce the bureaucracy and send out circulars telling teachers what to do. The Government could take direct action to improve matters.
Thirdly, does the Minister recognise that teachers are demoralised? The discipline problem is not just that pupils are not properly disciplined, but that teachers are being disciplined unreasonably for exerting a little discipline on pupils. If a teacher puts a hand on a pupil's shoulder, the parents can accuse that teacher of assault.
I shall not discuss the distressing details of a particular case, but I could tell the Minister in private. A very good, young teacher was lost to the profession for ever because of the unreasonable behaviour of a parent on behalf of a badly behaved child. The child gets away with it, but the teacher is disciplined and lost to the profession. I shall not extrapolate on the basis of a single incident, but others have mentioned similar concerns this morning.
Fourthly, does the Minister recognise that recruitment drives will never work unless we solve the problem of retention? I say "we", but only the Minister can solve it.
Fifthly, does the Minister acknowledge that many of these issues are within Government control and that he has the power to take action to overcome these problems? Will he undertake to do so?
§ The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on initiating our debate on this important subject and I thank other hon. Members for their contributions. I agree with the hon. Member 20WH for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) that we need a debate on the teaching profession. It is also important to debate education in the wider community.
I also agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of celebrating the achievements of our teachers, particularly today, the day on which the results of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development programme for international student assessments have been announced. They show good levels of achievement by UK students in international comparisons with 32 countries. The UK performance was significantly above the OECD average in reading, maths and scientific literacy. The UK did well in comparison with other G8 countries. To develop a point mentioned by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel), the UK came fourth out of 32 on the scientific literacy scale, and was significantly outperformed only by Korea. Even our lower-achieving pupils do relatively well by international comparative standards. The UK achieves high levels of performance without excessive disparities, and gender differences are also less than the OECD average. The OECD published that welcome information this morning. It reflects the achievements of the UK teaching profession, so I greatly welcome it.
The terms of the wider debate about the teaching profession were clearly laid out in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the Social Market Foundation on 12 November. The key question was how to encourage the best people to train as teachers. How can we ensure that as many as possible enter the classroom; and once they are there, how can we keep them fulfilled in their work and highly motivated to develop long-term careers in a fully modernised teaching profession? As we speak, children are being taught in 24,000 schools across the country. Hon. Members will recall that 20 years ago hundreds of children would have been sitting at home, and early in the summer it was predicted that that might be the case this term, but the children are sitting in their classes today. In view of some of the overstatements that have been made today, it is important to remind hon. Members that forecasts of disruption to schools this term have proved ill-founded.
My second observation, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) was right to draw attention, is that, thanks to extra investment in the fabric of our schools, classes offer better learning environments than they did a few years ago. In 1996–97, less than £700 million a year was being invested in school buildings; by next year, £3.5 billion—a fivefold increase—will be invested. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell to the fact that in Surrey capital investment has risen from £8 million in 1996–97 to nearly £22 million this year. Indeed, there has been a huge boost across the country, with far-reaching and welcome implications.
My third observation is that the overwhelming majority of staff are very skilled professionals with a strong commitment to delivering the best possible outcomes for the children. The continuing improvement in GCSE and A-level results across the country is proof of that, as is this morning's data from the OECD. The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) was right to make the important point that schools' achievements have been good in that respect. Evidence of that 21WH improvement is provided by the annual report of the chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson, on the progress of literacy and numeracy strategies, to which the hon. Gentleman also referred. This morning, Mike Tomlinson said thatthe overall quality of teaching continues to improve".In our debate on the state of the teaching profession, it is important to pay tribute to that improvement. In last year's report, Mike Tomlinson pointed out that his inspectors deemed 95 per cent. of lessons in that year satisfactory or better, whereas in 1995 only 80 per cent. were deemed satisfactory. He said thatthe quality of teaching has improved. It is now good in more than six in ten lessons and unsatisfactory in only one in 20.So there has been good progress on quality as well.
My fourth observation is that even during a time of economic prosperity, with an extremely well managed economy, many employment opportunities and unemployment at its lowest level for 30 years, teaching has become an increasingly attractive career option. In the past couple of years, the Teacher Training Agency has received an unprecedented number of inquiries about careers in teaching. After eight successive years of decline, we have witnessed two successive years of rising teacher training recruitment levels. The number of people following alternative routes to qualified teacher status—those who enter teaching later in their careers—has also increased sharply in the past couple of years.
The fifth observation is one that I make absolutely no bones about. Despite the above points, and to pick up on a comment from the hon. Member for Epping Forest, many teachers and head teachers feel overworked, undervalued and under pressure. As has been noted, many head teachers in various parts of the country had to work through the summer to recruit the staff necessary to ensure normal operation of schools this term. It is a great tribute to them that they succeeded in that task, but a vast amount of work was required. Far from denying that such problems exist, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West pointed out, we commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an independent investigation into teachers' work load. That study is nearing completion and the steering group, which includes the teaching unions, will meet tomorrow to sign it off.
We know that the review will confirm the extent to which teacher work loads have risen. The interim report said thatteachers and headteachers work more intensive weeks than other comparable managers and professionals".It also confirms that we all expect our teachers to do too much clerical and administrative work for too much of their time. I quote:Teachers in many schools perceive a lack of control and ownership over their work, undertaking tasks—particularly documentation—which they do not believe are necessary to support learning, or which could be done by support staff rather than by teachers or more efficiently using Information and Communications Technology.We acknowledge those concerns and we are determined to tackle them head-on. The consultants paint a picture of teachers who are pulled in too many directions and do 22WH not feel that they have the support that they need. By contrast, our vision for the future of the teaching profession is the one that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described to the Social Market Foundation. The pamphlet that she published to coincide with that clearly sets out the demand pressures and supply constraints that have led to the current perception of the extent of teacher shortages: for example, we now need to recruit to initial teacher training some 10 per cent. of all new graduates—40 per cent. in the case of maths graduates, as the hon. Member for Newbury said. Those are very challenging proportions.
The difficulties do not lie only in teacher supply. Historically, the teaching profession has not been helped sufficiently to modernise the availability and use of support staff, nor the technology to support them.
§ Mr. Gareth R. Thomas
Given that the bid from my borough to which I referred will provide much-needed investment in ICT equipment, and given that hon. Friends have told me that the Minister has a growing reputation as a shrewd and considered judge of funding applications, would he consider offering or agreeing to meet a delegation from my authority when the bid has been submitted?
§ Mr. Timms
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's generous remarks, and note the sincerity with which they are offered. It would of course be for my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State to receive any such delegation, but I am sure that she would give careful consideration to doing so.
The school work force must be remodelled as part of the modernisation of the teaching profession. Measures to assist that will be my right hon. Friend's top priority in the current spending review, which concludes next July. The Education Bill, which we will debate in the House this afternoon, will make an important contribution. It will give teachers greater scope to exercise their informed professional judgment than has been the case in the past. It is no part of our project to supplant teachers with unqualified staff. On the contrary, teachers will have higher status, more responsibility to do what they are uniquely qualified to do, and the space to realise the ideals that brought them into teaching in the first place.
We will support teachers with better technology. We are already investing £1.8 billion in improving schools' IT between 1998 and 2004. Learning will be supported by a wider range of staff, including more teaching assistants to help teachers with classroom responsibilities—but certainly not to supplant them. Teaching assistants play an important part in our plans and they too will need support and development opportunities to allow them to maximise their contribution. We will support more bursars and recruit more administrative staff to free teachers and head teachers from more of the paperwork that is not central to the jobs that we want them to do. The first step on that path will be to refer the final report on teacher work load, by PricewaterhouseCoopers to the School Teachers' Pay Review Body for recommendations next spring.
23WH A few weeks ago, I attended the national teaching awards at the Theatre Royal in Drury lane. It was a great evening, full of accounts of inspiring teachers. One of the pupils nominating her English teacher, who went on to be the winner of this year's outstanding new teacher award, said that the teacherdoesn't only treat you like a student she is paid to teach, but as an individual. She realises each student's potential and pushes him or her towards it with enthusiasm. She has always made me feel supported and not scared to ask for help—for fear being humiliated —because she always listens to you. She has a way of communicating with students and parents like no other teacher I know.I meet many teachers around the country and recognise in remarkably many the qualities praised in that testimonial. Joy and inspiration are there in abundance.