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Further Education Lecturers

Volume 521: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2011

It is a pleasure to have secured this debate, which follows another education-related one. As I speak, hon. Members in the main Chamber are debating the education maintenance allowance, so Ministers, like the rest of us, are trying to be in two places at once.

This debate is about Government policy on the employment of further education lecturers as school teachers in schools. I am delighted to see present my predecessor as Chair of the Education Committee in its previous guise as the Children, Schools and Families Committee, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). I hope that he will participate. The subject is important because the importance of vocational and practical education within our education system is too often underplayed. There is also an artificial chasm between those who teach in further education and those who teach in schools at a time when we are trying to create a system such as that in health, which tries to build pathways in relation to the patient so that, instead of providing health services on the basis of institutional convenience, everything is built in relation to the patient. In exactly the same way, institutions that serve young people in education should bend and shape themselves to suit the young people’s needs, rather than the other way around.

Further education lecturers are required to work through a four-tier qualification system, culminating in qualified teacher learning and skills status. FE lecturers with QTLS accreditation may then work in schools not as teachers, but as instructors, and only as a last resort. Even though they perform essentially the same functions, instructors have a lower professional status and, usually, a lower salary than schoolteachers. The equality of esteem and the need to ensure good vocational learning are undermined by that artificial divide.

Primary and secondary teachers, on the other hand, have a qualification known as qualified teacher status. Teachers with a QTS are currently eligible to teach in the FE sector. If the potential of the Government’s schools policy is to be realised, we need the best possible teachers in the classroom providing education at any one time. The Government’s schools White Paper rightly identifies teacher quality as the most important ingredient in improving the quality of education in this country, thus encouraging social mobility and other issues of social justice that hon. Members on both sides of the House devoutly desire. The White Paper states:

“All the evidence from different education systems around the world shows that the most important factor in determining how well children do is the quality of teachers and teaching.”

Many FE lecturers are dual professionals with expertise both in their vocational subject area and in pedagogy. That expertise needs to be used in schools on an equal and fair basis in the same way as that of teachers. I hope that the Government will look to overcome the obstacles and create a single teaching qualification, effectively moving the barriers that constrain the best use of FE lecturers.

The Government’s skills strategy shows that they are committed to the promotion of technical as well as academic qualifications—I believe that that issue has just been debated in the main Chamber—to promote a variety of routes to improved employment opportunities to students. My hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning has just left the Chamber and, given his passionate espousal of the importance of craft and vocational learning, we must ensure that we make best use of our teaching work force. The skills strategy states:

“Skills are vital to our future and improving skills is essential to building sustainable growth and stronger communities. A skilled workforce is necessary to stimulate the private-sector growth that will bring new jobs and new prosperity for people all over this country.

And a strong further education and skills system is fundamental to social mobility, re-opening routes for people from wherever they begin to succeed in work, become confident through becoming accomplished and play a full part in civil society.”

The reality, however, is that there has been a lack of expansion of vocational expertise in the school work force, which fails to match the expansion of vocational curricula in schools. Schools too often do not have the appropriately experienced teachers to inspire students to excel in vocational courses.

The Children, Schools and Families Committee carried out an inquiry into teacher training in the 2009-10 Session and its report, “The Training of Teachers”, was published in January 2010. The Committee called for

“greater fluidity—and shared development opportunities—across the school and further education sectors.”

The report’s recommendations include:

“At the very least, teachers with Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills status should immediately be able to work as a qualified teacher in schools if they are teaching post-16, even post-14, pupils.”

That recommendation represents the nub of my case today, for which I hope we will have a sympathetic and constructive response from Ministers.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I rushed from the main Chamber where we have both been speaking. We are a regular double act. The recommendations of the inquiry under discussion were made by a former Select Committee—the Children, Schools and Families Committee. It was one of our later inquiries and it was very much an eye-opener for all members of the Committee. We made recommendations on improvements to teacher education and asked why we had an artificial divide whereby a schoolteacher could not teach in FE and many people teaching in FE could not teach in schools. It seems a crazy divide.

Sorry, Mr Hood. It was a very long intervention. I hope that you will call me to speak again later.

I now know—if I did not already—that my predecessor would like to speak in this debate, so his intervention served that purpose. The report’s recommendations, under the hon. Gentleman’s august chairmanship, also stated:

“In the context of the 14–19 reforms, the Department should put in place a mechanism for assessing vocational or professional qualifications as equivalent to degree status.”

It added:

“Over the longer term we recommend that the training of early years teachers, school teachers and further education teachers become harmonised through generic standards.”

That is the request that I am making today—“harmonised through generic standards.”

Those recommendations seem to have been overlooked, with FE lecturers remaining on the sidelines. Despite their obvious expertise in the vocational pathway, we are clearly ignoring the opportunity to utilise their talents in our secondary schools. My Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into behaviour and discipline in schools, and wants to ensure that we have the best possible teachers to engage with young people who perhaps find their academic studies less inspiring. Having the best possible vocational teachers is a great way of getting people re-engaged in learning to the benefit of both academic and vocational skills.

The Skills Commission published a report, “Teaching Training in Vocational Education”, in February 2010, which states:

“If we are to successfully establish and maintain a vocational pathway through 14-19 education and on to higher education, we need professionals with recent and relevant vocational knowledge and skills”

to transfer their expertise to learners. Those are common-sense words, but there is a barrier standing in their way. The report notes that

“the system as it now stands is biased towards academic education and its teachers, and fails to recognise the crucial role that vocational education and its teachers play in 14-19 education… For vocational instructors employed in schools their conditions of service are inferior to those employed as school teachers.”

It adds:

“We cannot continue to perceive vocational education to be second class and inferior to academic education. In turn, we cannot continue to label teachers of vocational education as a ‘semi-profession’… The Commission believes that, in the short-term, greater transferability between the two professional statuses must be achieved in order to realise high quality academic and vocational provision throughout 14-19 education—getting the right skills in the right place of our education system must be a priority for policymakers.”

That is why I am delighted to be participating in this debate. The report continues:

“To realise this, the Commission believes that convergence courses should be developed to facilitate transferability between QTS and QTLS. The principle of this convergence would be central to the Skills Commission’s vision for 14-19 education, and to establishing a high quality route through the 14-19 phase... The two regimes should be replaced by a unified training system and a ‘universal teaching status’.”

So why have neither the recommendations of the former Children, Schools and Families Committee nor those of the Skills Commission been implemented by the Government? It seems that there are a number of possible objections to a unified teacher status. First, teaching young adults is considered a different playing field to teaching 11 to 16-year-olds. Therefore, an individual who is teaching in further education might not have the skills and pedagogical background necessary to teach younger children. That was one of the fears before the increased flexibility pilots were started seven years ago—I am sure that the Minister is familiar with them—when the national curriculum was made more flexible, so that it included a wider variety of settings in which students could study. In practice, FE staff found that teaching groups of 14 and 15-year-olds was not so very different from teaching 16 and 17-year-olds. The skills are fundamentally the same—good lesson planning, varying the pace, involving students and so on.

A second argument is that schoolteachers might have a better grounding in the theory of teaching and pedagogy than FE teachers. Teaching degrees and the PGCE provide a grounding in the theory of teaching and pedagogy, but so does the four-stage approach to the QTLS. FE lecturers are required to gain QTLS status by successfully going through professional formation, which is, according to the Institute for Learning,

“the post-qualification process by which a teacher demonstrates through professional practice the ability to use effectively the skills and knowledge acquired whilst training to be a teacher; and the capacity to meet the occupational standards required of a teacher.”

By contrast, there are strong arguments in favour of a universal teacher status. Academic and vocational education are both important and require equally rigorous teaching. It is simply unreasonable, not to mention unfair, that FE teachers cannot go into the school environment. As I have said, it is crucial that highly skilled and experienced professionals can use that skill wherever it is most needed. The current system of teacher qualification is over-complicated and should be simplified to allow high-quality professionals to teach in both sectors.

My predecessor as Chair of the Select Committee wishes to speak, so I will bring my remarks to an early close. I have made the key points that I wanted to make, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively. We need to ensure that we have a rich curriculum that regards vocational and practical learning as equally important, equally valid and equally useful as academic learning. There should be a system through which we increase academic rigour, while ensuring that the whole work force and every type of learning are treated according to their merits and that every child can access the best possible teaching whatever course they are doing at whatever time.

Order. The hon. Gentleman who has secured the Adjournment debate has agreed to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) saying a few words, as has the Minister, but I ask him to give the Minister adequate time to respond to the debate.

I apologise, Mr Hood. In the communication that I had with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), there was obviously confusion about which debate we were talking in. We have contributed to the debates here and in the main Chamber, so sorry for the communication difficulty and thank you, Mr Hood, for the opportunity to speak briefly. I am also grateful to the Minister for agreeing to let me contribute. I only want to speak for two minutes.

I care passionately about the matter. If we are to have a system with increasingly diverse post-14 routes—apprenticeships, people staying on in FE, people doing diplomas and more conventional vocational routes and being able to switch across from those—we need a profession that can teach across the piece post-14. I make a plea for the recommendations of the former Children, Schools and Families Committee, of which I was Chair, to be considered. I also co-chair the Skills Commission, so I wear both those hats today. I should put on the record that Baroness Sharp in the other place played a significant role in the recommendations that came out of the Skills Commission. She is a very knowledgeable person in this area. We also had great help from Policy Connect in organising that inquiry.

I am here to support the Chairman of the Select Committee. I hope that the Minister will say that there can be some positive movement on the matter. He knows that we tried to be helpful when we did our inquiry into the training of teachers, and many of the people who have read that report think that it was balanced. The report had cross-party support, and it gives people in the Department the opportunity to consider how the future of the teaching profession can get even better than it is today.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) not only on securing the debate but on being part of the dynamic duo that is now performing in this Chamber, having dual-tasked and performed just a few minutes ago in the main Chamber.

This is an important issue. I recognise the particular interest in the subject that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has and his background in the work that his Committee did before the election. It is therefore appropriate that he was able to contribute. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness made some positive and constructive points, and I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment of his comments. He asked me to be sympathetic, constructive and positive in my response; as he well knows, I always endeavour to do so. Whether I can give him the detail of that sympathy, constructiveness and positivity remains to be seen, given that the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) would normally be responding to the debate. Of course, he is involved in the debate in the main Chamber.

I am grateful to the Minister for responding to the debate, given the pressures on the Department. I understand why he finds himself in that position. As he is helping out the Minister with responsibility for schools, perhaps he will ask whether my predecessor as Chair of the Select Committee, Baroness Sharp—if she wishes to join us—and I can meet the Minister with responsibility for schools to discuss the matter further after having heard the Minister’s remarks.

I will be delighted to pass on that invitation for a meeting. I am sure that the Minister with responsibility for schools will be sympathetic, positive and constructive in his response to it. Notwithstanding what is going on this afternoon, the timing of the debate is also appropriate given the review of vocational education that the Secretary of State has asked Professor Alison Wolf to carry out—her name was mentioned in the main Chamber a little while ago.

The Government attach great importance to improving vocational teaching in schools. In response to my hon. Friend’s point, it is certainly not a question of being second class to academic education or treating vocational sector teachers as second class; it is a question of appropriateness and horses for courses, in the same way as perhaps primary school teachers do not readily transfer to become secondary school teachers and vice versa. I want to make it clear that all aspects of teaching those different areas are absolutely valued, but that they will be more appropriate for certain people in certain areas than in others.

My hon. Friend made a point at the beginning with which I wholeheartedly concur: we need to shape institutions around children and young people to ensure that they are getting the most appropriate support, education and training of whatever type, rather than trying to pigeonhole people into particular structures. The coalition agreement for the new Government included a commitment to better vocational education in England, and the Secretary of State’s speech to the Edge Foundation last year on 9 September set out the need for radical reform to address long-term weaknesses in practical learning. That is why we have asked Professor Wolf to carry out what is proving to be a major review and to make recommendations about how vocational education can be improved.

Professor Wolf’s review is considering how we can ensure that vocational education for 14 to 19-year-olds supports valuable participation and progression into the labour market and into higher level education. The final report will include practical recommendations on how vocational education will be improved in line with the public commitment that we have made. I know that Professor Wolf has made very good progress with the report. She has met teachers, heads and college principals to inform her review, and she has been considering submissions made as part of the call for evidence. We look forward to receiving her full report later in the spring, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield has mentioned.

If I recall, the original timetable was that an interim report would be presented by Professor Wolf before Christmas. Has such a report been presented to Ministers? If so, can it be published?

I am not aware that a full-blown interim report has been presented to Ministers. I am aware that there have been preliminary discussions between Professor Wolf and Ministers about her initial findings. I do not think that an exact date has been set for publication so far, but when my hon. Friend has the meeting with the Minister with responsibility for schools I am sure he will be able to elaborate further on the exact details.

When Professor Wolf, who used to be on the Skills Commission with us, was appointed by the Secretary of State, was she told that half way through her report, the rug of the EMA was going to be pulled from under her feet, or was she oblivious to that fact?

I cannot answer for any discussions my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other Ministers have had with Professor Wolf on her appointment. I am not in a position to answer that. Again, that is a question that the hon. Gentleman can address to the Minister with responsibility for schools. I am sure that the Minister will grant an audience to him, his dynamic duo partner and the noble Baroness Sharp at a later date.

An expert, experienced work force with the right training is, of course, essential to a successful future for vocational education. The Government have therefore asked Professor Wolf, as part of her review, to look at work force issues in particular. I know that Professor Wolf has identified many of the issues raised by hon. Members today, and that her report will consider further education teachers’ eligibility to teach in schools, and in particular the question of why FE-trained teachers, who have already achieved Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills status, also need to gain Qualified Teacher Status to be able to teach as qualified teachers in schools, which is the essence of my hon. Friend’s argument.

Pending Professor Wolf’s independent report, it would not be right for the Government to reach a definite conclusion on some of the issues that we have debated here today, and I am sure that hon. Members understand that. However, I can set out the simple ambitions that should guide us in reviewing this policy: getting the best people into schools and colleges, relevant to the demands of the particular curriculum or subject, whether academic or vocational; and fairness in dealing with the teachers who dedicate so much to providing excellent education, both academic and vocational. I include in “teachers” the experts from industry and professions who want to pass on their expertise to the next generation by supporting vocational education.

We do not think the current policy goes far enough in meeting those ambitions, which is why Professor Wolf is looking at this area so carefully. It is vital that schools have the flexibility to employ the staff they need to offer excellent vocational education to their particular set of students. It is also vital that the contribution that teachers with a further education background can make to schools is fully recognised by schools.

I want to address the specific proposal that the solution to the problems identified here today is simply to bring the professional statuses for further education and schools together into one status. I am aware of the conclusion of the Skills Commission inquiry into teacher training in vocational education, which was published last year and to which both hon. Members have alluded. It concluded by stating the need to achieve convergence of the two separate teacher training regimes that currently exist for teachers of academic subjects in schools, and those of vocational subjects in FE and the post-compulsory sector. The former Children, Schools and Families Committee reached a similar conclusion when it looked into teacher training and reported early in 2010, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, that there should be harmonisation of training programmes.

The Government accept the issues highlighted in those reports. There are clearly problems that we need to look at carefully and address, but in addressing those issues, and those raised in debate today, we must also be careful to take a balanced approach. That means that we must not remove the safeguards that guarantee to pupils and parents the standard of teachers that they expect in the schools that their children attend. We should remind ourselves of what we have at the moment: a wholly graduate teaching profession with expertise in teaching the national curriculum; teachers trained to deal with the particular challenges of providing a stimulating education to children; and a profession where individual teachers have the flexibility to teach across all school age ranges from five to 18. That is a foundation that the Government will build on to create an outstanding teaching profession, as set out in the schools White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”.

I recognise the logic of convergence. There are, of course, many similarities between the jobs done by teachers in schools and in FE colleges. However, we must also be clear that QTLS status has been designed for the distinct requirements of the further education sector, with a focus on vocational learning and teaching over-16s. That does not prepare teachers to carry out the full range of work that is required of a qualified teacher in a school, as set down in the standards for qualified teacher status. Those include a degree, usually in the subject being taught, knowledge of the national curriculum, which it is the basic duty of schools to offer, and experience of teaching in two age ranges and capabilities around safeguarding and behaviour management that are different for younger children. Simply allowing anyone with QTLS to teach in schools would mean that we were not able to guarantee the rigorous academic expertise of teachers to pupils and parents. Whatever the recommendations, results and the way ahead, a good deal of work will need to be done to offer appropriate teaching to children and young people in those different educational environments. It cannot just happen simply because the rules have changed.

There are ways that the Government can address the need for reform in this area without undermining our plans to build a graduate teaching work force to create an outstanding, high status profession. For example, we have already consulted publicly on an assessment-only route to obtaining QTS for those who have substantial experience of working in schools or further education, and who have a degree. That will offer a more flexible route to QTS accreditation with minimal teacher training.

In the wake of Professor Wolf’s recommendations, I expect that we will be able to bring forward further proposals. For example, one such proposal might be to support teachers without degrees who wish to teach the vocational subjects in schools that they are already able to teach in colleges.

I hope, without being able to go into go into an enormous detail, pending the report and given the limitations on my own presence here and my particular brief in the Department for Education, that I have at least signalled to the satisfaction of my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Huddersfield that this is a matter to which the Government are giving considerable and urgent attention in order to improve the current policy.

I appreciate the tone and quality of the Minister’s remarks. The Government are backing university technical colleges, which will provide education for young people from the age of 14. Those young people will sometimes come in, dressed in a boiler suit at the age of 14, and have a spanner in their hand at 8.30 am or 8.45 am. If the Government are going to consider, following the Wolf review, greater flexibilities, the age at which young people start must be 14. That would fit with the university technical colleges and the wider Government programme. I just wanted to make that point on the record to the Minister today.

I hear what my hon. Friend has said. Those comments might have been as appropriate in the previous debate in this Chamber, which involved the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, who is a Minister in both my Department and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I have heard what he has said and will pass those comments on along with all the comments from hon. Members this afternoon.

I am confident that the decisions that we will take in the light of Professor Wolf’s review will result in a more logical position than we have at present—we all readily acknowledge that—which will continue to improve the quality of the school teaching work force, allow schools to make the best use of teachers with experience and expertise from outside the classroom and is fair to all those who play a role in the education of young people.

May I reiterate my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee for the balanced, measured and informed way in which he put his comments? I undertake to pass on the points that both hon. Members have made and to urge my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for schools, in his greatly uncluttered diary, to find time to have a more detailed meeting with them.

I remind the Minister that tens of thousands of young people who are 14 years old are presently being taught—not all week, but two or three days a week—in the FE sector. Studio schools, the first of which has opened in Huddersfield, will also be taking young people working in a work environment from the age of 14. It is a fact that 14-year-olds are being taught by highly qualified staff in the FE sector.

The hon. Gentleman can be duly contented that I am suitably reminded of the points that he has made and that I will pass them on to my hon. Friends as well. I thank him for his contribution.