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Peerages: Teachers

Volume 597: debated on Wednesday 24 February 1999

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2.37 p.m.

Why no recommendations have been made for the award of peerages to teachers serving in, or recently retired from, maintained schools.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment
(Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, in appointing life Peers since 1958 successive Prime Ministers have been concerned to see that all the main areas of our society are properly represented in the House. I accept that the maintained schools sector is not represented in great strength, though the House does include Members who have direct experience of schools as former teachers and others who take an interest in primary and secondary legislation. The suggestion of representation from the maintained schools sector is one that the new Appointments Commission may wish to consider.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her faintly encouraging reply on that point. She may be aware that I pressed this particular point during the passage of a number of recent education Bills. While your Lordships' House has never been short of lawyers, doctors, clerics, soldiers and higher academics, does the noble Baroness agree that the same cannot be said for teachers; that is, with the exception always of two or three from the independent sector, which educates less than 10 per cent. of the population? With, at the latest count, 23,043 maintained schools to choose from, does the noble Baroness also agree that it should be possible, as well as desirable, to tap into some current expertise which would help this House with its never ceasing deliberations on education, education and education?

My Lords, I entirely accept that there is a great deal of expertise out there from which this House could benefit if it were able to tap into it. But we have to take into account that it would be difficult for serving teachers to make a major contribution to the House because of the nature of their work and the hours that they have to put in in their schools. However, there are perhaps slightly more former teachers in the House than the noble Earl may realise. I tried to tot up the number simply on the basis of my knowledge of people's backgrounds and I got to 12 quite quickly. Indeed, I have in mind a number of my noble friends. For example, my noble friends Lord Glenamara and Lord Hardy of Wath were head teachers, and my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington was a teacher. But I have to accept that they did not come here because they were teachers; they were politicians and then came to your Lordships' House.

My Lords, the noble Baroness touched on the difficulty of appointing a serving teacher. However, it is not just a matter of time; indeed, it would be almost impossible for a serving teacher to be a fully active Member of this House. Indeed, unless the person was financially independent, it would be impossible for him or her to become a fully-fledged Member of this place. As I said, it is not just time. Let us say, for example, that a teacher from Durham became an active working Peer in this Chamber. It would be extremely difficult in terms of time, logistics and money, which means that such a proposal would only favour teachers from London. I think that would be really rather offensive. Does the Minister accept that?

My Lords, I accept what the noble Baroness said about the difficulties of serving teachers becoming active life Peers. Indeed, she is entirely right in that respect. However, it is conceivable that the House could benefit from the contribution of recently retired teachers or head teachers. There is no reason why they should not come from outside London.

My Lords, although there is much past teaching experience in this House, we are rather deficient in terms of recent and current experience. Indeed, the education world, especially in schools, has changed greatly in recent years. Therefore, while the recent high-profile award of honours to serving teachers is most welcome, does the Minister recognise that it would actually be a double benefit if we were to make some awards, which, as well as giving an honour, would actually contribute to the combined experience and expertise of this House on appropriate occasions?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for mentioning the substantial increase in the number of serving teachers who have been given honours. Indeed, since this Government took over in May 1997, the number of serving teachers who have been given MBEs, OBEs, CBEs, KBEs and DBEs has doubled. I believe it is the first time for a very long time that any serving teacher has in fact been given a knighthood or a DBE. That is something that we should welcome. I also accept the noble Lord's other point.

My Lords, given that we are today awaiting the release of the inquiry report on the death of Stephen Lawrence, can the Minister comment on the fact that children from ethnic minorities are six times more likely to be excluded from maintained schools than those from the majority community? Indeed, the number is rising. Further, can the noble Baroness tell the House what training in race awareness is given to senior teachers—that is to say, the kind of people who might become Members of this House?

My Lords, I think the right reverend Prelate's question is a little wide of the Question on the Order Paper. However, I can confirm that this matter is of enormous importance and the Government attach great importance to the training of all teachers and head teachers in racial awareness. We expect teachers in our schools at whatever level to be totally and utterly committed to racial harmony in their schools, to dealing with racial bullying and to ensuring that racial discrimination does not take place.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell the House when the scheme for "Oscars" for teachers will get off the ground?

My Lords, I am pleased to hear from my noble friend of the honours which have been given to teachers from the maintained sector. However, it might also benefit the House to hear from those of us who are consumers of the maintained sector as parents, and who went through the comprehensive system ourselves. Will my noble friend comment on that?

My Lords, the contributions that parents make to debates on education in your Lordships' House are enormously important, as indeed are the comments of grandparents, speaking as one myself.

My Lords, did the noble Baroness notice that in his supplementary question the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, made no mention of considering the contribution that engineers make to our national life? Can the noble Baroness say how many members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers have been appointed life Peers since 1958? I declare an interest.

My Lords, I am extremely sorry that I cannot tell the noble Lord exactly how many members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers have been made life Peers. However, I am sure that debates in your Lordships' House would benefit hugely if members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers were appointed life Peers.

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will allow my question as she may consider it is a little wide of the mark. However, is it not equally important to consider principals of further education colleges—who, after all, teach children of the same age as those in ordinary schools—who could make a great contribution to the House? Perhaps their working hours would make it rather easier for them to attend the House than is the case with active head teachers?

My Lords, as the Minister responsible for further education I would hugely welcome the contribution of principals, or indeed other people who teach in our FE sector. It is a large sector. There are now 4 million students in further education and it is a sector which is sometimes forgotten. However, I believe that the workload of people who are taking forward the Government's lifelong learning policies, developing better opportunities for 16 to 19 year-olds, and raising the standards of further education colleges would again make it difficult for a serving principal, deputy principal or member of staff of an FE college to be fully active Members of your Lordships' House.

My Lords, we have only three Questions today. I would be interested to hear the Minister's reply to my question. The noble Earl's Question asks,

"why no recommendations have been made".
Does the noble Baroness know how many recommendations have been made? Does anyone else know that, other than the present Prime Minister, previous Prime Ministers and their advisers?

My Lords, I cannot answer that question. I would be rather surprised if records have been kept over the years of all recommendations that might have been made for life peerages. I think it is exceedingly unlikely but I shall certainly check up on that and let the noble Baroness know.