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Independent Schools: Teacher Training

Volume 774: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that independent schools are fully involved in the development of improved arrangements for teacher training.

My Lords, independent schools are a significant and valued part of the teacher training system, and we are committed to ensuring that they can help to raise standards of teacher training even further. Five independent schools are already designated as teaching schools. Furthermore, we are working with the Independent Schools Council to establish the first school-led training provider for modern foreign languages in Sheffield, with strong involvement from independent schools with expertise in the subject.

My Lords, that is immensely encouraging. Is not it the case that independent schools are particularly well placed to help to train specialist teachers in subjects such as foreign languages and sciences? Following what my noble friend said, will he give every possible encouragement to cross-sector partnership in teacher training, so that the skills and experience of the independent sector can be harnessed to the full for the benefit of the education system as a whole?

I agree with my noble friend’s comments. We very much welcome the sharing of expertise between schools across the sector. I am encouraged to see teacher training partnerships working, for instance, in the Crispin School Academy, which is working with a number of independent schools, such as King’s Bruton, Millfield and Taunton. The modern foreign languages project to which I referred will give trainees the opportunity to work in schools in both sectors that have outstanding modern languages departments. In addition to the five independent teaching schools to which I referred, more than 150 independent schools are members of teaching school alliances, including a number of special schools.

My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance that, in the Government’s policy on teacher training, they will ensure that all those unqualified teachers who are currently teaching children in this country are encouraged, and made, to become qualified? I declare an interest as somebody who, many years ago, was employed as an unqualified teacher. I can assure the noble Lord that all children deserve to be taught by teachers who are qualified.

I agree entirely with the noble Baroness that all teachers should be well qualified. One of the most important things that Sir Andrew Carter’s review pointed out was that the most important qualification is qualification in subject knowledge. It is acknowledged across the teaching sector that, of course, you do not become a fully expert teacher after nine months of training. That is not to say that the training is not extremely valuable or that many teachers do not find it valuable. But others—for instance those with PhDs in subjects or perhaps a drama teacher from RADA—may feel that they do not need to go through that training and that they already have some of those basic skills.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lexden is quite right to point out the role that independent schools are playing in teacher training. Another route through which they can get involved in education is that of free schools and academies. How many independent schools are involved in sponsoring free schools and academies?

I cannot give an accurate figure because that involvement is very varied, but we have many free schools that have been sponsored by independent schools. We have two London Academies of Excellence—one focusing on high-performing pupils in sixth form in the East End, sponsored by Brighton College, and another opening in Tottenham, sponsored by Highgate. We have Haileybury, which is sponsoring a school in Hertfordshire and we have Eton and Holyport College, of course. There are many other examples of independent schools engaged in the free school programme in one way or another.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that independent schools have a very good record of dealing with such things as special educational needs, probably because of the cost basis of the relationship? Would that be taken on board in any exercise that looks at teacher training generally? If 20% of your pupils have a special educational need, you should be able to teach them.

I agree with the noble Lord. Indeed, Andrew Carter’s review stated that there was some variability in the quality of course content in relation to SEND training in ITT. Following that review, the Secretary of State for Education commissioned Stephen Munday to take forward an independent expert group tasked with developing a framework of core initial teacher training.

My Lords, may I take the noble Lord back to the answer that he gave to my noble friend Lady Farrington? Does he agree with me that, just because one is good at doing something, one is not necessarily good at teaching it? That applies to physics as much as it applies to drama. Therefore, does he further agree that qualifications in teaching are about providing skills in teaching that produce at least a minimum standard that pupils could expect from people who may be very qualified in their subject but not necessarily very good teachers?

I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, and that is why we have focused teacher training on school-led training. After all, even for the PGCE, 65% of the nine months of training takes place in school. It is acknowledged that in school is the place to learn to teach. As I say, people acknowledge that it takes many years practising in school to become a fully expert teacher.

My Lords, I am all for excellent, first-class training, but what are the Government doing to encourage first-class recruits into the training profession who can fully take advantage of the training offered?

We have bursary schemes of up to £30,000 for recruits in maths and science and up to £25,000 in modern foreign languages. Since 2010, the number of teachers with a 2:1 or better has gone up from 63% to 75%. This year, we have the highest number of teachers entering ITT with a first than ever before, at 18%.

My Lords, there is no requirement for teachers in the independent sector to have a teaching qualification, although of course many do, often having come from the state sector. I feel that the independent sector would talk with more authority on the question of teacher training if more of them offered an induction year to newly qualified teachers. However, is not the issue here teacher shortages—an issue on which both the Government and the DfE remain in denial? How else can you square the circle whereby a number of teaching establishments have a cap applied to them—an arbitrary national figure—and when that is reached, teaching establishments are not allowed to take on any more trainees, even if they are only half full? Meanwhile the Government have instituted an international recruitment programme to try to attract teachers from abroad. When many head teachers are finding it difficult to fill vacancies, why should there be any cap on teacher training places at all?

As I have said many times before in this House, the teacher training recruitment situation is no different than it has been on many occasions over the last 20 years, including many years under the Labour Government. It has generally remained very stable. Since 2010, we have 15,000 more teachers and the number of teachers has kept up well with the number of students. We have 14,000 returners this year. To take the point about ITT, we have consulted with the sector and it has become clear that ITT providers would like to have more long-term visibility and stability in their places. That is something we intend to address.