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Teacher Training

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 10 March 2005

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11.15 a.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the academic qualifications of those entering undergraduate courses for teacher training.

My Lords, the Government are concerned that children should be taught by teachers with the right qualities and skills. We require initial teacher training providers to satisfy themselves that trainees entering undergraduate courses for teacher training have a capability to meet the standards required for the award of qualified teacher status. Higher education providers set and monitor their own academic requirements for entry to undergraduate teacher training courses, as they do for all other degree courses.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. If one considers that teacher training is the soil in which the roots of our education system feed, the situation appears to be very worrying. Does the Minister agree that the Written Answer given to me by his noble friend Lord Filkin on 18 January, when referred to the DfES website, reveals that the average attainment of those entering undergraduate teacher training courses is well below one E at A-level, or 20 points on the UCAS scale? If that is so, how is this lack of subject knowledge rectified by the courses in question? If it is not, how can the teachers concerned impart knowledge which they do not possess?

My Lords, the first thing to do is to put this into context. Teaching is a fully professionally qualified occupation. Approximately 15 per cent of teachers start their career as undergraduates, whereas the remainder go through postgraduate qualification systems. I have the data for 2002–03, the most recent year for which figures are fully available, and it is true that those entering undergraduate teacher training courses had lower average attainment in pre-HE qualifications than those who were entering other degree courses. It is equally significant that by the time they graduated, their pattern of graduation qualifications, 2:1s and 2:2s and so on, were absolutely comparable with people graduating from other courses. I have no reason to believe that the additional attainment that they had achieved during their period at university is not something to celebrate.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that over the course of time the number of students taking undergraduate courses in education has been falling, and the number entering the profession through postgraduate courses has been increasing? Do the Government have any plans over the longer run to phase out undergraduate courses in education completely?

My Lords, I am not aware of any plan to phase them out, although the statistics show that the postgraduate certificate is the major route. As I have said, 85 per cent, and increasing, enter that way. That means that people coming in already have a first degree in a specialist subject. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, addressed that point. Even so, those teaching in primary schools, where they will on average be teaching around nine subjects, cannot have A-levels or a specialist degree in nine subjects. Yet, we also want people with excellent ability in primary education.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Ofsted report of last November which found that one-third of trainee sixth-form and FE college teachers did not have the equivalent of a GCSE grade C in English or maths? Is he content with that? If not, will he give the House some indication of what action the Government intend to take?

My Lords, the Ofsted reports have shown a steady improvement in the attainment of children, particularly in primary school, who are taught by the very teachers to whom the noble Baroness refers. It is really important to look attentively to the data. Let me look at them in relation to maths, one of the subjects mentioned. Although 24 per cent of teachers who taught some maths did not have a post-A-level qualification in maths in 2002, 88 per cent of all maths courses were taught by teachers who had such a qualification. Simply reading the raw data does not provide the picture that we need to study.

My Lords, may I press the noble Lord on his reply to me? Does he agree that the average attainment of those entering undergraduate courses for teacher training is well below one E at A-level? Does he further agree that, 10 years ago, it was two Es at A-level, so the situation is deteriorating and should be addressed?

My Lords, we want people with the best attainment levels entering teaching, because it is so vital. Any slippage in one sense would be a cause of concern. However, I ask the House to reflect a little on the history of how people have entered teaching. Directly after the war, a very large number of people entered teaching without any formal qualification, but went through a heavily accelerated process in the emergency teaching scheme. It could be said that they were not qualified in the ways that we would like to see today, but they were the people who made sure that education in this country was of an exceptionally high standard in the period which followed the war.