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Teaching Profession

Volume 546: debated on Monday 18 June 2012

We are reforming teacher training to get more outstanding people into teaching, paying good teachers more and extending opportunities to teachers to start and to run their own schools.

Improving the quality of current teachers is vital to increasing the attainment of all children. It is equally important that those entering the profession are equipped with the necessary skills. Will the Government take forward the recommendations of the Education Committee and give a firm commitment to introduce teaching observation as a key part of assessment before the offer of a teacher training placement is made?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and the report by the Select Committee made a number of good points. Last Thursday, we outlined new proposals to ensure that schools have more of a role in deciding which trainees are thought suitable for placements, and observation is a critical part of that. I would not wish to centrally prescribe how schools should operate, but the points made by the hon. Lady and the Committee are well made.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the new primary maths curriculum, which will compete with the best in the world? What steps are being taken to make sure that primary school teachers are trained up to be able to teach the new curriculum and that we get new teachers with the specialist maths skills that are needed to do so?

My hon. Friend makes a similarly acute point. One of the initiatives that we announced last Thursday was making sure that those with good degrees in mathematics and science subjects who choose to go into teaching receive an additional bursary in order to entice them into the profession. It is also the case that we will prepare new routes for specialist maths teachers in primary schools, and we will also incentivise the recruitment of high-performing graduates to go into schools in the toughest areas, to make sure that the children who need help most receive it.

May I, on behalf of my colleagues, offer our best wishes to all the young people—including my daughter, Siobhàn—who are sitting their A-levels today? Investing in teacher training is a very welcome measure, but recent reports suggest a drop of 15% in the number of people applying for teacher training, and teachers are reporting a sharp fall in staff room morale. Why is the Secretary of State having such a “chilling effect” on teacher morale?

As Robert Burns, that great poet, once said,

“facts are chiels that winna ding”—

[Hon. Members: “Translate.”] The collapse of understanding of modern foreign languages under the Labour Government is something to behold, as is the Opposition’s disdain for an important part of the United Kingdom. But those of us who are Unionists, as well as lovers of poetry, know that recent statistics from the Teaching Agency showed that, among graduates who are contemplating entering the teaching profession, the estimation of the prestige and status of teaching has risen. Those are facts—statistics—that do not lie, unlike some of the press releases that have suggested that teacher morale has fallen.

The public perception of any profession is normally based on the two extremes—the best and the worst practitioners—so what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to retain excellent teachers and to ensure that the incompetent ones are removed from the profession?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have changed the capability procedures—basically the rules that govern whether underperforming teachers can be dealt with quickly—to ensure that a process that used to take a year now takes only a term. At the same time, we are liberating head teachers to pay good teachers more, because we want to send a clear and consistent signal that teachers, like lawyers and doctors, are professionals who deserve appropriate salaries for doing a great job.