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Teaching Standards (England)

Volume 495: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2009

It is a great pleasure to introduce this important debate under your chairmanship, Sir Nicholas. I begin by apologising to the Minister. Having said that I would try to get a copy of my speech to her in advance, I failed to do so. I shall try to be more efficient in future.

Never before have England’s young people faced such a competitive environment. The knowledge-based economy demands ever higher levels of skill and education, and the emerging giants, China and India, are producing record numbers of graduates. That is why teachers in English schools are so important. We have no divine right to remain a wealthy and powerful country, and more than ever we are dependent on the quality of the education that we give our children.

I am full of admiration for our teachers. I have visited many schools in my constituency, some more than once, and I have been struck, as you will have been in your area, Sir Nicholas, by the dedication and commitment shown by so many. Teaching is a remarkably demanding profession and not everyone can do it. Moulding the minds of our young people, inspiring them to learn and giving them rigour and academic confidence is no mean task.

I applied for the debate because of the importance of teachers to our national life. Teachers play a crucial role in tackling disadvantage, building cultural understanding, boosting our economic prospects and giving people the wherewithal to enjoy life and achieve their dreams. The quality of those teachers is critical to those outcomes. We need the brightest and the best to be attracted into teaching, and we should make that objective a central focus of Government thinking in education.

Those countries with the best educational achievement, such as Finland, South Korea and Singapore, have one thing in common: they attract the best into teaching. Michael Barber, a one-time education adviser to Tony Blair, has said that

“the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”.

In Tennessee, Sanders and Rivers found that the difference between an excellent teacher and a poor teacher in maths, in terms of student achievement, was 50 percentage points over three years. They also discovered that when teacher effectiveness increases, lower achieving students are the first to benefit, so when teachers are not inspiring or effective, the most disadvantaged suffer most. The Institute for Public Policy Research found recently that a good teacher can improve performance by more than a grade, and separate research published in 2002 found that in secondary schools 53 per cent. of the variation in performance is down to the quality of the teacher.

I have agreed with every word that the hon. Gentleman has said so far, but the debate is on teaching standards in schools in England, which presumably includes private schools. Does he agree that the Education Act 1980 should be widened to include private schools such as the one he had the privilege of attending in rural Perthshire, because at present teachers in private schools can operate without qualification and registration? That is not acceptable in 2009, is it?

That goes to the heart of the debate on how to respond to the issues, to which I hope to return, but I am tempted to be discursive for now. Everyone agrees on the need to improve the quality of those going into teaching, and there are two views about how best to do it. Do we raise the barriers to entry and ensure that people have certain achievements before they come in? Obviously, there will be an element of that in any solution. Alternatively, do we need to make it as easy as possible for people to come in and go out of teaching? Perhaps we could make it as fluid as possible and lower the barriers, so that people who can inspire our young people do so.

In a straight answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I do not agree with him. In fact, I would like more schools to be freer to recruit as they see fit. Just last weekend, someone told me that a private school in Hull had taken on a music teacher who did not have the qualifications, but was a gifted musician who inspired the young people. I believe that she is now the head of music at the school, which is particularly successful in music, so I do not think that artificial barriers are necessarily the right way to proceed, although they may have a part to play.

I shall continue to make the case for the importance of the quality of teachers to outcomes. In Dallas, research into the effect of teachers on student achievement shows that the difference between having three great teachers in a row and having three bad teachers in a row is nearly 50 percentage points in pupil attainment. The evidence of the importance of teachers is overwhelming and consistent. Great teachers transform lives.

We can look at this another way: the impact that a poor teacher can have on pupil performance is every bit as significant. Research published in the “Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability” journal this year looked at the annual progress of more than 73,000 pupils in vocabulary, reading and mathematics between 1999 and 2005. It found that children whose classes were in the bottom 16 per cent. of progress in the reception year performed on average about a fifth of a level worse in their standard assessment tests than those whose class progress was average. By contrast, those whose classes progress most in their first year at school performed about a fifth of a level better. In other words, the quality of teaching, whether good or poor, has not only an immediate impact, but a sustained impact for a number of years. If a young person is turned off learning by a teacher who is unable to inspire them suitably and who does not do a good job, the impact can endure in the following years.

When we look at the matter that way, we can see that it is as important to remove inadequate teachers as it is to attract and retain as many good ones as possible. Ten years after the former chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, claimed that there were 15,000 incompetent teachers in England, it emerged this year that only 10 have been struck off in that period. The General Teaching Council has said that the systems in place for complaining about poor teachers are “virtually non-existent” in many areas, and that two thirds of local authorities have not made any referrals to it about inadequate teachers in seven and a half years.

What is the Minister going to do to put that right? Are the Government taking the issue seriously? Is peace with the unions more important than tackling disadvantage and underperformance by professionals? Will the Minister explain what has happened and why poor teaching is not being rooted out? Does she have a convincing explanation? How, working closely with those in the professions and unions, can we move from the current situation to ensure that those who teach in our classes are the best they can possibly be?

For the past 30 years, Finnish teachers have needed a five-year masters degree. That is quite different from the English system, notwithstanding the Secretary of State’s saying that he wanted teaching to be a masters profession in future. At the moment, applicants are required to have GCSE grade C in maths, English and science, and a degree. The new masters in teaching and learning looks more like an afterthought than a dramatic change. It has £30 million allocated to it in the current spending period, which may not make that much of a difference. I will be interested to hear what the Minister thinks about the quality of the maths and English skills of someone who has scraped GCSE grade C.

In Singapore teachers come from the top 30 per cent. of graduates, and in South Korea from the top 5 per cent. The United States recruits its graduates from a lower percentile than us, and seems to have commensurate underperformance in its schools, so it is critical to get the best people to go into teaching.

In relation to the earlier exchange, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that more attention should be paid to ensuring that teaching for the poorest of our pupils is enhanced, rather than worrying too much about recruitment policies in private education.

On the point my hon. Friend just made, I understand the concern about the low educational achievement of some who go into the teaching profession, but does he agree that the single most important factor is that the teacher inspires? One difficulty is that if we are overly prescriptive about the educational attainment achieved by everybody in the teaching profession, we may end up missing out one or two great, inspirational teachers who do not have an outstanding academic record but are brilliant pedagogues.

I agree. It is a difficult balance to get right. The Conservative party’s position, as we recently announced, is that people should be required to have a B grade GCSE and at least a second-class degree in order to qualify to enter teacher training. That is how I understand it; my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) will doubtless give us a master class of explanation later. I might be pre-empting him and getting it wrong at the same time, but as I understand it, the Conservative party proposes to give greater freedoms to academies, for instance, to tackle disadvantage, so that they would have the same freedom to do what the school near my constituency did and take on people without those qualifications.

The hon. Gentleman obviously wants to intervene again, because he is obsessed with standards in independent schools. It is interesting to note that hon. Members from this party are more interested in tackling disadvantage in state schools, including those in inner cities.

What the hon. Gentleman says is not true. As he rightly said in the opening remarks of his excellent speech, teaching is one of the great professions, along with medicine, engineering, law, accounting, among others. Those four professions would not allow people to practise without qualification or registration; why should teaching?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and apologise for speaking so harshly to him, as he is such a positive contributor to debates on so many topics. The answer goes back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) about the ability to inspire. The skill set for an effective teacher is not of the same technical importance—perhaps I am struggling here. If someone has the educational wherewithal to communicate and inspire learning in the pupil, there is not the same requirement for academic standards that there would be if they were about to operate on a vital organ in someone’s body.

That is the debate. How do we get the balance right? We do not want to create artificial barriers that limit the supply of people going into teaching. That would have an upward impact on pay, for instance. Contrary to the many myths abroad about how teaching has declined enormously in status, Policy Exchange’s report considering the history of the issue found that 40 years ago, the average pay of a teacher was the average pay of the country as a whole, whereas now it is 50 per cent. higher, yet everyone complains endlessly about the lack of status in teaching. From a pay point of view, teachers are a lot better off than they were. It is questionable—Policy Exchange certainly questions it very effectively—whether it is possible for teaching to be seen as having the same status as law, engineering and so on. However, I will come to that in a moment.

Academics at Cambridge and Leicester universities recently conducted a study on the professional status of teaching for the then Department for Education and Skills. When they asked practising teachers which profession they felt had a similar social status to teaching, 40 per cent. said social work. Policy Exchange repeated the exercise with a major survey of a group of professionals and undergraduates, and got exactly the same answer. In status terms, teaching was seen alongside social work or being a nurse, police officer or librarian. Very few felt that being a teacher was similar to the traditionally high-status professions on the list, such as doctor, solicitor or architect.

Policy Exchange also asked more than 1,000 professionals and managers what the biggest deterrent to teaching was. Some 20 per cent. of respondents said the salaries offered, 12.9 per cent. said feeling unsafe in the classroom, 10.4 per cent. said working with children or young people—one would be glad if that 10 per cent. never pursued a job in teaching, however poor employment prospects were elsewhere—and 8.6 per cent. said low staff morale. Those four reasons were also cited by undergraduates asked the same question. The evidence is fairly consistent. Can we alter teaching’s low status compared with that of other professions? As I said, Policy Exchange thinks that we cannot, and that doing so would have malign effects.

In 2007, the OECD published its programme for international student assessment survey results for 2006. The results showed a drop in this country’s performance relative to other leading nations in Europe and Asia. The OECD has published its survey every three years since 2000, and this country’s performance has slipped noticeably since 2000 compared with many other participating countries. For the first time, we fell below the international average in the maths category, coming after countries such as Slovenia, Estonia and the Czech Republic. In the literacy category, we finished 17th, while the top position was taken by South Korea.

The report blamed those shortcomings on the poor quality of graduates entering the teaching profession compared with those in countries at the top of the rankings. A number of statistics back up that conclusion. According to the Training and Development Agency for Schools, in 2005-06, 32 per cent. of entrants to the undergraduate bachelor of education course did not have any A-levels. Of those that did, the average tariff score was 269. By comparison, the average tariff score for medicine was 473, equivalent to almost four A grades, and the overall average was 318, or an A and two Bs. The average entrant to the teaching profession was below the average for graduates overall. Those are the people going out to inspire learning in the next generation.

At the postgraduate level, in 2005-06, 2,000 students entered teacher training with a third-class or pass degree and 34 per cent. with a 2:2. If the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) speaks later, as I hope he will, he will doubtless congratulate my colleague the shadow Secretary of State for education, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), on his decision to prevent those with a third-class or mere pass degree from entering educational training.

The Sutton Trust has found that when high achievers who study at the country’s top universities do go into teaching, a disproportionate number teach in the independent sector. Some 60 per cent. of teachers at independent schools have a 2:1 or higher, compared with 45 per cent. in the maintained sector. Alan Smithers at Buckingham university found that almost half of the Oxbridge graduates who enter teaching go to teach at independent schools. Independent school teachers are seven times more likely to have gone to Oxbridge than teachers in the maintained sector.

My question for the Minister is: what can be done about it? How can we ensure that the standard of people entering teacher training is improved? We need to make it easier for people to move in and out of teaching throughout their career. I found the argument in Policy Exchange’s report compelling. Has she read that report? If so, what is her analysis of its argument about how best to secure “more good teachers”, which was its title?

We should not be surprised by the figures that the hon. Gentleman quoted about teachers who went to Oxbridge going into private schools. Some 7 per cent. of young people are educated privately, but as much as 50 per cent. of the intake at Oxbridge comes from the private sector, for reasons of which we are well aware. That is likely to replicate itself when those graduates decide where they want to launch their teaching careers.

I take that point on board. None the less, I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is a shame that a greater proportion of the highest performing graduates who go into teaching do not teach in state schools, in particular in disadvantaged areas.

It will be interesting to hear whether there is new thinking in the Department about how we can incentivise that. Has any more thought gone into national pay scales? If there is a choice in the maintained sector between teaching in a school with great standards of discipline that serves a relatively prosperous area and teaching in one of the most challenging schools for the same money, the tendency will be to choose the former. How can we ensure that we provide proper recompense for people who go into challenging schools? How do we make that seem not only challenging, socially good and good for one’s career in the long term, but financially attractive? Those issues have not been dealt with by this Government, but perhaps it is not too late for them to think again about their approach.

That brings me on neatly to the incentives that must be offered to attract the best graduates. Teach First was launched by the Government as a way of allowing the best graduates to go quickly into teaching in the most challenging schools, and we all applaud that. The problem is that far too few people are going through the programme. It accounts for only 1 per cent. of new teachers each year. Just 253 graduates completed the programme in 2008 and the Government plan for just 850 to do so in 2014.

I do not agree with the critics of Teach First who complain that as many as half of those who enter the programme leave teaching a couple of years later. Such extremely talented people go into teaching on the basis that they will be free to move out, that the skills they learn will be career enhancing, and that they will have the satisfaction of going into some of the toughest schools in the country with some of the most entrenched disadvantage and of trying to tackle it. I would not worry about those who leave. The easier we make it for good people to go in and out, the more likely we are to attract more good people in the first place. We do not want to make teaching a monolithic profession that, once entered, can never be left. That would not help us to weed out those with inadequate teaching skills. I would rather focus on the fact that Teach First allows more outstanding young people who might not have entered teaching to stay, and 50 per cent. of them do stay. I would like the programme to be expanded.

The Policy Exchange report reflects the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster that intellectual ability alone does not make a good teacher, and that being an able communicator and having leadership and empathy skills are just as important. However, it goes on to say that

“there is quite a strong relationship between success in achieving qualifications and performance within schools. Many Teach First teachers, selected out of the group of Russell Group graduates with 2:1s or higher, have a huge impact on their schools within a few years.”

The same report, however, published survey evidence showing that just 20 per cent. of undergraduates were aware of the Teach First programme. Will the Government expand the programme more quickly and promote it more effectively?

We need to know what happens to Teach First people when they stay in teaching. In response to a written question that I tabled in October, the then Minister for Schools, the right hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), said of Teach First:

“It does not currently have detailed statistics on the destinations of completers”—

that is an ugly use of language—

“who remain in education, but I already plan to require these to be available for the 2008/09 academic year onwards.”—[Official Report, 6 October 2008; Vol. 480, c. 512W.]

Has that been done yet? Does the Minister have any data for the last academic year?

I hope that the Minister will also speak about the graduate training programme. The Policy Exchange report said:

“When asked whether they would prefer to take a one-year postgraduate course or qualify as a teacher while also working and being paid as an unqualified teacher, 53 per cent. chose the latter option and 29 per cent. the former”.

The problem again is the lack of awareness of the programme, with 58 per cent. of managers and professionals being unaware that it existed. The Government should listen to the conclusions set out in the recent IPPR report, “Those who can?”, which recommended rolling out the “teach next” programme.

Does the Minister want ever more expansion of university training for teachers or does she accept the vision set out in the Policy Exchange report of every school being turned into a training school? Some of the budget used currently for learning support assistants could be used to support the training of wannabe teachers so that they can teach in a school, earn money more quickly and support existing teachers. Does that idea attract the Minister?

Would that idea help to transform continuing professional development, as Policy Exchange suggested? If schools were all turned into training establishments for new teachers and wannabe teachers, would they be more effective in encouraging and improving the skills of their existing teachers? It would mean that teachers were not all sent off for courses elsewhere. Some of those are very good, but what is learned on others dissipates within weeks of the teacher returning. Can we make schools learning environments not only for their pupils, but for trainee teachers and teachers themselves?

The evidence shows that the quality of teachers is critical. It is the prism through which every decision made in the education arena should be viewed. When Ministers decide on any aspect of education policy, they should ask, “Will this decision help to attract and retain better teachers?” The ugly corollary is that we must ask what can be done to ensure that those who are not teaching to the required standard—however worthy they may be as human beings—are removed from the classroom and allowed to do something more appropriate with their talents.

Does the Minister think that the best route is one of ever-longer programmes and courses before one can be a teacher, which would make teaching more like the closed shops of law and accountancy, or does she share the alternative vision of people being able to go in and out of teaching throughout their careers and of mature people who have served in industry coming into teaching? Such people should not necessarily start at the bottom, but their salaries should reflect the skill sets they have achieved elsewhere, and they could contribute to school management. Can we free up the education system so that the best possible people at any given time are involved in teaching and inspiring our young people? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers to those questions.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) on securing this important debate. He will be happy to hear me say that he stated his views in characteristically robust fashion. It is important that such views are on the record, because there are grave concerns about the teaching profession and where it should be going.

Most of my comments will be specific to my local authority in Westminster, but given that we have time on our hands, I will say a little about my hon. Friend’s speech. Few of the people I graduated with in the mid-1980s would have looked on teaching as an option. There had been something of a sea change over a relatively short period. I am one of those Oxbridge graduates who were dismissed by the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) in his usual style. However, I was also a state school pupil.

In 1971, only 13 years before I matriculated at Oxford, teaching was seen as the normal choice, with one in seven graduates from that institution going into the profession. That was even before the large influx of postgraduate students taking specifically education courses. By the mid-1980s, however, going into teaching was, for most, considered to be a reflection of their failure and was seen as a secondary route. That mentality is regrettable. One by-product of the fact that, in the years to come, few graduates will go into the financial services compared with the past 20 years may well be that more of them will see teaching as a valid and acceptable choice.

I have some sympathy with the concern that my hon. Friend mentioned that the teaching profession has become more of an organised, unionised work force. That plays its part in putting many people off going into teaching. He described the prospect of people going into teaching later in life, after they have had a first career, when they have much more to give and want a second career. We all have to face the idea that working ages are likely to rise more and more as time goes by. Indeed, any future Government will have to be a lot more aggressive about that, given the demographics and the pension problems that we will have. People will be working, perhaps full time, well into their 70s in our working lifetime. It is no good simply adding a couple of years for those people who, in 25 years’ time, will reach the current retirement age; we need to be much more aggressive.

There will be the mentality that people can have several careers, so the notion that a person who goes into a career in their 40s can enter it only at the bottom rung of the ladder will, in decades to come, be seen as a rather strange idea, particularly in teaching. Some of the most inspirational teachers are not so well qualified—that was the case with the most inspirational teacher whom I recall at the grammar school I attended. I remember vividly that, as we started our A-level year, he tried to gee up the 90 boys who were about to enter the lower sixth, as it then was, by saying, “Before me, I see future captains of industry, leading lights in the armed forces and Members of Parliament.” That was the very moment at which I thought that this was something to which I could aspire—something that I probably kept secret at the back of my mind for some years before I had any political aspirations. That teacher had no formal teaching qualifications; he had spent 20 years in the armed forces before deciding to teach predominantly biology, which was a personal passion of his, but in which he had no formal post-school educational qualification.

It is crucial that we open teaching up a little, and I worry about the power of the education establishment—not just the trade unions, but the Minister’s Department and, to a large extent, local education authorities—which believes that there has to be a standard route and one has to move up a particular ladder. Much of what my hon. Friends the Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) and for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) are doing in relation to education is forward looking and radical, and I strongly support those radical policies.

Equally, I worry that having a template about precisely the nature of degree and the GCSE grade to have been attained means that we are moving to a tick-box approach, rather than being more open-minded. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire mentioned that there are unqualified teachers in the independent sector, but too much of that sort of criticism is driven by the idea of equality. I am sure that the teaching unions would be concerned by that, but one needs only to look at the results of independent schools. I accept that, often, their pupils have dedicated parents and that considerable amounts of money are pumped into those schools, so any comparison would not be like for like, but those results speak to some of the more innovative, forward-looking and radical approaches that are taken to teaching, instead of it being an option that effectively means joining a highly unionised work force. We need to inspire a future generation of people to go into teaching at a later stage in their life, when much of the experience that they have gained can be brought to bear for their charges.

Having a highly organised membership is hardly unique to the teaching profession; it is true of the professions that I mentioned earlier. If the object of that grouping is to protect high standards and promote the interests of members of the profession, there is nothing sinister in that, is there?

There is nothing too sinister. Perhaps I should put on the record my own involvement with the only profession of which I was ever a part. I did not spend long as a lawyer, but I read law at university and became a lawyer afterwards, when I took great pains not to join the Law Society, which I thought an appalling organisation at that time. It was inward-looking and there seemed to be constant bickering among its members. One does not have to be a great philosopher to suggest that many such professional organisations have, to an extent, been a conspiracy against the public at large, although that is a simplistic view. The Law Society has come out of itself in recent years—indeed, both the Law Society and the Bar Council have recognised that, as well as being a trade union for professionals, they have a much more important role to play in relation to the public at large, in reflecting some of the concerns that the public have rightly had about the profession.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s comments on board, but the way in which this problem has applied to professionals has pained me. I am not making a cheap point about the National Union of Teachers or the teaching profession; I think the same applies to many of our professions, which have been far too inward-looking in the past. That goes back to an era when there was far less chopping and changing and rapid advancement for people who were able to move out of one social group into another. We now live in a much more mobile society, and amen to that, but too many of our professions have taken too long to catch up with those changes.

I want to touch on what is happening in the city of Westminster, where we have in place an education commission that is carrying out a six-month-long investigation into how we might improve educational outcomes in Westminster schools. It is due to report its findings in mid-September. The commission is chaired by Professor David Eastwood, who used to be the chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England and is now the vice-chancellor of the university of Birmingham.

Like many inner-London areas, Westminster is highly polarised. It is fair to say that a significant proportion of parents send their children to schools in the independent sector, rather than state schools; none the less, the Conservative-run Westminster city council is passionately concerned to ensure that we raise standards and make more valid choices. There have been some ongoing problems with state education in inner London, one of the biggest being that articulate, educated, middle-class parents have voted with their feet and sent their children to school outside the state sector. That is a key reason why the state sector in London generally struggles, although there are some fantastic success stories such as, in my constituency, the primary schools Hampden Gurney and St. Peter’s in Eaton square. The successful secondary schools in Westminster tend to be girls schools such as the Greycoat school on Horseferry road, which is a stone’s throw from here, and St. Marylebone school. In both of those schools, it has been a long-standing head teacher who has helped to raise standards.

In the private sector, my constituency has some of the finest schools, such as Westminster school and the City of London boys and girls schools. Those schools recognise the ongoing commitment and responsibility they have to utilise some of their facilities for the purposes of other maintained schools. That is very much part and parcel of the ethos of living in our highly polarised area of central London.

The education commission’s work has revealed a problem with the ability of local authorities to get involved in improving standards when schools become academies. We have two academies in Westminster, one of which, Pimlico, is in my constituency. Authorities have an ongoing responsibility for pupil welfare, but they have no way of tackling poor teaching standards if academies are not doing well. Raising achievement of Westminster children, particularly those in the state sector, is a major priority for the city council’s children’s services department and its partners. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness has rightly said, education is a main way of improving the lives of individuals. In turn, the community benefits through the social and economic contribution that those educated children—the parents of the future—are then able to make. A significant number of children in Westminster do not achieve their full potential for a number of reasons.

We have living in the city of Westminster as a whole about 40,000 people under the age of 19, 20,000 of whom are school pupils; 79 per cent. are from ethnic backgrounds other than white British and 68 per cent. speak English as an additional language. In total, more than 150 languages are spoken by children attending Westminster schools. Our educational settings in Westminster include 12 children’s centres; four maintained nursery schools; 40 primary schools, 26 of which are voluntary aided; six secondary schools, five of which are voluntary aided; four city academies; and two special needs schools. However, as an inner-London borough, Westminster also experiences high levels of migration from and to other London boroughs and the rest of the UK—population churn. What I say in this regard applies to any inner-London area and indeed to many inner-city areas, and it is what I wanted to put on the record today. The mobility of the population, including significant cross-borough flows in terms of the use of health and education services, presents significant challenges and underlines the complexity of service delivery and the importance of information sharing.

Beyond teaching standards, there is a growing issue that needs to be addressed; I wanted to put it on the record, although I appreciate that it is slightly outside the scope of this debate. That issue is the future of genuine parental choice at primary school level. In my constituency in Westminster, we have a large number of voluntary aided schools that prioritise children from a Christian background, whether Roman Catholic or Church of England. That could be a barrier to parents of children who come from non-Christian backgrounds. For example, 78 per cent. of schools achieving above average progress in English and 70 per cent. of schools achieving above average progress in maths are voluntary aided faith schools, either Church of England or Roman Catholic.

That is a problem to which there is no easy solution. In many respects, such schools are great and successful institutions and, in the process of trying to provide a level playing field for all of our children, we do not want to see standards reduced in any way; we want to see standards raised for all children in the future. I appreciate that the problem may not yet have come across the Minister’s desk in her relatively short tenure in her position, but it is a very important matter, particularly in many of our inner cities. In such areas, there has been significant depopulation in the past decades, but those sorts of schools—the voluntary aided schools, which obviously have a long-standing tradition—remain in place.

I hope that the Minister will give considerable thought to how we can try to raise the standards of all pupils, so that all of them, even those who do not come from a Roman Catholic or Church of England background, can still aspire. I know from my dealings with particular head teachers of voluntary aided schools in my constituency that they try to ensure, as far as possible, that more and more children from outside those faiths have an opportunity to go to those schools. However, the opportunities for those children are clearly not as great as they would be if there were more community schools that had a local reputation as strong as the voluntary aided schools that I have referred to.

Sir Nicholas, thank you for allowing me to speak in this very important debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness made some very valid points and I look forward to engaging on the subject not just with the Minister who is here today, but hopefully with future Conservative Ministers, because education is the key issue. Without an education system that works for the future, there will be difficulties.

I have some worries, even in the longer term, about the maintenance of the knowledge economy given our demographics, which will become an even bigger problem in the decades ahead. The competitive advantage that we have as a country has been based on having great knowledge. Obviously, we have the benefit of the English language, which is the global language and which will assist us to a large extent, but we need to ensure that we have an educated work force. I am not talking just about the elite, although I personally believe that we also need to educate our elites to the highest standards to become global players. More important in many ways are the 40 to 50 per cent. of people who will never go to university but who will still need to be educated, re-educated and trained right the way through their life. If we do not get school education right and ensure that we have teachers of the calibre needed to ensure that education is of the highest standard, we will find that those people are effectively tossed on to something of a scrap heap for much of the rest of their lives. That is not only unaffordable but ethically and morally unjustifiable.

We have discussed some very crucial issues today. I am encouraged that my own party feels strongly about them and there will be some radical changes, even in the light of the importance that must be rightly placed on the economic problems that will be the big, black cloud over much of public policy and politics in the next decade. I am obviously also interested to hear the current Government’s thinking on how we can ensure the provision of the highest teaching standards for all our children, who will obviously have an important part to play in making sure that our economy and our country can recover their previous position in the decades to come.

I also start by congratulating the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart). He expressed some very interesting ideas, many of which I agree with. There are probably other areas that he talked about where I would place a slightly different emphasis. None the less, the important thing that we will agree on in this debate is that we need not only an adequate supply but a full supply of highly qualified entrants into the teaching profession. It is how we attack that issue that we need to debate today.

I started thinking about this debate by focusing on the quote that the hon. Gentleman used, when he said that

“the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”.

That must be fundamentally true. Starting at the top, the quality of leadership is of prime importance in any school setting.

The Ofsted figures for 2008-09 quoted in the debate pack, which are about the effectiveness of teaching and learning in meeting the full range of learners’ needs, show that 29.1 per cent. of primary schools were judged to be satisfactory and 1.8 per cent. were judged inadequate, while 32.1 per cent. of secondary schools were judged satisfactory and 1.8 per cent. were judged inadequate.

We can look at the downside and say that roughly a third of schools are judged to be either satisfactory or inadequate. Alternatively, we can look at the upside and say that two thirds of schools are good or outstanding. We must celebrate the excellent teaching that exists and the progress that has been made. However, if I was writing a report on teaching standards, I think that I would conclude that we can and must do much better.

The recent Ofsted report on standards of English in schools states:

“There is a significant gap between the most effective schools and the rest. The most effective provide a dynamic and productive English curriculum. However, too much English teaching is no better than satisfactory and too many pupils are not able to make the progress they need to catch up.”

In other words, it is particularly the most disadvantaged pupils who are suffering.

We know that about 20 per cent. of children are leaving primary school with inadequate literacy and numeracy. Only half of pupils leave secondary school with five good GCSEs, including English and maths, while 85 per cent. of poor white boys fail to achieve that benchmark. Furthermore, 55 per cent. of schools in the poorest areas fail to achieve the Government benchmark of 30 per cent. of their children obtaining five A to C GCSE grades.

Ofsted’s annual report for 2007-08 says that too many children and young people are receiving services that are “patently inadequate”, especially those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds. That is despite the fact that there have been broad improvements across schools, children’s services and further education.

The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness touched on how we can get rid of teachers who are less than satisfactory. I think that the Government have probably taken a step in the right direction with the proposal for a teacher registration system. Of course there are poor teachers and the renewal of a licence to teach—a system similar to those that already exist in other professions and even, in a sense, for MPs—would help to eradicate those teachers who should not be in schools. However, I always have fears about Government initiatives. In principle, the teacher registration scheme is a good idea, but will it turn into a bureaucratic nightmare that takes up head teachers’ time and ends up proving to be very costly? It needs to be done properly, and we need to focus on raising the status of the profession.

We need to look at the context in which individual teachers find themselves, as well as the overall picture. We are right to focus on entrance to the profession, because we are suffering from a long-term problem that has not been tackled satisfactorily. It is true that we have all kinds of initiatives which probably do not amount to much over time, but, if one looks at the statistics, it appears that the old Teacher Training Agency—now the Training and Development Agency for Schools—did not meet the Government’s targets for filling places.

Only since April this year have predictions changed. For obvious reasons—the extra supply of graduates—all places in all subjects will be filled. Even then, there probably will not be enough physicists and chemists to meet the demand because too many biologists have been recruited. We have seen a rise in the level of qualifications held by applicants, and that is to be welcomed.

There are alternative routes into teaching. Most people think that the Teach First scheme is impressive. It has raised the status of the teaching profession, and I agree that the entry, even for a relatively short time, still can make a great contribution. Unfortunately, in the scale of things, the number involved is very small.

Before the hon. Lady moves on to another subject, what would she do about physicists and chemists, who appear not to be necessary because of the biologists? How can we include more physicists and chemists in the group?.

Again, we have to go right back to basics. We have a problem, in that there are so few schools that offer the three sciences separately. We have to go back to that before we can bring forward an adequate supply of good science teachers. Obviously, many things can be done with continuous professional development. Training can be topped up. When I was teaching, I did not necessarily always teach my first subject, and I can see that I could easily have been retrained as a full-blown mathematics teacher. There are options around, and we need to grasp them. However, it is a difficult problem, made worse because we sat on it for so long without doing enough.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. Perhaps I misunderstood the time pressures.

Is it the policy of the hon. Lady’s party that it is necessary to get rid of national pay agreements so that disadvantaged schools can pay more—the point I made in my speech—but also so that pay can be higher for those who teach the disciplines for which it is hardest to recruit?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. In our recent schools paper, which was passed at our last party conference, we make the point that individual schools should have more power, including the ability to offer higher pay to those who teach shortage subjects. We need to look at pay and conditions.

Moving on quickly, I often feel that there is patchy support for newly qualified teachers in this country. Some teachers experience good induction. On a recent visit to Canada with the Children, Schools and Families Committee, I learned that newly qualified teachers receive two years of support, which is much more than we offer.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families secondary school curriculum and staffing survey for 2007 shows that only 56 per cent. of pupils in secondary modern schools were taught maths by a teacher with an appropriate post A-level qualification, compared with 73 per cent. in 11-to-16 comprehensives and 88 per cent. in grammar schools. For English, the figures were 66, 74 and 94 per cent. It is a real problem that many young people are not being taught by people with specialist qualifications, and the situation is worse in the most deprived areas.

The survey reveals that children in the poorest areas of the country are least likely to be taught by well-qualified teachers, which indicates not only that there is a need for more highly qualified teachers, but that there is a particular shortage in the toughest schools. In response to comments made earlier in the debate, I would like to point out that training is needed to deal with challenging behaviour. It is not quite as easy as walking into a job. I am a former teacher, and I have taught in both the state and independent sectors.

Can the hon. Lady recollect from her teacher training days what training she was given in behaviour management in the classroom?

I would not recommend to anyone the training that I had at, I have to say, a prominent university. It was a one-year postgraduate certificate in education. Training in behaviour management is incredibly important, but, as my subject was economics, I would not necessarily have expected to receive it in my training.

We have a problem. Is the market working? Is it the Government’s fault for failing to recruit sufficient entrants, or is it the parents’ fault for not complaining loudly enough? It is all too easy just to look at the problem. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness is right to say that we have to come up with some better solutions.

There is a great deal of evidence that the situation is even worse in primary schools. In its state of the nation report, the Royal Society gave staggering figures showing that the number of primary school teachers qualified in stem subjects was falling. In his review of the teaching of mathematics in English primary schools, Sir Peter Williams considered that only 3,000 teachers currently had sufficient knowledge to qualify as mathematics teachers. The Government accepted all of his recommendations, and I am interested to know what progress has been made in improving the number of qualified mathematics teachers in primary schools.

I will continue with my speech so that other people have an opportunity to make theirs.

A parliamentary question last year revealed that an increasing number of training teachers are having to re-sit basic maths tests. This reinforces some of the points that were made earlier. Since 2001, trainee teachers made 20,000 failed attempts at numeracy tests, and the average number of attempts needed to pass the literacy test has increased by 16 per cent. We all subscribe to raising standards, but, unless the Government play their full part in ensuring good quality entrants to the profession in the first place, some schools and pupils will be disadvantaged.

I wonder why the Government’s new £10,000 golden handcuff for teachers applies only to secondary schools. Do we not need to attract the best applicants into primary schools in challenging areas, given the importance of basic literacy at the very start?

Far more could be done with continuous professional development, and I hope that the new licence to teach will address that, albeit rather belatedly. Since the 2007 survey that I referred to, the problem has not gone away. As Professor John Howson of Education Data Surveys wrote only last week in his most recent assessment of the labour market for teachers, English and art remain two of the more perplexing subjects, with high vacancy numbers compared with the number of trainees. For English, the estimate is that fewer than 1,800 trainees may be competing for more than 2,400 vacancies. It is staggering that we have that shortage, given current market conditions.

On lack of training, the Government have followed rather than led. The inclusion agenda, which I am fundamentally in favour of, has been promoted ruthlessly since 1997, but the basic training for teachers has only now been introduced. Teachers coming through the teacher training programme before 2011 will not have received that extra training.

[John Cummings in the Chair]

On standards in general, we need to untangle what real progress has been made from people’s lack of confidence that standards have remained constant. We really need Ofqual to be independent. We Liberal Democrats are seriously concerned about whether Ofqual will be genuinely independent and accountable to Parliament, rather than just to the Secretary of State. We have a number of proposals for an educational standards authority, which would guarantee that genuine independence.

In conclusion, although I take on board the point about teaching standards, we need to look at a range of barriers that stop children succeeding. Although a lot of progress has been made in respect of the failure to identify and resolve educational problems in early years, the standard of teaching at that stage still has to be developed much further. For example, one in five teachers in the early years foundation stage have only a level 2 qualification. In other words, we have got the most important part—the starting point—topsy-turvy and not everybody is able to access higher-level qualifications. On inadequate and inconsistent funding for schools and colleges with high levels of educational disadvantage, we advocate a pupil premium that would enable money to be found to pay staff higher salaries, if the head teacher and the governors chose to do so.

Infant class sizes are too large. The failure to plan properly this year has resulted in 10,000 pupils being in classes with more than 30 pupils. On class size, the Government made a commitment to fund state schools at the same levels as independent schools. What happened to that?

In too many schools, leadership and governance is not effective enough. Government targets and micromanagement distort priorities. Teachers are undermined by this centralised approach. The Education and Skills Bill gave Ministers more than 150 new powers. I agree with the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness that all our schools and colleges must have the freedom to innovate.

The inappropriate offering of the curriculum, leading to pupils’ needs not being met, has made teaching difficult. Teacher training to the national curriculum means that teachers have lost the confidence to be innovative. So we are in a vicious circle at the moment that we need to break out of, because, as hon. Members have said, people remember an inspirational teacher throughout their lives, and we must ensure that we have many more inspirational teachers for children from all backgrounds.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) on securing this important debate and on his excellent, informative speech. I agree with most of the thoughtful speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), who is clearly passionate about standards and schools in his constituency.

The standard of teaching that pupils receive is one of the most decisive and important factors in determining the success of their education. A good teacher can make an enormous difference. The Sanders and Rivers study, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness, which took place in Tennessee and examined the effect a teacher could have on academic performance, found that if two average ability eight-year-olds were given different teachers, one a high performer and one a low performer, the children’s academic performance would diverge by more than 50 percentage points within just three years. Other studies from the UK and the USA have produced similar findings. The Institute for Public Policy Research concluded that a good teacher could improve a child’s academic performance by more than a grade level. Those studies show that attracting high-calibre people to the teaching profession is a prerequisite to raising standards, and that in turn means a career in teaching needs to be seen as an interesting and desirable option for top graduates and those who have made a successful career in other fields.

According to Lord Adonis, one key objective of the Teach First programme, which other hon. Members have mentioned, is to reconnect the teaching profession to the top universities. Partly, this undoubtedly comes down to pay. If excellent teachers, including those with prized qualifications such as maths or science degrees, are to be attracted and retained by the profession, they need to be paid in a way that is commensurate with their value to schools. That is why schools—particularly academies—should be given the freedom to pay good teachers more.

No one should be in any doubt that we have in our schools in this country some able, highly qualified, highly motivated and first-class teachers. On Mondays, when I visit schools around the country, I meet dedicated teachers with a genuine vocation who are transforming the lives of the children they are teaching. Britain would not be the fifth most successful economy in the world if this were not true. But as my hon. Friend rightly said, we have to be cautious about the future. We need to accept that we face huge challenges. One in five children leaving primary school after seven years are still struggling with reading and 40 per cent. are leaving school without having achieved five or more good GCSEs. Half of all children who qualify for free school meals fail to achieve a single GCSE above grade D.

There are many reasons for these challenges, including the curriculum and ideologically driven pedagogy emanating from the education establishment, but a factor must also be the barriers that mean not enough highly qualified young people are choosing teaching as a career. The first and perhaps most serious of these barriers is pupil behaviour. In March 2008, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers carried out a survey examining this issue. It found that 29 per cent. of all teachers have been punched, kicked or bitten by their pupils. Nearly one in 10 teachers said they had been injured by an aggressive or violent pupil. Crucially, nearly two thirds of teachers said they had considered leaving the profession because of aggressive pupils, verbal abuse and the threat of violence.

In 2008, the NASUWT compiled a dossier that detailed the violence that teachers had faced, some of which verged on the horrific, including attacks on teachers using knives and scissors and even attacks on pregnant teachers. In light of that, research by the think-tank, Policy Exchange, which found that the principal factor deterring undergraduates from a career in education was

“the fear of feeling unsafe in the classroom”,

seems perfectly understandable. Unless the standard of behaviour in our schools improves, the teaching profession will not become a truly welcoming environment for talent.

At the moment, teachers often find it difficult to enforce high standards of behaviour because they lack the powers that they need to keep discipline in the classroom. Teachers should be given far wider powers to search for and confiscate items that are banned by the rules of the school, and not just specified items on a narrow list. We Conservatives joined forces with the Liberals on that point during the Committee stage of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill.

We would allow schools to require home-school contracts to be signed as a condition of admission to a school, which is something long opposed by Labour Ministers over the last 12 years until the 11th hour of this Administration in last week’s White Paper. We should abolish the exclusion appeal panels, to enhance the standing of head teachers by removing the ability to second-guess their decisions on discipline. These expensive, stressful and time-consuming appeals procedures are a deterrent for heads, who need to be able to expel persistently disruptive pupils. If a head teacher’s decision to exclude a pupil from his or her school were overturned subsequently on appeal, allowing the child to return, that would be in complete defiance of the head teacher’s wishes. This system completely undermines the head teacher’s authority. I believe that these changes would enhance the ability of staff to keep order in their schools and would help to make teaching a more rewarding profession for prospective teachers.

Of course, the behaviour of pupils is not the only issue. As the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) said, the curriculum is another important contributory factor, putting off the more academic teacher. The trends toward modularisation, thematic teaching, an outcomes or competence-based curriculum and so-called applied learning all reduce the time spent on engagement with formal, academic knowledge.

The overall standard of many qualifications has been reduced over time, making them less academically challenging and therefore less interesting for able teachers who have a passion for their subject. One subject that has suffered most from this problem is science, particularly at secondary level. Students studying for science GCSEs have in recent years been asked whether they sweat through the skin or the liver and whether they look at the stars through a synthesiser or a telescope. A report by Ofqual in March this year found that the standard of GCSE physics had fallen between 2002 and 2007. Fewer topics were covered and there was a reduction in the number of questions that required complex calculations or several steps to reach an answer. There was also a general reduction in the mathematical demands made of candidates. These findings reinforce the conclusions of a growing body of independent academics, such as Professor Peter Tymms of the university of Durham and the Royal Society of Chemistry, who have demonstrated that the academic standard of science qualifications has fallen over the years.

In addition to that problem, the new 21st-century curriculum replaces the study of scientific concepts with the study of the relationship between science and wider society. That leads to students debating stem cell research without the developed knowledge of biology that they need to appreciate the issues. The Ofqual report specifically picked out that issue when it said that

“candidates were required to discuss the advantages and drawbacks of CCTV, mobile phones and the internet. These may be interesting considerations, but they did not add to the candidates’ knowledge and understanding of physics.”

In reality, those are not even particularly interesting considerations. Goodness knows whether, in 20 years, we will even have mobile phones or CCTV. They replace the richness and complexity of scientific understanding with a pseudo, superficial learning. The drop in the standard of some science qualifications, with the movement away from teaching scientific concepts, creates a curriculum that is less likely to attract candidates with a genuine passion for their subject.

That problem is borne out by research into teacher specialisms. An investigation by the university of Buckingham in June 2008 found that 24 per cent. of state schools had no teachers with a specialism in physics. It also found that the number of applicants for physics postgraduate certificate in education courses had dropped by 27 per cent. in 2006. That problem is particularly acute in science, and affects subjects across the curriculum. In June 2008, a paper produced by the National Foundation for Educational Research found:

“Across all subjects, the proportion of lessons being taught by teachers with relevant post A-Level qualifications was slightly lower in 2007 (79 per cent.) than it had been in 2002 (83 per cent.).”

If we want to reverse that trend and encourage more graduates with relevant degrees into teaching, we must revive the academic value of the curriculum so that it is firmly focused on knowledge, concepts and ideas. At the same time, we must work to encourage individuals with a real affinity for their subject into the profession.

Will my hon. Friend address the training of teachers, and say whether he believes in a more formal route outside schools, or every school being a training school?

I am attracted to the concept of training more teachers on the job through programmes such as the graduate teacher programme, which a number of teachers go through, but there is scope for expanding that programme. I take issue with the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) about some teachers in the independent sector not having formal qualifications. The problem is not the independent sector, which achieves 38 per cent. of all A grades in A-level physics. The graduate teaching programme attracts high-quality graduates who learn how to teach in the school from the head of department. We must be flexible about entry into the teaching profession and teacher training.

We have proposed changes to enable teachers to advance further with their academic subject as their career progresses and to make it easier for them to pursue higher qualifications, such as masters degrees and doctorates, with support for sabbaticals and bursaries. When teachers join a school, they should not lose contact with the academic community of their subject at university. They should continue to deepen their understanding and maintain their enthusiasm for their specialism so that they can communicate that passion to their students.

As well as making the profession more attractive by attacking the problems of pupil behaviour and the curriculum, we must introduce specific policies to ensure that teaching is a career for strong candidates. At the moment, around 1,200 postgraduate trainees begin training each year, having achieved a degree below 2:2, and 13 per cent. of applicants—about 5,000 students—have to re-sit the on-screen numeracy test to gain qualified teacher status three times or more before passing. We would address both those problems by permitting only one re-sit for the literacy and numeracy tests, which at the moment may be taken an infinite number of times. We would fund trainee teachers only if they achieved at least a 2:2 degree.

We would also raise the bar for new primary school teachers by requiring B grades in GCSE English and Maths. Those two subjects are integral to the job of primary school teachers. At the same time, we would ensure that every publicly funded teacher training institution provided primary teachers with specialist courses in maths and synthetic phonics instructions so that they were properly equipped with the necessary skills to carry out those core aspects of their work.

In addition, we believe that dramatically expanding the academies programme will enhance the standing of the teaching profession, making it a more prestigious and attractive destination for top graduates. The greater autonomy and freedom enjoyed by teachers under that programme is part and parcel of enhancing their standing as professionals. We hope that freeing the profession from the frustrating bureaucracy of local and central Government will enhance its status, enabling it to attract more high-calibre teachers and raising standards as a result.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), who is my near neighbour in east Yorkshire, on securing this debate, and all hon. Members who have contributed today.

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman recently had the opportunity to discuss teaching standards with the Minister for Schools and Learners in the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member. I welcome today’s further opportunity to debate the topic and to hear other hon. Members’ comments.

The evidence shows clearly that parents are the most important influence on children’s life chances, but that nothing matters more to pupil achievement than the quality of teaching that they receive. A good teacher not only inspires—the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness made much of the inspiration needed to bring pupils on and make learning fun—but teaches in a way that suits pupils best, stretches them, and identifies where extra support is needed to tackle the barriers to learning to secure the progress of every child. The second part is important, because teachers’ professional skills lie in being able to draw the desired progress and achievements from pupils. In short, teachers change lives, and building a world-class school system in which every child and young person can fulfil their potential and receive the support that they need to succeed requires that we have a world-class schools work force.

I shall talk about a decade of progress. I do not recognise the picture that some hon. Members have painted of today’s teaching profession. Over the past 12 years, our schools work force has been transformed: we now have more than 40,000 more teachers than in 1997, backed up by more than 200,000 support staff, including teaching assistants, who have made a huge contribution in the classroom.

The Minister said that the teaching profession has been transformed over the past 10 or 12 years. Has the average position of graduates going into teaching in terms of the deciles of performance improved or declined over that period?

I will talk about the graduate entry to the teaching profession in a moment.

Times have changed and schools are no longer places where an individual stands up in front of a blackboard with a piece of chalk. Classrooms are exciting, interactive places staffed not only with teachers, but with technicians, assistants and others who offer pupils personal support. As a result of our investment and the hard work and dedication of teachers around the country, Ofsted has rated the current generation of teachers the best we have ever had.

Teachers are now among the most valued and trusted figures in our society, which is in stark contrast with a decade ago when the public did not always accept that working as a teacher was the high-status profession that it should be. That dramatic increase in teachers’ professional status and standing is reflected in the huge progress that has been made over the past 12 years. More than 100,000 more children are leaving primary schools secure in English and maths at level 4 than did so a decade ago, and almost half of young people achieve five good GCSEs compared with just over one third in 1997. That is real progress, but we accept that there is much more to do to ensure that every child is secure in the basics and that every young person achieves a good qualification. Giving the teaching profession a further boost is at the centre of our plans.

I shall talk now about new routes into teaching, because much has been made of attracting a good cross-section of people with the skills and abilities required. We want to ensure that we have the best pool of teachers to choose from. That is why we have developed a range of routes into teaching that focus on attracting the best candidates, whatever stage of their career they have reached. The Training and Development Agency for Schools is overhauling its graduate teacher programme website to make it easier, from September, for people seeking employment-based training to find a suitable school and training provider. It is committed to marketing that route specifically once the website is ready.

The traditional PGCE route for graduates is still being used very well, but there is also the hugely successful Teach First programme, which was five times oversubscribed last year. Mention has been made of the fairly low number of places available, but we are looking for the very highest level of ability in the students, so although the programme was five times oversubscribed last year, there may be a natural limit to the number of places that we can fill. We need to keep a constant eye on that to see how it works out. The programme is making a real difference in the schools where the people are teaching. I think that we all accept that that is a positive development and we want to see the programme continue to succeed.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; I am aware that there is a shortage of time. Did the people who failed to get on the Teach First programme do so because they did not have the qualifications, or because the funding from Government placed a cap on the numbers?

I cannot answer that specific question, so I shall have to come back to the hon. Gentleman. I can tell him that we shall double the number of Teach First places by 2013, but I will come back to him on his specific question and I shall also consider the statistical data that have been collected by Teach First.

Teaching is in the top 10 choices for career changers and it is the No. 1 choice for new graduates, so of course competition will ensure that there are rising standards in the group that is coming into education and teaching in the years ahead. To ensure that we attract the best career changers from the private sector, particularly in the shortage subjects that we have heard about, we have launched our Transition to Teaching programme. In addition, from September we shall trial a new accelerated six-month route to qualified teacher status in maths and science subjects for outstanding candidates. That is a pilot and we want to see how it works, but again it is about working on some of the ideas that were in the Policy Exchange report.

I was struck by comments made by hon. Members about restricting entry into the teaching profession to graduates with a 2:2, 2:1 or first-class degree and not having people with a third. That struck me as odd because I think that one of the people advising the Conservative party is Carol Vorderman, who I am sure we all agree is quite an inspirational character but who, as I understand it, got a third in her degree. She would not be eligible to teach under that proposal. Perhaps hon. Members should reflect on that.

In the past 12 years, the pay and conditions offered to teachers have improved enormously. The remodelling of the work force has been a big step forward for teachers, children and young people because it is about raising standards and tackling work load, but we must continue to bear down on unnecessary burdens and ensure that teachers receive their statutory rights, so that they can focus on their core job of teaching and learning. We cannot expect teachers to continue to improve standards or narrow the attainment gap if they have not received a proper induction, are not being managed properly, or are spending their time doing things that do not make the most of their professional expertise. That is why we are legislating for a new system of warning notices for governing bodies that do not comply with statutory pay and conditions requirements.

As well as ensuring compliance with statutory rights, we want to ensure that each individual teacher receives consistently excellent training and continuing professional development so that they can improve their practice. We announced last year that we would make teaching a master’s-level profession. The course will be rolled out initially in January next year to newly qualified teachers in schools in the north-west and in national challenge schools. It will be primarily practice-based, with newly qualified teachers learning not just from school leaders but from more experienced teachers. We shall work closely with our social partners and the TDA to ensure that we get it right, because it is a great opportunity for the profession. As there is still much more to do to improve the ability of teachers to identify the children and young people who need extra support to make good progress, one of the four compulsory content areas of the new master’s in teaching and learning covers child development and behaviour management. That new qualification is specifically designed to improve classroom practice.

It might be helpful at this point if I comment on behaviour, because the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) made much of behaviour in the classroom. The present Government are the first to implement a comprehensive national programme to strengthen schools’ capacity to manage behaviour, and to strengthen the law where necessary. As he will know, the behaviour expert Sir Alan Steer acknowledged in his final report on behaviour in schools, published earlier this year,

“Schools have a broader range of powers than ever before to prevent and tackle poor behaviour.”

I therefore dispute some of the statements made about behaviour in our schools.

The licence to teach was announced last week. Teachers will need to keep their practice up to date to renew their licence, which will be linked to their commitment to continuing professional development. We shall start with newly qualified teachers beginning their training this September, those returning to teaching from September 2010 and all supply teachers shortly afterwards. We think that it will help to improve the status of a profession that is already very highly regarded, but it is not a substitute for the existing robust measures to weed out poorly performing teachers. Those measures are already in the hands of individual schools and head teachers, to be used as and when required if capability is an issue. We want to build on the best elements of the existing teacher registration process, so we shall make provision for the General Teaching Council for England to take the matter forward. We envisage the licence to teach being valid for five years, after which the licence holder would need to undergo the revalidation process. More details will be set out in the coming months and there will be further consultation.

As has been said, the most effective continuing professional development often takes place in schools where teachers can learn from one another, but teachers can also learn from other schools. That is constantly being reviewed. We said in the White Paper “Your child, your schools, our future: building a 21st century schools system” that we are asking the TDA and the national college for school leadership to work together to consider how we can best support the growth of more school-to-school, cluster-based professional development for teachers and, indeed, all the members of the children’s work force in schools.

I have set out how we are building on the foundations of the proper investment that we have made in our teachers in the past 12 years by providing new routes into teaching, ensuring that teachers have fair pay and conditions, supporting teachers with excellent professional development and matching that with the new licence to teach. Those reforms will allow our teachers to remain the best in the world. We are committed to backing them, just as we have backed them in the past 12 years, because that is what we need to do to build schools that are fit for the 21st century in which every child and young person receives the excellent education that they deserve. Excellence in education comes primarily from teachers. That is what parents expect and children need.

The Minister is most kind—her generosity overflows. May I just ask her about men teaching in primary schools? Does she have any thoughts on the shortage of male teachers in primary schools and any proposals to encourage more men to teach at that level?

Like most hon. Members when they visit schools in their constituencies, I am always struck by the fact that there are not many men teaching in primary schools. I will talk to officials about how that can be encouraged, because of course good role models in primary schools are important.