I advise the House that no amendment has been selected. I shall shortly call Mr Tristram Hunt, but let me point out that as a consequence of the statement, truncated time is available for this debate and no fewer than 16 Members wish to speak, which is reflected in the short time-limit. There is, of course, no time-limit on Front-Bench speeches, but I politely suggest that it would be a considerable discourtesy to Back Benchers if Front Benchers were to take longer than 40 minutes in their opening speeches. The Secretary of State looks a bit alarmed at that, but there is no reason for him to look alarmed; I am sure he can cope, and that the shadow Secretary of State can cope, too.
I beg to move,
That this House endorses the view that in state funded schools teachers should be qualified or working towards qualified teacher status while they are teaching.
In moving this motion, the Opposition call on the Government to uphold the highest standards in our schools. We are delighted that the Deputy Prime Minister—if not his Schools Minister, as we never quite know on whose side he is talking—appears finally to have accepted the Labour party’s position on ensuring qualified teacher status within our schools. As if we needed any further proof of the importance of this point, events at the Secretary of State’s Al-Madinah free school in Derby—where the teaching was inadequate, the school dysfunctional and the care of those with special educational needs a disgrace—proved that right.
This afternoon I shall set out the importance of having a professionally qualified teacher work force; the role that this work force play in allowing children in our schools to reach their full potential; and to urge the Liberal Democrats to rediscover their progressive credentials. I hope to do so succinctly, Mr Speaker, so that many of my colleagues can contribute.
Yes, and one with qualified teacher status—unlike, perhaps, some others.
May I press the shadow Secretary of State on that issue of qualified teacher status? I taught at a time when we had a Labour Government and, at that time, we saw a massive increase in the number of unqualified teachers, a massive increase in the number of instructors, and a massive increase in the number of teaching assistants taking classes when planning and preparation time was introduced. What has changed the hon. Gentleman’s mind?
Today we are focusing on the future. Under future Labour Governments, we will have qualified teachers in our classrooms. I find it extraordinary that Government Members do not want the best-qualified, best-trained teacher work force in the world.
In 2010, when the British people lent the Prime Minister their trust and he used to talk about things like the big society, the Government believed in having a motivated, professional teacher cohort. At that time, the Prime Minister rightly said that
“the most important thing that will determine”
whether children succeed at school
“is not their background, or the curricula, or the type of school, or the amount of funding. It’s who the teacher is.”
Sadly, since then the Secretary of State has focused entirely on curricula, school structure and reducing funding, and has done little to support the skills and capacities of our teachers.
Before my hon. Friend gives way to a Government Member, may I remind him that in the past a Labour Government went out of their way to secure talented teachers from a much broader background? They introduced all sorts of ways of getting into teaching that were innovative and good, and I saw real changes in our teaching force as a result. We did some very good things, and they did not lead to the employment of unqualified teachers..
My hon. Friend has made the crucial point that Teach First was a Labour innovation. We believe in innovation, but we also believe in some basic standards in our schools.
The Secretary of State used to praise teaching standards in Finland, South Korea and Singapore, saying:
“In all those countries teaching is a high prestige profession.”
How would the Government ensure that it remained so?
“By making it difficult to become a teacher.”
But what has the Secretary of State done in office? He has done everything possible to make it as easy as possible to assume control of a classroom. He has undermined the profession, sought to remove teacher training from universities, and adopted a policy of wholesale deregulation. That has led to a 141% increase in the number of unqualified teachers in free schools and academies. The surprising truth is that under this Government, people need more qualifications to get a job in a burger bar than to teach in an English school. While I salute the efforts of restaurant chains to improve the skills of their work forces, I should like history teachers, as well as hamburger restaurant managers, to have some basic qualifications.
The hon. Gentleman is, in my opinion at least, a fine historian. He will recall that when he was at school he was taught by a very fine teacher, Terry Morris, who was the head of the history department. Will he tell the House whether Mr Morris was a qualified teacher, or simply an inspiration?
The great thing about qualified teachers is that they can be both qualified and an inspiration. [Interruption.] I know that the Conservative party is developing something of an obsession with me, so let me say that if Conservative Members want to invite me to a special session of the 1922 Committee to talk about my past and history, I shall be more than willing to take up their invitation.
Why does the Labour party believe in having qualified teachers in our classrooms? The Secretary of State’s 2010 White Paper put it best:
“The first and most important lesson is that no education system can be better than the quality of its teachers. The most successful countries…are those where teaching has the highest status as a profession’’.
In Finland, the world’s highest-performing education system, teacher education is led by universities, and all teachers are qualified to Master’s level. In Singapore, all teachers are fully trained and have annual training entitlements. The most effective way in which to improve our children’s education is to boost the quality, elevate the standing, and raise the standards of our teaching profession. We need to train teachers up, not talk them down.
My hon. Friend has just alluded to the very point that I wanted to make. The Secretary of State thinks that it is okay for us to have unqualified teachers, but also lauds the Finnish system, under which the minimum retirement for a teacher is to be a qualified professional with a Master’s degree.
That is exactly the difference between the parties. We believe in professionalisation rather than deregulation. We believe in going up the value chain rather than deskilling. The point is simple: good teachers change lives. They engender aspiration, curiosity, self-improvement and a hunger for knowledge. It is teaching that awakens the passion for learning that a prosperous society and a vibrant economy so desperately need. The Secretary of State should heed the words of Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, who has argued for teaching to be elevated
“to a profession of high-level knowledge workers, who work autonomously and contribute to the profession within a collaborative culture.”
I hope that the whole debate will affirm the importance of teachers, qualified teachers, and the teaching profession. The hon. Gentleman is new to his post and fairly new to Parliament, but can he confirm first that under Labour an Act was passed which allowed unqualified teachers to work in schools set up by Labour, and secondly that there are fewer unqualified teachers in our schools now than when Labour was in government?
Last year, the Liberal Democrats had a chance in the other place to support qualified teacher status. We have now heard the Deputy Prime Minister say that they believe in it. The only answer that interests me now is whether Liberal Democrat Front Benchers will vote for their values this afternoon.
The use of the word “profession” is important here, because we take a different view from the Government. We believe that teaching is more than a craft. Personally, I am full of admiration for craftsmen and craftswomen—I represent Stoke-on-Trent, where, according to J.B. Priestley, the greatest craftsmen and craftswomen, the master potters, lived—but we think that teachers need to know about more than just classroom technique. Teachers need to know how children develop, how subject knowledge can be adapted for children of different ages and how pupils with special needs can be supported, and they need an understanding of the latest research on learning.
I applaud the Government’s focus on ensuring that teachers have good subject knowledge, but—as you well know, Mr Speaker—they also need the attributes that will secure discipline and authority in the classroom and produce a safe learning environment. Those are the qualities that qualified teacher status can help to provide, and they can ensure even higher standards and happier school days for young people. That is certainly the view of the chief inspector of schools. Last year, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the man who had been hand-picked by the Education Secretary to head Ofsted, told the Education Committee:
“I would expect all the teachers in my school to have qualified teacher status.”
We all know experts in their field whom we would not trust with the teaching of our children. The hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) is a not unoriginal scholar of the Plantagenets, but I am not sure that he could deliver a history course for six-year-olds. The hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) has a background in aviation, but I would not necessarily trust him with year 7. A great mind might produce a great teacher, but a common standard of training is far more likely to ensure that that is the case most of the time—and that is why the motion is in favour of delivering a qualified teaching profession all the time.
I think I am right in saying that my hon. Friend took part in the Teach First initiative this year. I did, and I hope that I was able to give something to the young people with whom I spent an hour. They certainly gave a great deal to me. However, what I learnt most from were the skills that the teacher displayed in the classroom, and the ability of that teacher to connect with all the children. Is that not why the debate is so important?
First, may I reassure the hon. Gentleman that I do not have an obsession with him? I speak as someone who also has a PGCE to my name on top of my degree, but please do not confuse being qualified and being able to teach pupils with bits of paper. I have seen plenty of excellent teachers without PGCEs and some pretty poor ones with, and I think the hon. Gentleman is getting the two rather mixed up.
This is about reducing the risk in the teaching system. This is about making sure we go up the value chain in terms of qualifications and teacher capacity.
As it has been raised, let me deal with the issue of non-qualified teachers in the private sector. First, figures from the Independent Schools Council show that 90% of those teaching in such schools have a teaching qualification and over 70% have qualified teacher status. Secondly, if head teachers in the private sector wish to employ teachers without QTS, that is their decision. But a Labour Government will demand a minimum standard of QTS for those teaching within the state system. As Secretary of State for Education, I am not going to allow for the deregulatory free-for-all which produces the likes of Al-Madinah.
Has the hon. Gentleman made any assessment of the quality of the teachers we are talking about here, who will be sacked after two years? There are fewer than there were when his party left office, we have a tightened-up the Ofsted regulation regime, and there is no place to hide on data and exam results, so I put it to him that a head teacher would employ a non-QTS teacher today only if they were above-average and were delivering a brilliant service to children in the classroom.
When those teachers get into school, we want them to train up for QTS. This is simply about going up the improvement chain. It seems to me entirely uncontroversial.
Let me also stress that our plans do not affect the artists, the actor, the footballer, builder, business man or, dare I say it, historian—missing the more incisive quality of debate which a year 5 can provide—who comes into a class to inspire young people about their subjects. For those teachers holding that enormous responsibility for the learning outcomes of young people, however, we would expect, like Sir Michael Wilshaw, a minimum baseline qualification.
So let me return to the core of this motion: how do we deliver improvements in our schools system and close the attainment gap? The answer is great teaching. Part of that is strong leadership; part of that is the innovation that comes from Labour’s Teach First policy; part of that is autonomy; but it is also about further professional development: about stretching our teachers, about learning to improve at every turn.
Achieving QTS is not the whole answer. It does not in itself, as the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) said, guarantee excellence. As the Secretary of State well knows, passing a driving test does not mean that all new drivers will avoid accidents, but this is not a reason to remove the requirement to pass a test. Removing the expectation of QTS means we endanger the status of the teaching profession at a time when we need to raise the status of teaching if we are to succeed in what the Prime Minister calls the global race. The countries with the most successful education systems are going up the value chain, not deskilling. They are raising the status of teaching, not opening the door to our classrooms to anyone who just wants to have a go.
We have brought this motion to the House because the Labour party is passionate about education. From the earliest days of Robert Owen and the co-operative movement, from our history in the mechanics institutes and the mutual improvement societies, from the Workers Educational Association to the trade union movement, academic and vocational excellence is engrained in the Labour movement’s DNA. So too with the Liberals: stretching back to the Forster Education Act, or the role of education in that positive vision of freedom enunciated by T. H. Green and L. T. Hobhouse, or John Maynard Keynes’s ambition for post-war cultural enrichment, social mobility and progress has been part of the Liberal creed. While the Tory Party supported King and class, our parties are parties of the word—of a belief in the liberating potential of education—which is why it is so depressing to see a once-progressive party sign up to this narrow vision of education: of deregulation, of dumbing-down and a lack of ambition for our schools.
Great teachers broaden horizons, motivate students, and help young people achieve their potential. It is time for the Liberal Democrats to show the parents, pupils and teachers of this country whose side they are on and to vote for their values this afternoon. In the Labour party, we have made our choice: professionalism not deregulation; a qualified teacher in every classroom. I commend this motion to the House.
I welcome the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) to his place as shadow Secretary of State. It is a pleasure to have a historian representing the Labour party on this issue and it was a joy for me to hear him talk about Hobhouse and Keynes, Owen and the mechanics institutes. It is marvellous to have a historian there. However, when he was asked by one of my hon. Friends about more recent history, to wit the Labour party’s record on teaching, his mind was a curious blank. He said he was focused on the future. What a pity that when he was asked that first history question, he passed.
No. What a pity that when the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central was asked about one of his former history teachers—Mr Morris, I believe—like Peter, he denied him thrice, and when he was asked to stand up for Mr Morris, who has done so much for this young lad to help him into the position he now enjoys, he refused to stand up for him. When he was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) about Labour’s record on education, once more he declined to answer the question. He may have a PhD from Cambridge, but one thing he has to learn about education in our state schools today is, “You do not pass if you don’t answer the questions.” He did not answer the questions; he has failed his first test in the House of Commons.
No, thank you. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has not even asked a question, but I will answer all his points in due course.
As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central knows, we are fortunate because under the coalition Government we now have—[Interruption.] I will answer the question; he did not. We now have the best generation of teachers—
In a moment; all in good time. [Interruption.] I know the hon. Gentleman is impatient; he is a young one as well.
We have the best ever generation of teachers in our schools. Gerard Kelly of The Times Educational Supplement has said:
“Contrary to most reports, teaching in Britain has never been in better health”
“is a more respected profession and a more attractive graduate destination than it has been for many years.”
We are also fortunate that we have, as the OECD has reminded us, the best generation of heads in our schools, and more and more of them are now enjoying the autonomy from bureaucracy and freedom from micro-management that the coalition Government have brought. They need that freedom because of the problems we inherited in our education system. As the OECD reported just last month, our 16 to 25-year-olds—those who were educated under Labour—have some of the worst levels of literacy and numeracy in the developed world. We are the only country in the developed world whose oldest citizens are more literate and numerate than our youngest adults, and what makes matters worse is that educational underperformance under Labour was concentrated in the poorest areas.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. It seems to me that his maths is not quite adding up, because surely those teachers who are coming into our schools now, and who are, as he just said, the best teachers that have ever come through, will have been educated under a Labour Government. Why is he running down the profession and why does he not agree that those teachers who are qualified should be joined by the other teachers becoming qualified?
How could I be running down the profession when I have just applauded this generation as the best ever? Why is the hon. Lady so ungracious that she does not acknowledge that under this coalition Government we have the best quality of teaching ever?
Let me answer the question that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central failed to answer. He has one sole criterion by which a good teacher will be judged: the possession of a single piece of paper which entitles someone to QTS. That is all he talked about in his speech. [Interruption.] He cannot have a second bite at the cherry. No resits for the hon. Gentleman. That was his case. But the truth is that under Labour the number of unqualified teachers rose and under the coalition it has fallen. When we came to power there were 17,800 unqualified teachers in our schools. The figure decreased to 15,800 and is now 14,800. Under Labour, the number of unqualified teachers rose to a high point of 18,800, so by the criterion that the hon. Gentleman applies the last Labour Government were a signal failure and this coalition Government have been a resounding success.
The Labour Front Benchers talk about Teach First—
In a second, eager beaver.
Interestingly, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central called Teach First “Labour’s Teach First”. That will be a surprise to Brett Wigdortz, who set it up; it is a charity. It is wholly contrary to the co-operative spirit that the hon. Gentleman lauds that he instantly nationalises every worthwhile initiative. Let us not forget that when Teach First was launched, the National Union of Teachers, which seems to be writing Labour’s policy these days, accused “Teach Firsters” of being unqualified. One teacher at the time said:
“When I first”—
“Teach First I just thought ‘no way’…My fear was that they were totally untrained teachers.”
But Andrew Adonis, someone who does know something about state education, pressed ahead and backed, as we back, Teach First, and “Teach Firsters”, who were damned as “unqualified teachers” at the time, are now responsible for securing an improvement in every school in which they operate. They were damned as “unqualified” and introduced by a charity, and they are driving up standards. That proves that we have the best generation of teachers ever in our schools, and it is all a direct result of the initiative of individual teachers and the generous support that we have given, because Teach First has expanded as never before under this Government.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that it was the Labour Government who supported the introduction of Teach First and supported its expansion? Will he also confirm that the figures he quoted on an increase in the number of unqualified teachers, which were in a parliamentary answer to me from the Minister for Schools, include people undertaking Teach First who are on their way to qualified teacher status?
I will happily acknowledge that there are fewer unqualified teachers now, under the coalition, and that it was we who expanded Teach First. What the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central failed to acknowledge when he was asked a direct question by two of my colleagues is that Labour’s record on teacher qualifications was weaker than ours.
Will the Secretary of State also confirm that the situation is worse than those figures on unqualified teachers would suggest, because we also saw a massive increase then in the use of cover supervisors, who were often used for very long periods to teach GCSE courses that they had never passed the exams for?
As ever, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. He speaks with experience from the front line and he knows that it was under Labour that, unfortunately, there was a growth in the use of cover supervisors in a number of schools. Unfortunately, in tough schools such as the one he helped to turn round we did not have people with the qualities needed to hold the attention of a class and to transform young lives. That is changing now, and one reason for that, which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central failed to acknowledge, is that we are introducing a raft of reforms that are helping to improve teaching in all our schools.
May I, for a moment, just raise the level of debate, rather than have this ding-dong? We all want well-qualified, well-motivated teachers who are continuously professionally developed—that is the truth. We should agree on this across the Benches and get on with it, rather than raking over daft stats from the past.
I am only too happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman, who, as ever, speaks sense. However, it was not the Government who brought this motion and it was not me who failed to answer the question politely put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. I am enlightening the House in a way that, I am afraid, the hon. Gentleman’s Front-Bench team failed to do. I agree with him about continuous professional development, which is why we are changing the way in which we support teachers, through the establishment of teaching schools. We have 357 teaching schools that have been established. I presume that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central supports that initiative, applauds the teachers who are involved in it and believes it is the right thing to do. It will be interesting to see whether the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) backs it when the opportunity comes.
We are also changing the way in which teachers are trained. The Times Higher Education has reported that under its new inspection regime Ofsted pointed out that school-centred initial teacher training—SCITT—is in many cases better than higher education initial teacher training. According to Times Higher Education, 31% of the school-centred initial teacher training centres inspected were outstanding whereas only 13% of higher-education institution centres were. So we are moving teacher training from those institutions that are performing less well relatively—some of them are still “outstanding”—to those that are performing better. That is a real improvement in the quality of teacher training and professional development.
We have also introduced tougher standards, by which all teachers are judged. We got rid of the fuzzy standards that used to prevail under the previous Government and we have drawn up new, professional standards. They were drawn up by Sally Coates, the head teacher of Burlington Danes academy, in alliance with Joan Deslandes of Kingsford community school, Patricia Sowter of Cuckoo Hall and Sir Dan Moynihan of Harris academies. Again, the question for the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central and his Front-Bench colleagues is: do they believe that the introduction of these new teacher standards was the right thing to do? Do they support them? Do they back them? Do they recognise that they drive improved performance in the classroom? Do they also recognise that as a result of our changes the quality of teaching is higher than ever before?
My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) rightly pointed out that we have a tougher Ofsted regime and a more rigorous accountability regime than ever before; it is tougher for someone to prove that they are outstanding. Under Labour 13% of teaching at primary schools and 11% of secondary teaching was outstanding, whereas the latest figures show that under the coalition Government those proportions have risen. The number of outstanding primary lessons has increased by 12% and the number of secondary lessons judged “outstanding” has gone up by a third. So more quality teaching is benefiting more students in more schools as a result of the changes we have made.
I also hope that the Opposition will applaud the increase in the number of highly qualified graduates from our top universities in our schools. When we came to power only 62% of those entering the teaching profession had a 2:1 or better, whereas the figure now is 71%. So we have a prestigious profession attracting more highly qualified people and transforming more lives.
Not only do I have the privilege of being the Member of Parliament for Bermondsey and Old Southwark—the MP for Teach First—but I am still a chair of a primary school governing body and a trustee of Bacon’s college. As such, I can confirm that the view of the head teachers and the governors in my constituency is that the quality of teachers now is better than it has ever been, across the board, and that Teach First has contributed hugely to the inward pressure of new people—although, of course, with educational qualifications they would be better still.
As is so often the case, my right hon. Friend strikes a balanced and sensible note. He has made the point that under the coalition Government education has improved, and that teachers once damned as “unqualified” by the trade unions and others are driving improvement in our schools. If only we could hear more of him on education and rather less from some in the Labour party.
It is not just the quality of teaching that has improved; attainment has improved for our very poorest. One of the starkest problems in the education system that we inherited was the gulf between the achievement of the wealthy and that of the poorest in our schools. That gap has narrowed thanks to the teachers in our schools, to whom I, once again, wish to pay tribute today. At key stage 4 we inherited a gap of 27.6 points in exam performance, but that has been reduced to 26.3. At primary we inherited a gap of 21.3 points between the poorest and the rest, and that has closed to 16.8. I hope that everyone in the House would applaud that movement towards helping the poorest children do better.
To truly tackle the social mobility crisis that exists in our country we need much more radical action than the schemes, no doubt well intentioned, that the Secretary of State is talking about. Will he examine the open access scheme championed by Peter Lampl of the Sutton Trust and consider introducing it for the 100 leading independent schools in our country?
The hon. Gentleman—I hesitate to call him that because he is increasingly becoming my hon. Friend; he knows what he is talking about and is the son of a head teacher—is absolutely right to say that we need more help from independent schools in improving the state sector. I think that Peter Lampl is a hero, but one of the things that the hon. Gentleman and I both believe in—independent schools helping state schools—would be more difficult as a direct result of official Labour party policy, as it would ban teachers in independent schools who do not have qualified teacher status from helping out in the way we would both want. His aim is noble and his heart is in the right place but he is on the wrong side of the House. I hope he will come over to our side, where logic will inevitably lead him.
May I correct my right hon. Friend, because the policy is worse than that? The net effect of this highly scrutinised system of sacking people who do not have QTS will be to take high-quality teachers who make such a difference to the lives of the poorest children out of the classroom. To maintain their living, these teachers will be sent to the independent sector, where doubtless they will educate the children of people such as the shadow Secretary of State.
The Chairman of the Select Committee is right once again. This is a policy for generating unemployment for excellent teachers in the state sector and giving the wealthy—those who have the advantage of the cash that enables them to pay for an independent education—the freedom to benefit from them. It is also important to recognise that the freedom to employ whoever a head teacher believes to be important and capable of adding value to education is essential to the academies and free schools programme.
It is important that Opposition Members are not selective in their use of evidence when they talk about academies and free schools, because academic results are improving faster in sponsored academies than in other schools, and the longer schools have enjoyed academy freedoms, the better they have done. In sponsored academies, open for three years and taking advantage of the freedoms we have given them, the proportion of pupils who achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths has increased by an average of 12.1 percentage points. Over the same time, results in all state-funded schools have gone up, which is good, but only by 5.1 percentage points.
We are clearly seeing academies and free schools generating improved results for the students who need them most. More than that, free schools, overwhelmingly in the poorest areas, have been backed by Andrew Adonis and Tony Blair. Andrew Adonis said that free schools were essentially Labour’s invention and Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, backed them, saying that they were a great idea, explicitly because they were
“independent schools in the state sector”.
He backed them because they had all the freedoms of great independent schools, like University College school and others, to do the right thing for their students.
Not for the first time, there is a lack of logic in what the Secretary of State is saying. If unqualified teachers are doing such a good job and are so able, why would they find it so hard to achieve formal qualifications?
If they are doing such a good job, why would the hon. Gentleman want to see them sacked? As far as he and those on his Front Bench are concerned, the only way in which someone can be a good teacher is if a single piece of paper is conferred on them. We believe that the right person to decide who should teach in a school is the head teacher, not the bureaucrats.
Another point that it is important to remember—I shall be explicit about this point, which was hinted at by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central—is that there is a difference of opinion between the two coalition parties about the future of the policy on academies and free schools. It has been a success so far, one in which we share, and I pay tribute to the Liberal Democrats for supporting it.
In a second.
The difference between Liberal Democrat and Conservative policy, however, is not as big as the difference between those on the Labour Benches. In particular, I mean the difference between the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central on one side and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central on the other. We all know that the hon. Gentleman is a distinguished historian of the civil war, and he knows all about a body politic being racked by internal division. What a pity that it is his body politic that is being so racked.
Let us listen to the cavalier Tristram, talking to Conservative-supporting The Mail on Sunday. He said:
“What I am saying is if you want to do that”—
that is, set up a free school—
“when we are in government we will be on your side. There has been this perception that we would not be, and I want people to be absolutely clear that we are…putting rocket boosters on getting behind parents and social entrepreneurs…We are not going…back”—
no turning back—
“to the old days of the local authority running all the schools—they will not be in charge.”
Three cheers for the cavalier.
Then the puritan—the roundhead—Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central suddenly popped up a few hours later on the BBC talking about the free schools that he had been lauding just a few hours earlier. He said that
“you have…a system which allows…irregularities”
“allegations…because there’s no oversight there.”
He said that it was a “dangerous ideological experiment”, yet only a few hours before, it was an ideological experiment with which he had fallen in love. One of the flaws in this ideological experiment, he said—
In a second—[Hon. Members: “Give way.”] No, I think that the House is enjoying this section of my speech. I will conclude it in just a moment.
The hon. Gentleman said:
“We are not going to go back to the old days of the local authority…they will not be in charge”,
but then on Thursday he said that the problem with free schools was that local education authorities had no role in monitoring those schools. Within four days there has been a complete U-turn, a reversal, as the civil war in the Labour party between those who believe in excellence and those who believe in the unions is embodied in one man. In four days there has been one U-turn and no answers. I am very happy to give way now.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State has finally given way. Let me be clear that the difference between our policy and that of the Government is that we believe in social enterprise and innovation but also believe in having qualified teachers in the classroom and systems of financial accountability and transparency, so that we do not end up with the chaos that we saw at Al-Madinah and Bradford. Let me go back to his earlier point, however. When did the division in the coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives on qualified teacher status first emerge? Can he talk us through the history?
I know that the hon. Gentleman is interested in splits, because he embodies one. He is a one-man walking split-generating machine. On the one hand, he is determined to remove schools from the hands of local authorities, whereas on the other he wants to impose them on them.
I fear that one thing the hon. Gentleman does not appreciate is the fact that academies and free schools face a greater degree of scrutiny than local authority schools. He has argued that we need local authority oversight because the current regime is not enough, but is he aware that academies face an annual audit from the Education Funding Agency? They must have independently audited financial accounts. They must appoint an accounting officer who has personal responsibility to the National Audit Office and, through that office, to Parliament. Those accounts must have a regularity opinion from external auditors that sets out how regularity over income and expenditure has been obtained. Free schools must also undergo their own financial management evaluation, which is counter-checked by the Education Funding Agency. That is regulation.
What about local authorities, by contrast? The National Audit Office has said:
“Local authorities do not publish systematic data to demonstrate how they are monitoring schools’ financial management and that they are intervening where necessary.”
There we have it: academies are properly regulated whereas local authority schools are not, according to the National Audit Office, regulated with anything like the same degree of intensity.
As laid out in the academies financial handbook, if there is any problem with their finances academies must ensure that they comply with the financial notice to improve and seek consent to any non-routine financial transaction. Local authorities, of course, have similar powers to suspend delegated financial functions, but there is no central record of their doing so in local authority schools, whereas there are many records and examples of academies and free schools being subject to precisely the sort of regulatory oversight that local authority schools lack. For that reason, academies and free schools are better regulated and better protected.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central mentioned one particular free school, the Al-Madinah free school, and there were certainly grievous problems there. However, that is just one school with problems; a number of local authority schools, unfortunately, also have the same ranking from Ofsted and have been graded as 4—inadequate—in every conceivable area. He has not mentioned them because he is entirely selective in his use of evidence. He has not mentioned Hawthorn primary school, Oakhill primary school, Newtown primary school, Doncaster Road primary school, St John’s primary school, Stanhope primary school, Long Cross primary school, Wellfield, Roydon, Rosebrook or a number of others. He has not done so because his selective use of evidence has been designed to discredit a programme under which, just a few weeks ago, he said he would put rocket boosters. The problem, I am afraid, is that those rocket boosters have blown up in his face.
As a historian, the hon. Gentleman should know that excessive reliance on just one source leads to errors. Of course, there have been other historians whose selective reading of evidence has allowed them to make a splash at times in the past, such as Hugh Trevor-Roper, for one, with the Hitler diaries. But although he caused a stir, he also sacrificed his credibility permanently. That is what the hon. Gentleman has done by refusing to acknowledge the brilliant record of free schools overall. He has refused to acknowledge that 50% of new local authority schools have been rated good or outstanding in the latest Ofsted ranking, whereas 75% of free schools have been ranked good or outstanding. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that where it counts, free schools are outperforming local authority schools.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. I have forgotten why I wanted him to give way earlier, but on his last point, how many of those free schools are teaching less pupils—[Hon. Members: “Fewer pupils.”]—fewer pupils because they have not filled all their places? My local free school has far smaller class sizes because it cannot fill those places.
Order. Before the Secretary of State replies to that intervention, may I gently remind him that the Speaker asked for brief opening speeches? There are many Members on both sides of the House who want to participate, so I am sure he is keeping that in mind as he comes to the conclusion of his speech.
I am bearing that in mind, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I thought it was important that the House was acquainted with evidence, there being a distinct lack of it in the speech from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central.
One of the things that I wanted to stress is that if the Labour policy is enacted, that will mean that there are people currently teaching in the state sector in academies and free schools who will lose their jobs—people like Anita Zarska, who is a chemistry teacher at the new East London science school, who has a PhD in molecular biology. She would lose her job. Howard Bowden, a graduate of Trinity Cambridge, the same college as the hon. Gentleman went to, is teaching at Batley grammar and has won national awards for teaching. He would lose his job. Jane Macbride at Priory community school in Weston-super-Mare, former head of an Asda sales team, who teaches—appropriately enough—business studies would lose her job.
In the week when we have discovered, as the Sharon Shoesmith case shows, that when Labour politicians start sacking people in a knee-jerk fashion, the courts can intervene and cost the taxpayer thousands, has the hon. Gentleman consulted his lawyers? Is his policy compliant with the European convention on human rights? Will he ensure that those outstanding teachers who are in our schools now will not be sacked arbitrarily as a result of a policy drawn up simply to appease the teaching unions? The consequence of his policy would be to sack them.
The consequence of the hon. Gentleman’s policy would also be that independent schools that have joined the state sector through our free school programme would be barred from opening their doors, as the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) wants, to every student who wants to join them—schools such as Chetwynde in Barrow, Liverpool college in Liverpool, King’s school in Tynemouth, all of them independent schools and all with teachers who do not have QTS. All of them would be barred from opening their doors to every child as a result of Labour policy.
What of the contribution of outstanding head teachers from the independent sector who are also helping state schools? What about Richard Cairns of Brighton college, who set up the London Academy of Excellence? What about Stephen Spurr, the head teacher of Westminster school, who is opening a new free school with Harris to help the poorest children? Neither of those has QTS. Both of them are outstanding. Both of them would be barred from helping poorer children under the hon. Gentleman’s policy.
The policy of the Labour party in the past prevented many intellectually gifted educators from helping children in need because those people were imprisoned in ivory towers. Take a chap I know called Tristram. Tristram was an Oxbridge man; he had a top degree; he was universally lauded by everyone in his field. He was a celebrated media figure. [Interruption.] No, I am not talking about the hon. Gentleman. I am talking about Tristram Jones-Parry. I know the hon. Gentleman thinks it is all about him, but this is not about him. It is about the children who will be denied the chance to get a fantastic education because Tristram Jones-Parry, who has a Cambridge degree in mathematics, was barred from teaching in state schools under Labour and is able to teach in state schools under our policy.
As a result of our policy, we now have support from Richard Cairns, the headmaster of Brighton college, the best independent school in the country. Katy Ricks, the head teacher of Sevenoaks, has said that recruiting staff, the job of any head teacher, is quite simply about getting the best possible person for the job. FASNA, the organisation that represents those teachers who are most keen on freedom and autonomy in driving up standards, says that head teachers should be trusted to hire the right people for the job.
Everyone who knows anything about how to improve state education, everyone who backs greater autonomy, backs our Government’s policy. The one person who does not, unfortunately, is the hon. Gentleman. He benefited from great teaching at his private school. It allowed him, as we heard, to make it to Cambridge, but he would deny that teaching to poor children. He got to Cambridge with the help of men and women who did not have QTS, but who had a great degree and a passion for learning, and now he wants to deny that same opportunity to poor children. He knows directly what great teaching in an independent school is and he says that poor children should never have the opportunity to enjoy the same privileges as he did.
It is the same old Labour party—“Do as I say, not as I do”—a Labour party willing to pull up the ladder from the next generation, a Labour party that has benefited from all the advantages that money can buy and then, when the poor come knocking on the door, saying, “Liberate us from ignorance,” says, “Sorry, no. We’re with the unions. We are not on your side.” It is shameless and that is why I hope everyone on the Government Benches will vote against the Opposition motion.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. When making decisions about education, one question matters above all others: how will this affect the quality of teaching? That is the prism through which every educational decision should be viewed. A great teacher can make the difference between a child muddling through, struggling or aiming high.
Research by Professor Eric Hanushek of Stanford university shows that during one year with a very effective maths teacher, pupils gained 40% more than they would have with a poor performer. The effects of high quality teaching are especially significant for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Hanushek found that over a school year, these pupils gain one and a half years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with just half a year of learning with poorly performing teachers. So that is the prism through which we should look at these issues.
Before we make decisions in education, another approach is to make sure that we follow the evidence. What assessment has the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) made of the quality of teachers without qualified teacher status in the classrooms? He could shake his head when the Secretary of State was speaking, but inevitably people will be sacked from the classroom. We have heard these people come forward. The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head now, denying an obvious truth. Teachers without QTS will be sacked from the classroom if that policy is implemented. [Interruption.]
We have a rigorous Ofsted regime, tough exam results, mapping, peer review, departmental head review, head teacher review—a whole system of accountability to make sure that there is nowhere to hide for the teacher who is not performing. In that context a head teacher has gone out on a limb to recruit someone who is non-QTS. We know, as was not acknowledged by the hon. Gentleman, that the number of non-qualified teachers in the teaching profession has fallen. [Interruption]. We know that the number in free schools and academies as a percentage of those employed has fallen over the past three years. We therefore have a smaller number of teachers who have been through the threshing machine of that accountability system. If they are to have such a person working for them, head teachers will need to be sure that when the inspector comes they can point to exceptional performance. [Interruption.]
The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) who barracked and heckled the Secretary of State throughout his speech is attempting to do the same to me. Those teachers, who are necessarily strong and effective teachers, will be fired under his party’s policy. That is the central point.
On the question of which teacher should be employed, we should not listen to the choices and the whims of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt). We should speak to the head teachers, who hire and fire. They are in the best position to know which teachers are best for their school.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The shadow Secretary of State has come into post at exactly the same time as his party has lurched to the left, and he has inherited this policy. I put it to him, as someone who has taught in schools as a non-QTS teacher, who benefited from non-QTS teachers as a pupil and who has suggested in recent days that he might send his children to schools that have inspiring non-QTS teachers in place, that his heart really is not in this.
There is a world of difference between an external speaker coming into a school to explain history, politics or geography and someone in charge of the learning outcomes of an entire class. I would have thought that the Chair of the Education Committee knew that.
The hon. Gentleman would not answer questions about the teacher who taught and inspired him, but he was more than just a visiting lecturer.
My children attend an independent school and have non-QTS teachers. I want to ensure that every school can access people who can inspire pupils within a system of accountability. If the shadow Secretary of State told me, “We’ve carried out an assessment and got the evidence, which shows that some head teachers are taking on unqualified teachers just to save money and sticking them in classrooms with low-ability children, which is letting them down”, I would be the first to congratulate him. I would say, “Yes, let’s look at the right policy response, but let’s not sack top teachers who happen to be non-QTS teachers if we can possibly help it.”
I would even accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument if he could show me, on any kind of evidence base, that widespread numbers of non-QTS teachers are letting down our kids. I put it to him, who has been in post for a matter of days, that there is no such evidence base. On the contrary, the evidence base shows that non-QTS teachers in state schools in some of our toughest neighbourhoods are inspirational. There are often teachers who have left the independent sector, where he went, where I went and where my children go, in order to try to make a contribution in state schools in challenging circumstances. Under the Opposition’s policy, if those people do not put themselves through the many hours required to pass QTS, they will be sacked. That is absolutely wrong. He should not deny the consequences of his policy: it will lead to the removal of outstanding teachers from state school classrooms. It will almost certainly see them turning up in independent schools, where they are needed least, rather than most. That is the central flaw in his argument, and I think that he sees it.
It is early days in the hon. Gentleman’s new post. I suggest that he has inherited a dreadful policy that is entirely against what he and I believe, which is that we should be transforming education for everyone in this country, and most of all for those from poorer homes who too often have been left behind.
Order. I wondered why Mr Stuart looked startled when I called him to speak, and now I realise that it was because I should have called an Opposition Member. To correct my error, I will now call two Opposition Members before returning to alternating speakers.
Having been a college principal only three years ago, I bring the perspective of the head teacher to the debate. In the college I led, the sixth-formers would have expected debaters to refer to the motion. I think that they would have found that much of the Secretary of State’s 30-minute speech related not to the motion, but to peripheral issues concerning free schools and the question of regulation. Those are valid areas of debate, but if he had taken the trouble to read the motion, which I think would have been helpful—it is what I would have advised my sixth-formers to do—he would have seen that it states:
“That this House endorses the view that in state funded schools teachers should be qualified or working towards qualified teacher status while they are teaching.”
Having listened to the contributions from Government Members so far, one might be forgiven for forgetting the important phrase
“working towards qualified teacher status”.
When I appointed teachers, as I did frequently in my 28-year career in education, they either would have teaching qualifications or would be put in a framework in which they could gain them. That was for their benefit and that of their students, and there is a lot of evidence to demonstrate that. I think that any Member who intends to go through the Lobbies tonight ought to look carefully at the motion. If they vote against it, they need to understand what they are doing.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing us back to the motion. If it became Government policy, will he explain what would happen to those teachers currently employed who did not work towards qualified teacher status? Would he want them to be sacked?
As a practical person and a head teacher, I would give the people employed in my college a framework in which they could get those qualifications, and we could have accreditation of prior learning, assessments and so on. Those people who have not done the job I did will have theoretical views on this, but I know how it is done, because I have done it day in, day out. The people out there know how they are running their schools and colleges, and the people who work in them know what they are doing as well. We trust them, but they need to be in a framework that delivers. We also need to listen to what parents are saying. In a recent YouGov poll, 78% of parents said that they want the teachers teaching their kids to be qualified.
I have just left a symposium in Portcullis House on the Finnish teaching system. I was reminded that not only do Finnish teachers need a master’s degree in their subject knowledge, but the degree has to deal with pedagogy. That is what teachers need: the knowledge and the pedagogy. That is what I needed when I had teachers standing in front of the kids in my college who I had a responsibility to deliver for. I am sure that is what people up and down the land want.
I am afraid that I cannot give way because so many Members wish to speak and the Secretary of State was so greedy in using up the time.
All my experience tells me that essentially there are only two things that really matter in running schools and colleges: the quality of leadership and the quality of teaching and learning. If we get those two things right, all the rest will follow. Of course, just because someone has a piece of paper, whether a postgraduate certificate in education, graduate teacher status or whatever, does not mean that they can necessarily teach, because there needs to be a framework of support in their school to ensure that they learn the skills of the profession.
To be fair to the Secretary of State, he very much echoed what the shadow Secretary of State said in underlining the importance of teaching as a profession. That echoes what the Prime Minister said quite rightly in 2010, which was that teaching should be a profession. Well, a profession has proper structures for training, qualifications and professional development. That is the framework that delivers high-quality individuals. Within that delivery of high-quality individuals, there will always be people who need appropriate support.
The Deputy Prime Minister was right when he made it clear that anybody teaching in our state-funded schools should either have qualified teacher status or be on the way to gaining it. I am really pleased that the Schools Minister, who is in his place, despite struggling a little to make this clear in the Westminster Hall debate, made it extremely clear when he appeared before the Select Committee that he was alongside the Deputy Prime Minister on that. That is why I am confident, because they are people of honour, that the Deputy Prime Minister, the Schools Minister and the rest of the Liberal Democrats will be alongside us when we vote for the motion today.
Over the past week, the Minister for Schools and I have duelled a couple of times on the qualification of teachers and initial teacher training, in the Westminster Hall debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) mentioned and in the Education Committee, so much of what I say today will not be unfamiliar to him.
I do not disagree with the Government and the Secretary of State on all their education policy. I agree with the Secretary of State that we now have in our schools the best quality teaching force this country has ever seen. I also agree that the one single thing that improves standards and outcomes is the quality of teaching; the difference is that I know what it looks like when I see it. I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Schools, who last week made it absolutely clear in the Education Committee, that teachers in taxpayer-funded schools should be qualified or working towards a qualification while they are teaching.
I listened carefully to the Deputy Prime Minister when he spoke about this on Sunday just gone. He said he agreed with many policies on academies and free schools but allowing unqualified teachers to teach in state-funded schools was not one of them. That prompts the question as to why he then whipped Liberal Democrat MPs to vote for it in the first place. Is it simply that he has seen the polling and recognises that this piece of Government ideology is not a popular policy with voters and is overwhelmingly rejected by parents?
The hon. Lady’s competence is well recognised. Our party, which is a democratic organisation, recently debated this issue, and I can confirm that what the leader said in his speech last week exactly reflected what the party voted for by a very large majority at our conference in March this year.
I recognise and respect that. I therefore expect to see the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Lobby with us tonight.
When the Deputy Prime Minister spoke at the weekend, he talked about schools being set free to set their own school holidays and the times of day when they open and close. Well, I have got news for him: maintained schools have always had that ability. They do not need to be a free school or an academy to do that, nor to employ unqualified teachers. Maintained schools have always had the ability to bring in non-QTS specialists. The person delivering the lesson at the front of the classroom does not need to be a qualified teacher, but the person who designs, differentiates and manages the curriculum, manages the lesson plans and is responsible for individual pupil assessment does need to be a qualified teacher. On that, I absolutely agree with the Secretary of State.
I am not going to give way any more because there is so little time.
The history of Labour in office and unqualified teachers shows that in the vast majority of cases, great non-QTS teachers went on to become qualified through the licensed or the classic routes. Government Members say that free schools and academies are now free to employ teachers who have a master’s degree or a doctorate, and is that not a good thing? I am not altogether sure about that. I have a master of science degree, but a working knowledge of maths and statistics does not make me a teacher. Without a bachelor of education degree I would not have the skills and knowledge to understand child development, the science of teaching and learning, how children learn, and classroom management and managing behaviour, or to identify the needs of children with special educational needs and how to meet them. I would not know about differentiation, delivering a programme of study across a range of abilities, or assessment—that is, knowing what a child can and cannot do, and what they need to do next. Important as those things are, I would also not have the credibility and trust of my professional colleagues, of parents, or, more importantly, of young people themselves. Pupils know very quickly who is qualified and who is not, and who is experienced and who is not, and that affects their behaviour and how they learn in the classroom.
The problem with this Government is that they think anybody can teach. I know from experience that as soon as we move away from the classroom it looks really easy, but it is not. Teachers are people who stand up in front of classrooms every day and deliver great lessons. I do not pretend to be a teacher in terms of that definition. Being qualified does not make a great teacher; it takes more than that. [Interruption.] I am glad that Government Members agree with me. As has been said, this is not necessarily about the qualification of teachers. Every teacher does not have to be qualified to deliver a great lesson, but surely good qualification is the basis of a state-run system. [Interruption.] Having anything else leaves our children open to—[Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend want to intervene?
Order. It is very disruptive to have people shouting across the Chamber, particularly from the Government Benches. Those Members may wish to be called in the debate, and if this behaviour persists, they might find that we run out of time before they get called.
Cynics might say that this debate has been put forward by the Opposition to cause mischief, but I welcome the opportunity to promote my party’s policy on how to ensure there is freedom and fairness for all in our school system and to endorse the progress that has been made by the coalition.
Liberal Democrats believe that all schoolchildren and their parents should receive a core guarantee of what they will get from a state-funded school education, and that includes being taught by a qualified teacher or someone who is en route to being qualified. We want to free schools and teachers so that they can do what they do best while ensuring that parents have the confidence of knowing that their children are taught by a teacher suitably qualified for their vital job. Parents want and expect their children to be taught by good, qualified teachers and to be taught a core body of knowledge. It is fair to parents and to children to expect state-funded schools to meet those reasonable expectations.
I strongly support much of what the coalition has achieved in giving schools more freedoms. Teachers and schools are being freed up from micro-management and daily guidance notes from Whitehall. The national curriculum is being slimmed down to enable teachers on the front line—those who know best about their pupils’ educational needs—to teach in the way that is most effective for their class. The £2.5 billion pupil premium has been introduced, and head teachers have the freedom to use it in the way they know is best to raise the attainment of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The coalition has quadrupled the number of Teach First graduates and increased bursary levels available to top graduates in subjects including chemistry, biology and computer science.
Those policies, which deliver freedom for teachers and schools and help to raise the status of the teaching profession, have been delivered only because Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are working together to pursue shared interests in coalition. Nevertheless, it cannot surprise anyone that two coalition partners will not always see eye to eye on every issue affecting our schools. Liberal Democrats have always been clear that teaching is a highly valued profession that requires a solid understanding of educational values and subject knowledge. Teachers up and down the country are called to the purpose of doing all they can to transform the life chances of young people, and great teaching has a theoretical and skills-based foundation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the motion misses what we should be looking for, which is not whether teachers are qualified or not, but whether they are good? Surely he must agree that many qualified teachers, for whatever reason, are simply not up to the job, and yet many teachers who are not qualified are absolutely brilliant. Should we not be getting to the root of the matter in getting those who are great teachers teaching and those who are not out of the profession?
I agree that qualified status is not the end of the matter, but parents need to have confidence that their child is being taught by a teacher with suitable qualifications. There are also important issues about professional development, which I will address later.
On-the-job training is crucial, as is an intellectual evidence-based understanding of teaching methods. QTS demonstrates that a teacher has the skills, the qualities and the professional standards that make such a difference to their students’ education. That is why head teachers value qualifications when they recruit, and why the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders support the view that schools should employ qualified teachers.
Of course, there are unqualified teachers who do a really good job in the classroom. We would want to support them in gaining qualified teacher status, and there are several routes through which that can be achieved, according to the needs of the individual. Qualified teacher status is a reliable signalling device for heads wanting to recruit the very best, and a guarantee to students and parents that their teacher has the broad attributes needed to excel in the classroom. However, ensuring that all teachers in state-maintained schools are suitably qualified should not be the extent of our ambition. I have already mentioned our achievements in coalition and the encouragement given to top graduates to go into the teaching professions. There is also further scope to explore how teachers can best be supported to develop at every stage of their career.
We want innovation, creativity and diversity in the classroom. Liberal Democrats also want minimum professional standards in our schools. It is vital that we continue to free up teachers and schools and drive up standards for all.
I would not say that PGCE is a necessity, despite the fact that I myself studied for it. I think there are lots of routes to qualified teacher status, all of which have different advantages and merits, but, crucially, it depends on the needs of the individual seeking that status.
On other forms of professional development, we should consider options such as enabling all teachers to build an individual professional portfolio, including the accredited continuing professional development courses they undertake, to progress and support their career in the classroom. The recently announced champions league proposal could get outstanding leaders into those schools that need them most from next year. That could be expanded in due course and applied to proven subject teachers looking for a new challenge.
As I have said, the Liberal Democrats welcome the innovation, creativity and diversity that the Government seek to introduce in the classroom, but we want minimum professional standards in our schools, too.
The central point I want to make is that we as a country have to make education our No. 1 priority. We need to drive up results, enhance the status of the teaching profession, recruit the brightest graduates, train them better and insist on higher standards.
The fact is that not enough young people are succeeding in science, maths or technology, or going on to apprenticeships, particularly in high-tech industries. We are not sending enough young people to university and not enough young people from state schools are going to the best universities. We have to be honest with ourselves, however challenging it may be, that standards and results in too many state schools are just not good enough.
Britain is falling far behind other countries on basic numeracy and literacy. The OECD has just reported that, on basic skills, the UK is behind not just countries such as Finland, South Korea and Germany, but others such as Estonia, Poland and Slovakia.
Some areas in Britain are lagging even further behind. Just two schools out of seven in north Dudley reached last year’s national average with regard to five good GCSEs including English and maths. Six out of 10 across the borough as a whole failed to meet the national average. I do not think that any school in the country should be seeing fewer than 70% or 80% of its pupils achieving that level.
This year, I am pleased to say that results improved at four of those schools, but what shocks me is the extraordinarily wide variation in achievement between schools with similar intakes. Children starting at two schools in Dudley had achieved exactly the same key stage 2 results, yet five years later twice as many pupils in one school achieved better GCSE results than the other.
Just a few years ago, only a third of pupils at Ellowes Hall school managed to get successful grades; now, more than eight out of 10 do so. It is without doubt the best state school in the black country. If we take into account the value it offers its students, it probably has a good claim to be one of the very best schools in the country. It still has the same kids from the same families and largely the same teachers, but the thing that has changed is that it has a brilliant new head teacher, Andy Griffiths, and there is a relentless focus on standards and discipline. He has motivated the teachers and made the pupils believe in themselves.
Results are finally improving at Castle High, my old school in the middle of Dudley, under a new head teacher, Michelle King, and Dormston school, which suffered a catastrophic collapse in standards, now has a brilliant new head teacher, Ben Stitchman, who is turning things around.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that one of the best ways of driving up standards in our state schools is to get quality leadership in place. Is that not one of the key aims in driving forward the improvements he has mentioned?
My hon. Friend is right. What unites all of those schools and others where results are improving is high-quality leadership. Being a great head teacher comes from being a great teacher. They know all about managing behaviour and discipline. They know how to get the best out of pupils, and they set high aspirations and demand high standards. I am concerned that, by not insisting on the very highest standards for teaching, the Government could be weakening the national stock of educational leaders for the future. That is so important, because the quality of teaching transforms opportunities for the rest of pupils’ lives. According to the Sutton Trust:
“Bringing the lowest-performing 10% of teachers in the UK up to the average would in five years bring the UK’s rank amongst OECD countries from 21st in Reading to as high as 7th, and from 22nd in Maths to as high as 12th. Over 10 years the UK would improve its position to as high as 3rd in Reading and 5th in Maths.”
My central point is that standards in too many schools are not high enough, and I do not think it is possible to tackle that by insisting that teachers in state schools should not have to have the very best qualifications.
My point is that standards are not high enough. We need to get the best graduates into teaching and insist that they are trained as effectively as possible. We must insist on the very highest standards in the classroom.
We should dramatically expand the work of Teach First. We should agree as a country—every party, the Government, schools, universities, teachers and business—to set an ambition for Britain to produce the best-educated young people in the world. We need a targeted approach based on the London challenge—which transformed education in the capital—with tough targets, the best heads and the brightest teachers for areas such as the black country that are lagging stubbornly behind.
We should be much less obsessed with a pupil’s age and focus more on their ability. We should ask whether pupils should be moving up each year, regardless of their attainment. We should massively expand Lord Baker’s brilliant work and have a university technical college in every town. We should specialise more at 14 years of age in relation not just to technical and engineering subjects such as those studied in UTCs, but to straightforward, academic subjects, too.
We have to be honest with ourselves and admit that the current system is not promoting social mobility. The vast majority of senior jobs in professions such as the law, the media, those in the City, the civil service and even politics go to a tiny minority of people from the best private schools and Oxbridge. Sutton Trust research shows that just five public schools send more pupils to Oxbridge than 2,000 state schools—two thirds of the entire state sector.
Ministers should look at the brilliant work on open access by Peter Lampl, who proposes opening up access to leading independent day schools so that kids from ordinary backgrounds can get into those brilliant schools. Sharing costs with parents would mean that the cost is less than the current cost of an average state school place. Those who say that we cannot afford to do such a thing should consider that failure to tackle this social mobility crisis will cost the UK economy up to £140 billion a year by 2050, or 4% of GDP.
We need an education revolution in our country. We need tough targets to drive up standards in our schools and we need to transform the status of teaching. We need to promote a new generation of brilliant head teachers and we need more UTCs and greater specialisation. We need radical new measures to open up to many more youngsters opportunities that are currently only available to a few, not just because we should open up access and opportunity as a matter of fairness or because that is the only way to create the new industries and new jobs on which our future prosperity will depend, but because people in places such as the black country are as good as anyone and we should open up for them the opportunities that people elsewhere have taken for granted for decades.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. It is hard to overestimate the importance of education to the individual and to society. I am therefore grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education for the changes that he has made to our system. The education revolution that he has driven forward is truly astounding. He should be very proud of his achievements.
Students get one chance at education and every day counts. It is up to us to ensure that every one of those days is fruitful and productive. To do that, we need to provide an engaging and inspirational learning experience. For that, we need the best and the brightest to see teaching as the career of choice. Teachers need to be dedicated, motivated and appropriately qualified. For the vast majority, that will include achieving qualified teacher status. However, as part of delivering an all-round inspirational education we should not exclude those who do not have qualified teacher status.
The purpose of education is to impart knowledge; to allow students to access the next level of learning; to give individuals the opportunity to find their place in the world; and, I hope, to inspire people to have a lifelong thirst for learning and knowledge.
The hon. Gentleman says that the purpose of education is to impart knowledge. Does he not think that the training that teachers get through QTS in how to impart knowledge, the psychology behind learning and behaviour management is important in delivering that? Does he not think that it matters that every teacher can control a class and help children to learn? That is what we are talking about today.
Yes, those are important skills, but they are not the only skills that one needs to be able to impart knowledge.
We all have examples of inspirational teachers who have made a difference to our lives. Mine is my fourth-year junior school teacher, Mrs Chapman, at Staples Road county primary. She was an inspiration and I am still in touch with her. However, there are other inspirational people who have shaped our lives, given us an alternative perspective, encouraged us to aim higher or showed us a world that we never knew existed. Those people have something to offer to our education system.
Many of the teachers who do not have qualified teacher status are the most outstanding teachers around. It is for schools, head teachers and Ofsted—those who are in the know—to assess the individuals about whom we are talking. They should not be disqualified just because they do not have the relevant piece of paper. We exclude those people at our peril.
Do not get me wrong: QTS is an important and valuable qualification that most teachers should have achieved or be striving for. We are trying to free schools from the burden of bureaucracy. As I said, the best person to assess who is the right person to be teaching in their school and delivering an education that best meets the local needs is the head teacher. We need to move away from command and control from the centre. That should include the opportunity of involving excellent teachers who do not have QTS.
The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the former Labour Secretary of State for Education and Skills, said recently:
“If you find someone who is a great musician but they can’t spend three years getting the proper teaching qualifications, I think you should use them.”
Does my hon. Friend agree?
I agree 100%. We need to be open and transparent about who has what qualifications and we must ensure that there is a rigorous and robust inspection regime, but the motion would exclude Stephen Hawking from even offering to teach a class. He would not be allowed to teach a—[Interruption.] He would not be allowed to teach because he would not have—[Interruption.]
Order. We are going to have a bit of command and control here. The command from me is that Members are to stop shouting across the Chamber when somebody is speaking. If they want to intervene, they should do so. The control is that if they persist in shouting, they will not be called in this debate.
I apologise for responding, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The motion would prevent Stephen Hawking from offering himself as a teacher, unless he got QTS or said that he was studying for it. It would prevent Jessica Ennis from teaching PE, Damien Hirst from teaching art and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) from teaching history. We should consider all the people who might have something to offer our students, but who would be excluded unless they put themselves forward for QTS. I accept that experience and achievement in themselves do not make for a good teacher and that we must never compromise standards, but equally, experience and achievement do not make somebody a bad teacher.
We need excellent, well-qualified, dedicated, respected and inspirational teachers, but let us not exclude all those who are exactly that just because they have not acquired QTS. If we do, we will fail not only ourselves, but the very people on whom we should be focused: the students.
If the Liberal Democrats do not join us in the Division Lobby later to support their own policy, those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 will wonder why they did so, just as they did when the Lib Dems voted for the privatisation of Royal Mail and for the trebling of tuition fees.
I will talk about the evidence that supports the use of qualified teachers. In his report for McKinsey in 2007, Sir Michael Barber found that although the high-performing systems in Finland, Japan, Singapore and South Korea had very different curricula, teaching methods and school structures, they all made the quality of teaching their first concern. Getting the right people into the profession and giving them the right training were the top two priorities that Sir Michael proposed to improve education. It would be interesting to hear from the Secretary of State how many of those jurisdictions actively encourage schools to employ teachers who have no teaching qualifications. A cursory glance at other school systems shows where the priority lies in the most successful countries. The Governments in Finland, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan are raising the bar for professional qualifications, not trying to remove it.
The Government’s 2010 White Paper also looked abroad for inspiration. It noted that South Korea recruits teacher trainees from the top 5% of school leavers and Finland from the top 10%. Importantly, those recruits receive college or university based training and secure qualifications before they become teachers. In April 2012, the Education Committee published “Great teachers: attracting, training and retaining the best”. It held a follow-up evidence session last month. The original inquiry looked at evidence of existing good practice in the UK. The Committee found that
“the partnership between schools and universities was often the recipe for successful provision, with a balance of theoretical and practical training vital for any teacher”.
In short, whether we look at international comparisons or at existing good practice in this country, it is accepted that having highly trained teachers with professional qualifications is the best way to ensure that there are high standards and the best possible education for children. That is what the evidence shows. Parents agree and are overwhelmingly opposed to the expansion in the use of unqualified teachers in free schools and academies.
This is not a debate about the best way of tackling teaching shortages. We should not be thinking about the quickest way to get new teaching staff in front of a classroom. We should be thinking about how we can get the best teachers and trainees into our schools. The evidence from successful education models around the world, parents, teaching unions, trainee teachers and the party colleagues of the Minister for Schools at conference is clear: improved outcomes in education and incentives for the best candidates to enter teaching both come from having highly qualified teachers who are paid well and trusted more as professionals to do a job that they are appropriately trained to do. The Government’s support for the employment of unqualified teachers presents us with the opposite: less qualified people who are paid less to do a job for which they are not fully trained. I am certain that we should have qualified teachers in all state-funded schools.
That point has been made in a number of interventions and speeches, and the international evidence that I have already quoted is extremely powerful. Those countries with the highest standards and best results have the highest qualified and best-trained teachers. They take people from among the top-performing graduates, and put a premium on the quality of people coming into teaching. That is how to get the best teachers and best outcomes—sorry to use the jargon. Children do best by having the best teachers.
The Secretary of State makes great virtue of the fact that the link between great teachers and great results for children is unanswerable, but unfortunately that approach is undermined by having unqualified teachers. I am certain that we should have qualified teachers in all state-funded schools, which is exactly what the Liberal Democrat conference voted for. If Lib Dem MPs agree with their party on the importance of qualified teachers, they have the chance to show their support. I am afraid that by sitting on his hands tonight, the Schools Minister will not show the support for qualified teacher status that his party voted for.
When he gave evidence to the Education Committee, the Schools Minister admitted that he was involved in the drafting of that motion, and told us that last year, both he and the Deputy Prime Minister voted for that. It is clear, therefore, that every Lib Dem MP in this Parliament supports the principle of qualified teachers. All they have to do to show that support is vote with Labour tonight and show the public what they believe in. Otherwise, it is just meaningless words.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I was genuinely surprised to see the words of today’s motion, because this debate is based on the fact that fewer than four in every 100 teachers do not have qualified status. If the purpose of the debate is to try to draw out differences between the coalition parties, and sow the seeds of public concern that if free schools and academies expand—I sincerely hope they will—vast numbers of state-educated children will be taught by unregulated, unqualified and unsuitable individuals, it will fail in that objective.
My view is that free schools and academies provide freedoms for head teachers and leadership teams to employ individuals from a range of diverse backgrounds—perhaps for shorter periods or on an ad hoc basis to suit the developmental needs of their pupils, or, where necessary, to extend the curriculum. It is right to trust head teachers to appoint the staff they need locally, and to take on experts from industry and those with varied skills who sometimes simply may not have ticked the final box before qualifying. The fundamental principle that teachers are more likely than politicians to know their staff and what they need in their school is undoubtedly true.
Most importantly, academies and free schools will not be free from Government oversight, and the process for becoming an academy or starting a free school is rigorous—in my constituency, several applications have been unsuccessful. If schools get through that rigorous process, Ofsted can come in at a few days’ notice, and Ebacc requirements will involve more and more scrutiny of outcomes. I fear that this debate is really about an obsession with process and uniformity, and discomfort with getting to the heart of education, which is about inspiring young people and securing better outcomes for our children.
Salisbury has a wide range of excellent schools which each have different requirements from their staff. We are about to gain a university technical college that specialises in science and engineering, and a free sixth form with a broader academic curriculum focused on STEM subjects. We also have three sixth forms that have converted to academies, two of which are nationally leading grammar schools. All five institutions will deliver a high-quality curriculum to young people in my constituency, but why should any of them be restricted to a narrower pool of talent on the basis of dogma?
I was recently contacted by a top academic from Southampton university about its teacher training programme. She noted that one of its graduates had been described as “phenomenal” by Ofsted just 10 days after gaining NQT status. While important skills can be taught and honed on teacher training programmes, those programmes cannot fully replicate raw talent and a passion for teaching, which—among some—is evident in the classroom from the start. In other words, teachers may become properly trained through on-the-job training alone, and it seems unnecessary to make high-quality candidates jump through arbitrary assessment hoops and delays, when their skills are being tested and they can demonstrate them to the head teacher’s satisfaction and secure better outcomes in exams at the end of the year.
The university technical college that will open in Salisbury in 2015 has developed a partnership with many local employers, such as defence industry employers, the Army, and the university of Southampton. It will provide brilliant teaching opportunities for industry experts on a part-time basis. Those specialist inputs, which come from individuals who will not have all the teaching qualifications, must be valued in our education system.
Is my hon. Friend concerned about some of the terminology? We are using the phrase “qualified”, when what we mean is that someone has a qualification. Those he is talking about are qualified, and we want them to educate our children, whether or not they have a particular qualification.
My hon. Friend makes a characteristically wise and perceptive point. We must think more broadly about education and not be held back by dogma in our approach on who we allow in the classroom. We know that Ofsted exists and that there is real rigour in the oversight that we expect in terms of outcomes. I fundamentally disagree with the premise and motives behind the motion. The Government have done a lot to raise standards as well as the expectations of pupils and parents. That is about removing Whitehall interference, and demonstrating our trust in head teachers to employ who they need in individual schools, which will have different appetites and needs to suit their different local populations and employment opportunities. It is right that we continue in that way, and I will vote against the motion this afternoon.
It is the second time this year that I have risen to welcome an intervention from the Deputy Prime Minister. First, I welcomed his intervention on child care ratios, and now I welcome his support of Labour’s position on teacher training. I admit that I have a newfound appreciation of him. Alas, it may not last. Of course, that means the poor Schools Minister is in the unenviable position of having to defend the fact that he defended a policy that he is not now able to defend, without being on the wrong side of his party leader—I think I have that the right way around.
Even more baffling than the political acrobatics being performed by the Lib Dems is the fact that, in 2013, we are having a debate in Parliament about whether we want the people who teach our children to be trained to do so. Anyone who last week watched the last episode of “Educating Yorkshire” will, after drying their eyes as I did, have been left in little doubt about the value of a great teacher, particularly when it comes to getting the best out of the children who face the greatest barriers to learning. Seeing Mr Burton try everything he could to unlock the ability of Musharaf Asghar to complete his English language oral exam—he eventually succeeded—was inspirational. Mr Burton was able to do that not because he knows a lot about poetry, although I am sure he does, but because he knows a lot about pedagogy. That is the thing about the best teachers: they know how to teach the class in front of them—every individual child or young person, with the myriad challenges they each face—rather than just the subject matter.
The Secretary of State is undoubtedly a man of great accomplishment with an impressive academic record but, with respect, I would not want him teaching my children. That is nothing personal. If a Nobel prize winner cannot manage behaviour in a class, and if they cannot tailor their teaching to the strengths and weaknesses of each person in their class, their presence is little better than giving a child a textbook and telling them to go away and read it. Schools are not universities, and teachers are not lecturers. Schools and schoolteachers must be there for every child, not just for the most academically gifted or self-motivated.
I have always thought that teachers perhaps do not get enough training on supporting the one in five children who have special educational needs, either through their initial qualification or their continuous professional development. For the Education Secretary to argue that someone who has had no training is a suitable person to unlock learning for those children is therefore incomprehensible to me.
I am sorry—I cannot because of time.
I refer the Secretary of State to Ofsted’s report on the Al-Madinah school, which found that children with special educational needs and disabilities were particularly failed by the school, which did not identify them or provide tailored support, leaving them to struggle.
The Government’s position is not even consistent, because they insist that some members of staff in academies and free schools need QTS—special educational needs co-ordinators. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), who has responsibility for children—he is not in his place—snuck that one, in his wisdom, past the Secretary of State when he was drawing up the new SEN code of practice. I, for one, am pleased he did so.
I wanted to raise a couple of other issues but time will probably run out. In a Westminster Hall debate last week, I described in greater detail the deep concerns among universities, not least the university of Sunderland, about the impact that the roll-out of School Direct is having on the future sustainability of teacher training courses. That is not just another financial hit on universities; it is a question of whether we will lose the capacity to train the number of teachers we need. Some universities are already considering closing courses or losing experienced staff. The Schools Minister was perhaps more concerned with avoiding explaining his party’s flip-flopping last week, so I hope he can address the issue in his closing remarks today.
I want to raise a final point as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on art, craft and design in education. Despite the fact that the creative sector is a burgeoning part of our economy and one of our fastest growing exports, just 358 initial teacher education places were allocated for art and design teachers in this academic year, compared with just short of 600 places in 2009. That is much fewer than for the vast majority of other subjects.
I have more to say, but time has run out, so I will leave it there.
This debate is about freedoms, and the wider context is that the Deputy Prime Minister has referred to teachers other than qualified teachers. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Chair of the Education Committee, who has left the Chamber, spoke of the need for evidence. The Committee has received no evidence in support of free schools or academies—it does not exist, although experts have been to see the Committee. That greater freedoms necessarily lead to improved performance is an ideological belief, but the evidence does not currently exist.
The Secretary of State is relaxed about the freedom to have unqualified teachers in classrooms, but other freedoms that have been extended to free schools and academies could have much more serious consequences. An internal audit investigation team at the Kings science academy has shown how far that can go. The school is free to have unqualified teachers, but it is also free to appoint a principal with no real management or leadership experience, let alone qualifications. It is free to have unqualified teachers, but it is also free to access £460,000 to pay for temporary accommodation in a former independent school, of which the principal’s father was a trustee. No wonder the school is happy about employing non-qualified teachers. The principal was also free to employ his mother, his sister and his father. I do not know whether they teach, but they were employed without any interviews or applications being required.
Yes we should trust head teachers, but should we trust them to that extent? Should we trust them to take on suppliers and contractors with no contracts and no procurement process, to fabricate—that is a euphemism—and make out false invoices? Should they be free to do that? Should they be free to access £10 million of Government funding to refurbish a derelict mill owned by the vice-chairman of the Conservative party? It costs about £5 a square foot for warehousing in a mill in Bradford, but that property company, owned by the vice-chairman of the Tory party, is getting £300,000 a year for leasing that building for 20 years, after which the building will revert to the property company. Should head teachers be free to defraud the Department for Education and HMRC by false claims about pupil numbers, about rent paid to a property company owned—surprise, surprise—by the vice-chairman of the Conservative party, and about tax payments?
The issue is the culture that is in place. That principal was in a situation in which the normal rules do not apply. We are told that there are mechanisms and checks in place to deal with such problems, but when the chaotic and dysfunctional governance arrangements were highlighted, guess who was responsible for dealing with disciplinary action? We are told in a press release from the Department:
“Any necessary disciplinary action is a matter for the school.”
I do not trust it to deal with the problems and sort them out.
The main problem with this whole policy—I opposed academies under Labour and I oppose academies and free schools under this lot—is that the criteria for success are not about raising educational attainment. The criterion for the success of this policy is how many academies and free schools there are. It is claimed that it is a success because there are so many. So when an application is made, the due diligence that we would expect, and that we have a right to insist upon in terms of public accountability, flies out of the window.
The Deputy Prime Minister is right: children have a right to be taught by a qualified teacher. But there are other rights. As taxpayers, we have a right to robust and rigorous due diligence before these schools are opened. This is not about freedom; it is about the privilege of being exempt from public accountability—these are freedoms too far.
Children are our most precious asset, and every child in the country deserves the right to be taught by a qualified teacher or someone who is working towards qualified teacher status. Most people outside the House would be astonished that that is not custom and practice already. Before the general election the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, who is no longer in his place, talked about learning from the best educational systems around the world. I know that a week is a long time in politics, but this is ridiculous. We have seen a complete volte-face by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State.
The Government’s record on education, particularly their ideologically driven free school experiment, highlights the Prime Minister’s political somersault on this issue. The Ofsted report on the Al-Madinah school in Derby, the city that I represent, was absolutely damning. It says that the achievements of pupils were inadequate; the quality of teaching was inadequate; the behaviour and safety of pupils were inadequate; and the leadership and management were inadequate. It says that the school is dysfunctional and has not been adequately monitored, and:
“Staff have been appointed to key roles for which they do not have the qualifications and experience. For example, most of the primary school teachers have not taught before…large numbers of unqualified staff desperately need better support and training. Arrangements for the training and professional development of staff are woefully insufficient and uncoordinated.”
What a damning indictment of the free school experiment.
What next? Will we have unqualified surgeons, whose qualification to operate and take somebody’s appendix out is a steady hand and good eyesight? What about firefighters? I have used a hosepipe, so I must be able to put out fires—absolutely ridiculous. Is it not time that the Secretary of State started putting children before political dogma, and ensured that our children get the education they deserve—an education delivered by properly qualified professional teachers, rather than this nonsense, which is causing so much damage to our education?
I welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is the first time I have spoken since your elevation.
I congratulate all hon. Members who have participated in this interesting debate. We would have liked to have explored the technical and legal sides of qualified teacher status more, but time was limited, as it often is on these occasions.
This is essentially a simple debate on a straightforward motion concerning a proposition supported by the majority of Members of this House, so it ought to pass. We have been spared complication by not debating the coalition Government’s position. However, for those interested in the context, that position is still worth checking, if only for its comedy value. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in the history of the House of Commons that a Government have tabled a satirical amendment. I will not go there, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you would rule me out of order if I did. What we have is confirmation of what I said at the outset, namely that the Deputy Prime Minister and his colleagues believe that
“all schools should employ teachers with Qualified Teacher Status”.
If they believe that, the motion should pass.
I will make a little progress first because of time, but I might take an intervention later.
There are not many Liberal Democrat colleagues here, but I welcome those who have turned up. Being asked, as I understand they have been, not to support the Opposition motion—one hon. Gentleman said he was not going to support it—is not good for their health. It must drive them to distraction to be asked to perform such feats of intellectual and political contortion of believing one thing and voting for another just to save the blushes of the Tory Secretary of State for Education. He is not in his place for the winding-up speeches, despite taking half an hour of our time earlier on.
The Secretary of State is happy to trash, on a daily basis, the Liberal Democrats’ fundamental principles and beliefs on education policy, yet they have to turn up to bail him out. There can be no more tortured example of that than the Minister for Schools himself, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws). [Interruption.] I welcome the compassion from Opposition Members. The week before last he came before this House and stoutly and enthusiastically defended the policy of allowing non-qualified teachers to teach in our taxpayer-funded schools. In fact, he spoke with such passion and conviction that I understand from press reports that some of his Conservative colleagues in the coalition actually believe he meant what he said—they took him at his word. He is shaking his head, but I read it in a newspaper.
Then, the Minister’s right hon. Friend, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, let it be known that he disagreed with his other right hon. Friend, the Deputy Prime Minister. I know they bear a striking resemblance to each other, but they must surely be two different people. When the Schools Minister heard what his leader had said, he had a slight problem. Did he, in fact, still agree with himself on whether teachers should be qualified? Last week in Westminster Hall and in the Education Committee, we got an answer of sorts: he had agreed with himself all along; when he came to the House he was not telling us what he believed, but what his Tory Secretary of State boss believed. Some months earlier, we were told, the Schools Minister had proposed a motion to the Liberal Democrat conference—[Interruption.]—I welcome the Secretary of State back to the debate, and I apologise for mentioning him in his absence—but when we checked this, it turned out he had not proposed a motion at all, although he claimed he was involved in its drafting.
I know that the Schools Minister is a very, very clever man. He has a first-class degree from the university of Cambridge.
As my hon. Friend reminds me, and as the Schools Minister insisted on reminding us in Westminster Hall last week, he has a double first from the university of Cambridge. But what I had not realised until now was that having a double first meant he was so clever he could hold two completely opposite beliefs in the same brain at the same time. [Laughter.]
I believe that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) also holds a double first-class degree.
The motion talks about
“working towards qualified teacher status”.
Will the hon. Gentleman give a time frame? Is it one year, two years, three years, 10 years? In other words, it could mean non-qualified teachers still working in schools, just as the 18,500 did under the Labour Government.
We would have to clear up the Government’s mess and think about what the time frame should be, but without giving anyone the sack, we would require all teachers to achieve QTS in a reasonable time, and unlike this Government, we would negotiate and consult.
The Schools Minister can believe that teachers should not have to be qualified and profess that view in the House of Commons with impressive conviction one week, and then believe that teachers should be qualified and say so with equal conviction the next week. It is a remarkable, but not unique pathology, at least not in science fiction, because there is a creature in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, which I am sure the House is aware of, called Odo the Shape-Shifter, who can alter his shape according to circumstances—for example, by appearing to be a human—until the end of the day, when he dissolves into a bucket in his natural gelatinous form in order to rest, ready to emerge the following day in whatever shape is deemed necessary by the circumstances. I say to the Schools Minister: that might be okay for a science fiction character, but extreme shape-shifting does not constitute statesmanship.
It need not be like this. I told the Schools Minister last week that, having performed a careful textual exegesis of the coalition agreement, I could find no reference—not one reference anywhere in the document—to the Liberal Democrats agreeing to allow unqualified teachers in our schools. I wish more Liberal Democrat MPs were here for this. It is not in the coalition agreement. I have some experience of dealing with Liberal Democrats in coalition, having helped to put together the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition in the Welsh Assembly in 2000, when I worked for Rhodri Morgan, and I can tell the House that the idea of their agreeing to something that was against their own strong beliefs and the professed beliefs and policy of their own leader and which was not in the coalition agreement would have been unthinkable. It is, therefore, simply a mystery to me—and it must be a mystery to them too—how they were dragooned into supporting this policy and into rejecting an amendment that would have put this right and put policy in line with Liberal Democrat policy. The policy was not part of the coalition agreement, but obviously the result of some backroom deal between the Schools Minister—
Oh, the right hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, so he is not responsible. We would like to know who is. It is a bit of a mystery. Some mystery character from the Liberal Democrats and the Education Secretary did a deal to introduce a policy that was not in the coalition agreement and which was against Liberal Democrat fundamental beliefs and principles. Why, then, did they agree, and will they now support our motion, which endorses their professed policy and does not breach the coalition agreement? If they do not, no one—not least parents and teachers—will believe a word they say about education at the next general election.
We have had a fascinating debate today and, as I will show in a moment, we have learned quite a lot about the inconsistencies in the Labour party’s position on these matters. Let me first pay tribute to a number of the hon. Members who have spoken today, including the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), and my hon. Friends the Members for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) and for Bradford East (Mr Ward). I also want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Simon Wright), who spoke today for the first time as the schools spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. He set out our position on this matter clearly and effectively, and I agree with everything he said.
We also heard a fantastic speech from the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), who I have always previously thought of as a Brownite. He morphed today into something of a Blairite and for a moment, I thought, almost into something of a Goveite, until my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State leaned over to tell me that to contemplate a voucher system to allow people to move from the state sector to the private sector was too radical even for him.
Finally, to cap it all, we had a marvellous contribution from the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who was so full of praise for the Deputy Prime Minister that, for a moment, I thought she was going to make an application to join the Liberal Democrats. The offer is still open to her if she would like to take that opportunity while there is still room on our party’s Benches. Sadly, the excellent contributions from the Back Benches were not matched by those from the Opposition Front Bench, although I accept that the shadow Schools Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), has one or two good jokes.
Through the contributions from our Back Benches and from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, we exposed some pretty substantial holes in Labour’s position. First, let me deal with today’s version of the West Lothian question, which was posed very effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). They asked an interesting question at the beginning of the debate, but they got no answer. That question, to which we have still not had an answer, was: why, if Labour Members are so keen on qualified teacher status, was the number of unqualified teachers thousands higher when the Labour Government were in power than it is today? I have the figures here. In 2005, when Labour was in power, there were 18,800 unqualified teachers in state-maintained schools. That figure is now down to 14,800. If Labour Members are so passionate about this, and if they want to join my party in its strong views on it, I think that they owe it to the House to answer the question put to them earlier. Why, if they are so keen on qualified teacher status, were there so many more unqualified teachers when Labour was in power?
I have a second question for Labour Members. Of course the hon. Member for Cardiff West is able to have some fun by pointing out the responsibilities that come with government and the need for compromises in coalition. It is rather more difficult to explain how a party that is not in coalition seems incapable of having just one position on these matters. The second version of the West Lothian question that we must ask today is the Stoke-on-Trent Central question. Even without the pressures of coalition, the Labour Education spokesman, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), seems able to hold in his mind two completely contradictory views, not only on qualified teacher status, important though that is, but on the whole issue of free schools. Will he explain that?
Only a few months ago, the hon. Gentleman was saying that the entire free school programme was a
“vanity project for yummy mummies”.
A matter of only months later, there he was in The Mail on Sunday saying, “Let us have more free schools”. When it comes to contradictions in policy, to holding two different views in one’s mind at the same time and to double first-class intellects, perhaps the shadow Secretary of State will stand up at the Dispatch Box to explain why his party leader was saying to the trade union conference in September this year:
“Let’s be clear we are not going to have new free schools under a Labour Government”?
He could not have been clearer—until the shadow Secretary of State intervened just a matter of weeks later to say in his statement to The Mail on Sunday, “Let’s have more”.
While we are in this mood for honesty and transparency, let the Labour party have the guts to come to the Dispatch Box and explain its policy on free schools. Suddenly, the Labour Front-Bench team has a fascination with discussing matters among themselves. What are they discussing? Is it the weather, or is it the position of the Labour party on free schools? We would all like to know whether the policy is one from Doncaster North or from Stoke-on-Trent Central—or as described in The Mail on Sunday. None of us knows.
It is all very well for the shadow Schools Minister to mess around with his press cuttings, read through the coalition agreement late into the night and tease Ministers about the responsibilities of government, but the Labour party cannot even agree with itself. The shadow Education Secretary cannot even agree with himself! We cannot get agreement even in one head. We then heard the shadow Schools Minister having the gall to say that he was confused about these things and had to look through the coalition agreement to discover what my party’s policy was, but why does he need to do that? Whatever happened to the research department in the Labour party?
We have held our position on qualified teacher status for as long as this party has been around. We held a debate on it at our spring conference in March this year. We put out a press release after the debate. It was no state secret; it said this in the headline:
“Every child should be taught by a qualified teacher.”
As I say, that was in a Lib Dem press release in March, and it was reported in the Times Educational Supplement in the same month. It was commented on by the Department for Education itself, so what on earth was the shadow Schools Minister doing on that weekend of the Liberal Democrat conference? [Interruption.] I know he was not the schools spokesman for the Labour party at that time, but surely he was paying attention. Why is the Labour party so incompetent these days that it has to wait until October—eight months after our debate at conference and eight months after the publicity in the press—before it comes to a realisation on these matters? Labour is a totally incompetent and totally ineffective Opposition.
I will in a minute.
The question for today should not be about the recent position of the Liberal Democrats, which is entirely consistent and has not been kept a secret. I invite both the shadow Schools Minister and the shadow Education Secretary, who seem to need research support, to come to the Liberal Democrat conference free in the future. They can come in the autumn for next year’s debate. Then we will not have this shambolic embarrassment for the Labour party suddenly discovering our policy eight months after we passed motions at our conference.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it is slightly surprising that a party that has twice been in coalition with us in Scotland and once in Wales does not yet appear to understand—whatever the level of their degrees—that two parties in coalition have some things they agree on, but do not agree on other things, which are independent policies?
I have only a minute left.
The vast majority of state-funded schools in this country still require qualified teacher status. I have no doubt that there are people on the Conservative Benches who would see that the logic of their policy means that this should be applied to all state-funded schools. They accept that there have to be compromises; they understand that and they do not have difficulty with it. What we have found today is that the parties in coalition accept their responsibilities and that the Labour party is completely incoherent, hiding behind this matter to cover up the embarrassment of its own lack of policies. We will not be blown off course. We will continue to deliver a better education system. We will work together closely in Government as we have since May 2010, and we will go on delivering the reformed and improved education system for which all of us on the Opposition Benches have been working since that date.
The House proceeded to a Division.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I understand that during the Division, no Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament voted against the motion—not even the Minister for Schools, who spoke from the Dispatch Box against it. Is that in breach of the “voice and vote” provisions of “Erskine May”?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the way in which individual Members decide to use their right to vote is not a matter for the Chair.
I now have to announce the result of the deferred Division on the motion relating to the designation of the UK Green Investment Bank. The Ayes were 290 and the Noes were 22, so the Question was agreed to.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]