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Apprenticeships and Teacher Training

Volume 720: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2022

I beg to move,

That this House has considered apprenticeships and teacher training.

I am looking forward to this very important debate about apprenticeships, specifically the role that I hope apprenticeships will play in our education sector in future. Expanding apprenticeships in a way that delivers for all our communities is going to be really important.

Apprenticeships are a vital but criminally underutilised part of our education mix. They drive productivity and growth in our economy, as well as allowing young people to earn while they learn. They have the ability to attract the widest cross-section of society, and they benefit disadvantaged young people more than any other group, making them a fundamental building block of levelling up and social mobility.

Today, I will talk about why apprenticeships are so important and how an increase in their number would benefit those outside London the most. Most critically, I will talk about why creating an undergraduate apprenticeship route into teaching is so important not only to the sector but to the enthusiastic young people it would attract and the wider economy.

Apprenticeships are a great part of individual development and are a unique route to gaining valuable skills. They cultivate knowledge, develop skills, allow young people to use their initiative to manage projects and develop good communicators who can make strong decisions and become role models to others. Importantly, apprentices can earn while they learn without acquiring university debt or a graduate tax, and they still get a degree qualification at the end of it. That means that apprenticeships can attract the widest possible pool of talent.

Better still, apprenticeships are great for employers. Hiring an apprentice is a productive and effective way to grow talent and develop a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce that can be moulded to an employer’s bespoke needs from day one. Furthermore, studies show that apprentices are far more loyal than university graduates. Perhaps our Prime Minister would welcome a few more coming through that route on to the Back Benches of the Conservative party.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech that I wholeheartedly agree with. It is deeply disappointing not to see a single Member of the Labour party, other than the shadow Minister, or of the Lib Dems in the Chamber. My hon. Friend is talking about the aspirational element of what apprenticeships can offer. Does he agree that it is essential that we ensure that local places of education are linked up with local businesses so that we can offer, present and platform those opportunities?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Studies show that more than half of young people looking to apply for higher education are interested in apprenticeships but they often find it difficult to access the relevant information. Some colleges and sixth forms are not interested in helping people pursue that option, and I will come to that later.

Apprenticeships are an effective means of achieving long-term growth and improved productivity—two of the core elements of what the Government are driving for. If we are truly to upskill our workforce while levelling up by turbocharging productivity and growth across the country, apprenticeships are absolutely key, especially in the education sector.

My successful apprenticeships fair with Derwentside College last year was attended by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart)—the predecessor of the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis). Prior to that, he attended Parkside Academy in my constituency to talk to the young people there about apprenticeships as an alternative route to academic sixth form.

I recently held another apprenticeships and jobs fair at Crook in North West Durham to help forge connections between young constituents looking at post-school options and local employers. Derwentside College in my constituency is one of the best examples, and I urge the Minister to come and visit. It does excellent sector-based work academies and apprenticeships that are tied into local firms, like those that my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) was talking about.

After seeing that at first hand, it is clear to me that having local apprenticeships working with local businesses is critical to boosting local economic activity. I am running a “How to run an apprenticeships fair” event for staffers in Parliament on 7 December, so if anyone wants to send their staff along, please do so. In constituencies across the country, we do not want to see young people constantly having to migrate in order to find work.

I apologise for having two bites of the cherry, but just two weeks ago I held my own careers fair at a local further education college—South Devon College—in my constituency of Totnes and south Devon. It was a fantastic example of how to join up local apprenticeships and local businesses and explore the opportunities in the area. Will my hon. Friend come down and see what we are doing in the south-west—a sometimes overlooked area—so that, across the whole country, we might join up this idea of linking up apprenticeships, colleges and businesses?

Order. Obviously, the decision whether or not to take interventions is for the hon. Member who is moving the motion. I would point out, however, that there are five people hoping to speak, and each intervention means that the time limit may be reduced for those people.

Thank you for your guidance, Sir George. I will just say that, when I was in the Department for Education, I visited South Devon College with the then Education Secretary’s special adviser, and I can definitely recommend that my hon. Friend the Minister does so too.

Far too often we hear stories of young people leaving our communities, particularly in constituencies such as North West Durham, to go away to university. They are out of the jobs market for three years and sometimes end up right back where they started, having accumulated student loans in the process. A three-year residential course is not the right route for everyone—actually, it probably is not the right route for the majority of people—but at the moment, in too many cases, it is the only option for those who want to be seen to get ahead. That is specifically the case for the teaching profession, where there is not currently an undergraduate apprenticeship, although there is a postgraduate one. I want to see young people become apprentices so they can earn a degree and valuable skills while earning a stable income right away, rather than continuing on the traditional university route first.

Despite the multifaceted benefits that apprenticeships can clearly provide, we could do more to encourage apprenticeships, particularly in constituencies such as mine, which have seen apprenticeship starts fall in recent years. That really concerns me. I want to see as many people as possible in North West Durham, and across the country, in apprenticeships. The fall in apprenticeship starts also demonstrates that the north has the most to gain by increasing apprenticeships, particularly in areas such as teaching, especially if people can do them through local universities and schools so they do not have move away. If we want to look at different ways to deliver on levelling up, then increasing apprenticeships is critical.

Clearly, an undergraduate apprenticeship route into teaching is a no-brainer. Currently, someone who wants to be a teacher must have a degree and either do a postgraduate apprenticeship or a postgraduate certificate in education. That may make sense for a group of people for whom a few drinks is the right option for their first year at university and who then finally settle down to study, but many of my constituents need to be earning from day one. For so many young people who go into certain FE courses—particularly young women in my constituency—it feels as if their choices are limited from that point, especially if they are interested in education, as they cannot take the final steps into the full teaching profession.

As I have said, the traditional route is not the right one to ensure that as many people as possible can access the profession. That means we are missing out on huge talent in vast swathes of the population, some of whom might be some of the best teachers from the earliest stage of their career. We need to unleash the potential in this broader base of the population. That will also help the sector with vacancies, particularly in certain subjects, possibly including some technical subjects. I do not see any reason why we could not have some of the important academic subject bases as part of that mix; it is about design.

The hon. Gentleman raises an innovative idea. Will he expand on it a little? Previously, when we were looking at maths teachers, people who had a maths degree would be seen as suitable to do the maths part but would have to go away to do a PGCE in order to learn the teaching part. How does he foresee that we would ensure that people who had not done a degree were capable of providing that technical knowledge?

The hon. Gentleman rightly picks up an important point about subject specialism, which I will come to a little later. We want to ensure that the teaching profession is delivering the full knowledge all the way down. I do not think that is necessary in exactly the same way for pre-school or, perhaps, primary school teachers; while they have to have subject knowledge, it does not have to be to the depth of degree level. I think that knowledge could be gained, perhaps, as part of a four-year teaching apprenticeship. In a couple of years’ time, doctors will be able to do degree-level apprenticeships —that provision has already been made—so I do not see why we could not have the same provision for teachers, particularly those teaching early years and in primary schools.

I have visited so many schools in my constituency since I was elected—about half my primary schools and all my secondary schools—and I have noticed that a lot of them have an early years setting alongside them. I make the point to the Minister that an early years teaching apprenticeship could be a first look at this, perhaps as a pilot scheme. So many people go in, perhaps with a level 2 or level 3 qualification, but that is where their opportunity ends. It is a particular issue when someone with qualified teacher status can look after 13 four-year-olds, whereas someone without qualified teacher status can only look after eight. Some of those ratios are really difficult; they restrict the ability to pay more, when childcare costs are already so high, but they also put extra costs on families. Providing an early years apprenticeship route could be part of the answer to the issues around childcare, which everyone knows is a major issue in the country at the moment, particularly with respect to cost.

The broader point is that having a degree apprenticeship would bring teaching into line with other professions. With accountancy, someone can get an Association of Accounting Technicians qualification and then go on to the full accountancy course. It is the same with architecture and engineering. Someone can go into the legal profession right at the bottom end and work their way through to becoming a fully qualified solicitor. No one is suggesting that those other sectors have a prestige issue. People can do apprenticeships all the way through those professions, but they cannot do one in teaching. That is a particular issue.

I can provide an example from personal experience in respect of the solicitor apprenticeship route. In my previous business, I recruited a young lady at the age of 18 who did not want to go to university. I am delighted to report that she is about to qualify as a solicitor, having gone through all the necessary steps.

My hon. Friend provides a superb example of exactly what I am talking about. In the teaching profession and the education sector there are already a lot of people who have done level 3 qualifications, or even level 4 or 5 qualifications, in all sorts of teaching assistant and some advanced teaching assistant roles. That is a natural progression. It can be done in nursing as well, with healthcare assistants moving through into nursing. There are so many ways that this is done in other professions. We are almost holding teaching back from so many people with many different talents who just did not want to choose a particular route at age 18; we are stopping them being able to progress their careers.

For so many young people, an apprenticeship is a particularly good option if they need to earn while they learn. So many people in our communities, in constituencies such as mine, do not have the option of going away. Even if they would get all the support of student loans and grants, they want to be earning from day one. They may have commitments to their family that they want to maintain. The apprenticeship model might mean that they do not have to remove themselves from the job market in later life to go and do training or professional qualifications, because they can earn and learn on the job.

Having spoken to so many people across the sector about my plan, I have heard some reservations. The first is that apprenticeships would somehow dilute the teaching profession. The issue of prestige perniciously permeates apprenticeships across the board, but with companies such as Goldman Sachs now taking on apprentices and people able to do an apprenticeship to become a doctor, that is being eroded. That reservation is particularly frustrating because it is demonstrably untrue.

While a three-year residential degree and one year of training provide an in-depth understanding of academic study, surely four years of working in a teaching apprenticeship in a school environment, while doing those academic studies on the side, would help teachers get a greater understanding of teaching. That is particularly true for early years and primary, which I have already touched on.

What is more, the apprenticeship model already exists in the public sector. In 2017, undergraduate degree apprenticeships became the main route into nursing and, as I have said, the Department of Health and Social Care has approved an apprenticeship, to be rolled out next year, as a route to becoming a doctor. That addresses the grievances of those concerned about the lack of prestige or academic credentials. I understand those concerns. We want to ensure that people with really good subject knowledge are going into our professions. I just think that we can do that with a proper, well-thought-through degree apprenticeship route too.

While it is difficult to object to the idea of apprenticeships in principle, some have expressed concern about funding. However, this is where I am probably most optimistic about the viability of my proposal. Since 2017, the Treasury has allocated an annual apprenticeship budget to the Department for Education, which is used to fund apprenticeships at small employers and incentive payments, among other things. If it is not used by the end of the financial year, it is returned to the Treasury. I have spoken to Ministers and officials in the Department, and it is estimated that around £200 million in unused levy funds has been returned, although a specific freedom of information request recently suggested that the figure could be as high as £2 billion over a five-year period. There are hundreds of millions of pounds, at least, in the Department for Education’s budget to do this. Without having even to look far, we have a silver bullet to fund an undergraduate teaching apprenticeship pathway and unleash the potential of enthusiastic apprentices who could shape the future of the children of today and tomorrow.

One big issue with apprenticeships in general—I think this is one of the most important points—is that they are often not considered a prestigious option post-school. Schools often strongly encourage students to go down a traditional three-year residential university route, even though it might not be the best fit for them. That is natural—that is where all the teachers came from. Einstein’s definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. This is groundhog day in our education system. We put people who have degrees into schools and then, naturally, teachers say that is the route into teaching that people should go down. We need to stop doing this; it is a disservice to the people we are trying to represent and to apprenticeships more broadly.

If our children’s role models were themselves living examples of successful apprentices, that could surely change how apprenticeships are perceived, particularly in the education sector. Therefore, teaching apprenticeships could unlock a new generation of apprentices, not only in the teaching profession but more broadly in all sectors of society. That would address the broader issue with apprenticeships that results in them being seriously under-utilised and thus create far-reaching benefits beyond the teaching profession itself.

I believe that creating an undergraduate teaching apprenticeship degree route would have extensive and multifaceted benefits. It is an astonishingly simple solution to many issues in the sector, from getting people into apprenticeships who should be in them to helping out in the early years and with the financial pressures on families and, obviously, on the Government. It would boost productivity, it would provide a pathway into a well-paying job with a good pension for so many young people who have not historically gone down the teaching route, and it would really help to address some of the vacancies in our already overstretched teaching sector. Furthermore, it would create a route into teaching for enthusiastic young people who currently have no path to progression. Primarily, a teaching apprenticeship would benefit the most disadvantaged, who feel that they cannot afford to take a degree or that, for varying reasons in their lives, teaching has not been an option for them. Most importantly, there is already a considerable tranche of funding available to make this happen.

Finally, as I have already said, having apprentices as ambassadors in schools would provide a huge boost to the entire sector, reaching well beyond the profession itself. I want to see apprenticeship starts increase wherever possible. I know the uniquely valuable role that teachers play in children’s lives—both my parents were teachers—and I see this route into teaching as essential to helping us address some of the gaps that we see in our country at the moment.

In order to try to get in everyone who has indicated that they want to speak in the debate, I will impose a time limit of five minutes on speeches. I will call the first of the two Front Benchers at 5.27 pm.

Thank you, Sir George, for calling me to speak. I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on setting the scene.

May I say what a pleasure it is to see the Minister in his place? We have become great friends over the last few years. I know he is a good man who will do a good job. If he were not a Minister, he would be on the Back Benches supporting us in this debate. He is very much poacher turned gamekeeper, so we are pleased to see him in his place and we look forward to his contribution.

There are certain professions that are not jobs but callings or vocations, and teaching is one of them. Although I adore my grandchildren and enjoy giving talks to classes interested in politics, I can think of nothing more challenging than teaching nine classes of 30 different children five times a week. To progress those children, to understand how best they learn, to be able to teach the brightest while bringing along those who struggle—it is all beyond me. I really applaud the teachers who are involved in that—well done.

In these debates, I always try to give a Northern Ireland perspective. I do it to add to the debate, ever mindful that the Minister does not have any responsibility for education in Northern Ireland, because education is a devolved matter. It is getting much harder to be a teacher in Northern Ireland, as the needs of our children have changed. Statistics released by the Northern Ireland Education Authority in January outline those changes, with a 26.4% increase in the number of pupils accessing a placement in a special school since 2015-16, and a 24.1% rise in the number accessing a placement in special provision in mainstream schools. Other statistics show that 20,505 pupils have a statement of need where there were once only 16,500, an increase of 23.7%.

That is not the subject of the debate, of course, but I say those things to give a perspective on how education has changed since I was young. Any teacher training now does so in the knowledge that they will have to teach the subject they choose to pupils with a range of skill levels and learning processes in one classroom. An essential component of making that work are the classroom assistants who aid those children who need to learn differently. There is a lot of pressure on the teacher to know how best to utilise that help in the classroom. The classes are large and the teaching aids and funding are low. Schools are feeling the pinch. It is quite a grim picture. I have served on the board of governors of Glastry College for nearly 36 years, and in that time I have seen how the needs and demands of the pupils, parents and teachers have changed.

In England, the pupil to teacher ratio has increased from 17.6 in November 2010 to 18.5 in 2021, and the teacher vacancy rate has risen over that period. I believe those things are linked, with greater pressure on time spent outside the classroom for teachers and, increasingly, for classroom assistants. That must change through increased funding, which would reduce class numbers and increase classroom assistants’ hours in class and time for preparation. I know the Minister is keen do that, and I believe he will. Every penny spent on education is a penny invested in our children and, subsequently, in ourselves and the future of this great nation.

It is time that we again focused on the outcomes for us all, which would be better if a teacher were not singlehandedly trying to teach 30 children with three different teaching needs and a number with behavioural needs. A rising tide lifts all ships. Minister, we must ensure that we can entice people who love education and children into teaching, by showing the support and help that will be granted to them, not simply in private schools, if they can get a job there, but in every mainstream school in this nation. The job is clear; the question is whether the Government will put their shoulder to the plough and deliver. Knowing the Minister as I do, as a friend—I welcome him and wish him well in his new role—I believe that he will be the first to do just that.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the second time today, Sir George. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) for bringing forward this important debate. I will focus today on education, but I also totally agree with what he said about the apprenticeship levy and the opportunity, by making that more flexible, to open up a range of employment and training opportunities that do not currently exist. We should definitely have done that a long time ago, to be honest.

There are two things I wanted to raise today. The first is helping people to access teaching as a career, regardless of background. Insistence on degree qualifications makes for a less diverse workforce, although not less diverse in terms of physical characteristics—which the Minister knows I have all sorts of issues with, which I will come to in a minute—but less diverse in terms of background, views and experience.

Other areas of education, such as independent schools and colleges, are free to bring in a broader range of teachers and lecturers with different backgrounds. We regularly see colleges bringing in people from industry, for example, into teaching settings. That is sometimes to support more vocational or technical qualifications, or to support and advise on business or getting into private sector roles or entrepreneurship. I often hear businesses say that schools struggle to teach effectively about being in business, about entrepreneurship, and about being work ready and the expectations of private sector employment. In reality, that is less about qualifications and more about engagement, character and extracurricular interests.

Many groups and charities are working to get more business experience into schools, which is good. Even better, we could get that experience into teaching. To have a wider variety of routes and ways to get into teaching, without having to take years out to take a degree, would be incredibly beneficial. Giving schools more flexibility to employ a wider range of people would also be beneficial. It would help us to give our young people a wider range of options, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham said, and a wider and better range of careers advice.

Often, the most effective role models for young people are those from their community. A young person who grew up on an estate who has done well, and who is capable and engaging and understands the local context and issues, is perhaps better placed than a graduate from another, very different area to mentor young people—to be a role model. Often, people get to grips with learning and qualifications later in life, having struggled at school. That is particularly true in very disadvantaged communities, where levels of post-16 qualifications can be very low. People being able to access teaching through apprenticeships and shorter courses, to transition from other sectors such as business, to work as a teaching assistant while they learn and qualify on the job, and opportunities such as those would help those people to get on, to give back to their community and to teach where they grew up, instead of going to do something else elsewhere. I extend that to other professions, as well—the police, for example. I would make the same case in that sector, but I do not have time to go into that today.

In other areas of education, having new ways into teaching could be hugely beneficial and create new opportunities. Just last week, I visited Crocodile Rock Day Care, an early years setting in Mansfield, where we spoke about a variety of things, including the challenge of recruiting and retaining staff. We spoke about the challenge of offering appropriate training and development with very tight budgets, and how many staff in the sector end up moving into retail or going to work at Amazon because it is better money. If those young people entering early years education could progress into primary teaching, for example, by learning on the job—by transferring their training and qualifications in early years to schools through apprenticeship-type options—we could open up a whole world of new opportunities, and also improve recruitment and retention in the sector.

If people could progress from an entry-level role in early years education to become more experienced and qualified, work in a nursery or reception setting at a school, gain experience with older children, learn as a teaching assistant and become a newly qualified teacher, and do all of that on the job, it would mean people would not have to take career breaks to requalify. It would also remove financial barriers and enable people to progress in settings within their own community—the community that they most care about—and then perhaps teach in their own area, not leave and go somewhere else. That is a real challenge for schools, particularly those in disadvantaged communities, so I hope the Minister will take those points away. I fully support what my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham has said.

In the short time I have left, the second thing I want to raise with the Minister is the importance of male role models in teaching, which relates to this teacher training issue. I do not need to go into my issues with the Equality Act 2010 and the perverse outcomes it has led to: there are countless examples of trying to support women into university or into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, for example, but next to no examples of trying to support young men into teaching, even though the profession is 75% female, and even more so in primary education.

In the east midlands, 30% of schools do not have a single male teacher. That is really upsetting when we consider that in some of the most disadvantaged communities, that male teacher might be the only decent role model that a young man has. It is difficult and confusing to learn how to be a man in modern society when there is no male role model, or when the male role model at home is involved in domestic violence, for example, or unhealthy relationships. Where do young men learn those things from? I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to also take that point away, and look at how we might encourage more male role models for the children in those disadvantaged communities who most need them. Most importantly, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham has said, we need to open up access to teaching to a much broader range of people, to make that easier for all our communities.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on securing the debate.

We all know good and bad teachers: they shape our lives, and therefore can be considered the most important influence after parents and carers. Our economy depends on skills and apprenticeships, and I welcome ways into career paths that open them to people from a range of backgrounds. However, I have huge concerns about the number of ways of getting into teaching, and whether they all guarantee the preparedness of teachers. Depending on what equivalence we attach to similarly operating pathways, there are around 10 ways of getting qualified teacher status. It is now proposed to introduce a level 5 associate teacher apprenticeship aimed at teaching assistants, both as a route into teaching and a continuing professional development activity. We should remember that most TA roles are based on a level 3 qualification, or level 4 in some cases.

If, as I have said, teaching is the most important influence, we should be making sure that teachers are well trained and motivated. Teaching is a vocation, but that does not mean that everyone is good at it. There needs to be rigorous training over years to enable good teaching, which includes child pedagogy. It requires a mixture of sciences, such as child development, as well as subject teaching. Finland, which comes top of most education surveys, has primary school teacher training for four years and secondary school teaching programmes for five years. Candidates then have to do a year of pedagogical training; alongside that, they do a research thesis on a topic of their choice and spend a full year teaching in a university-affiliated school before graduation.

This gives status to teachers, and confidence that teachers are well prepared. Compare that with the lack of that foundation in some routes in England, which particularly concerns me, because we cannot rely on stretched schools and their teachers to provide additional support to newly qualified teachers who are expected to learn from others on the job. Additionally, we cannot put children and young people in a position where they may have an unqualified or struggling teacher for a whole year. The new apprenticeships specification builds in so much overlap with the qualified teacher status that it is inevitable that the distinction will be lost or overlooked.

We lose far too many of these valuable recruits early in their careers because they feel unprepared in the classroom. The average rate for teachers leaving the profession is around 10% per year. However, among early career teachers the rates are a lot worse; some 12.5% have already left within a year of qualifying. Some 17%—

No, we do not get a minute back in here, I am afraid.

Some 17% will have left within two years. After five years a third have left, and 40% of teachers who qualified 10 years ago have left teaching. Besides being a failure of current policy, this also undermines our ability to develop a cadre of experienced teachers who can help the next generation.

I am a huge fan of apprenticeships, vocational education and learning while working, but the stakes are so high in education that we must be cautious. Classroom-based professional development can help qualified teachers learn themselves and stay in teaching, but it is not a substitute for giving teachers a solid foundation at the start. We certainly should not be circumventing routes to it, which I am concerned the kinds of apprenticeships now being proposed will do.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I begin by congratulating my County Durham colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), on securing today’s important debate.

Over 30,000 individuals enter initial teacher training in England each year through several routes. However, it is regrettable that in general, over the past decade or so, the overall number of qualified teachers in state-funded schools has not kept pace with increasing pupil numbers, with recruitment and retention of teachers still being a significant issue. This is of particular concern in the north east, where we have seen the sharpest reduction in the number of teacher training places in the country, with nearly a third of our places at risk. With 92% of teachers in the north-east coming from the north-east, we know that this will result in reduced teacher supply, and significantly impact the ability of schools in the north-east to continue to improve and develop. Given that we know schools in disadvantaged areas have the greatest problems in recruiting staff, the impact on disadvantaged children will be even more significant than on the system as a whole, compounding the problem.

With this in mind, I have been made aware of a number of concerns about the recent re-accreditation process for providers of initial teacher training. I will take this opportunity to highlight the issues Carmel College in Darlington is currently experiencing. Carmel College’s teacher training programme has been running for 20 years, delivering over 100 new teachers each year. I am deeply concerned that this outstanding school in my constituency now faces the removal of its teacher training accreditation from 2024. It is essential that outstanding schools such as Carmel College are able to continue their teacher training programmes, so that we can ensure that children in the north-east are not let down because of a lack of teachers to fill vacancies. I greatly appreciate the engagement that I have already had on this issue from the Minister for School Standards, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), and I wish Carmel College good luck in its appeal.

More generally, I am committed to helping the people of Darlington to secure employment and training opportunities. Further to this aim, and like my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham, who led the debate, I recently hosted my second apprenticeship and training fair at Darlington College. I was delighted to have almost 50 organisations represented, which were collectively recruiting for well over 700 opportunities in and around Darlington, alongside helpful tips and advice for job seekers. Such events are hugely important for ensuring that our constituents are fully aware of the job opportunities and training available to them to enable them to reach their full potential. The apprenticeship levy allowance has been a great tool for encouraging employers to commit to apprenticeships, allowing them to fund apprenticeship training or else lose the funds.

While apprenticeships are a great way for schools to improve the skills of their non-teaching employees, the funds are not currently available for schools to fund teacher training costs, which seems a missed opportunity. I encourage the Minister to look at the feasibility of that measure. We must ensure that we can tackle shortages in teachers if we are to enable children up and down the country to fulfil their potential.

I want to see us encouraging more businesses to establish apprenticeships and opening up more opportunities for people seeking employment and training. I know that the Minister and this Conservative Government share those views, and I know the Minister will have listened closely to all the contributions today. I look forward to hearing his response to this excellent and timely debate.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on securing a debate on this important matter. Apprenticeships are dear to many of our hearts. The pressure on teacher numbers is also an issue we are all very conscious of. I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman was able to secure this debate. It is a shame that the “back frack or sack” debate in the Chamber has overwhelmed many of us. As a result, there were rather more Labour Members there, and maybe some Conservative Members were hiding away in here. I cannot imagine that there is anyone here who does not want to let everyone know what they think about fracking, but we never know—it is possible.

The hon. Member for North West Durham raised some important points. I want to dwell on the importance of apprenticeships for learners from deprived communities. He is absolutely right that level 2 and 3 apprenticeships are incredibly important. There are real issues in the expansion of level 6 and 7 apprenticeships; there has been a huge middle-class grab of those. I welcome degree apprenticeships, but we need to be careful that we do not end up with a twin-tier system where level 2 apprenticeships are for working-class kids and level 6 and 7 apprenticeships are what someone does if their parents are ambitious. None the less, his central point about the value of apprenticeships is an important one.

The hon. Gentleman touched on the fact that apprenticeship numbers are falling. At our recent conference, the Labour party outlined new proposals on flexibility around apprenticeships. The apprenticeship levy is not working in its current format, and we want to see apprenticeship numbers driven up. He was right to say that.

I take this opportunity to welcome to his post the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis). I hope that he lasts rather longer than the Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), appears to have. I know he has great passion in this area, and we look forward to hearing his thoughts going forward.

The hon. Members for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke of their commitment to apprenticeships. I know that commitment is found across the House.

The hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) is a great example of someone who covets another job when in one; throughout the years I have known him, he seems to have been almost constantly campaigning for the next job. I know he would like to be my Mayor in Nottinghamshire in the future, and will no doubt have been hugely excited about Labour’s announcement of devolution of skills funding to Mayors at our recent conference. Whether he gets that opportunity, time will tell, but I know he has a genuine commitment to this area of policy, and it was good to hear his contribution.

The hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) made a point about the retention of teachers, mentioning that the sharpest reduction in teacher training is in the north-east, and that there are often particular pressures on teacher recruitment in town communities and areas that are further away from universities. That is an issue of real importance. The hon. Member for North West Durham talked about the value of apprenticeships; I completely agree with what he said. Apprenticeships are a hugely important opportunity for people to work while they learn. Ensuring that both employers and learners get access to those opportunities will be a key priority for the Labour Government. A lot more can be done to ensure that all students coming out of school are aware of apprenticeship opportunities, which is a real passion of mine.

There is a particular missed opportunity for public sector apprenticeships. I asked a number of parliamentary questions to the Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), about the amount of levy left unspent in the public sector. I was shocked to discover that the Government did not have those figures to hand. I had to try to establish them on an organisation-by-organisation basis. It should be a matter of strategic interest to the Government.

Our health sector trusts, which pay huge amounts of levy, also have a huge staffing crisis. How much do they have unspent every year in their apprenticeship levy pot? In that context, the hon. Member for North West Durham made an important and innovative suggestion for teacher training. We need to think a huge amount more about how to do it, but he has raised a topic of real importance. It is vital that we attract more people into the teaching profession, and such innovative solutions are definitely to be explored.

Over the past decade, the number of qualified teachers in state schools has fallen behind increasing pupil numbers. At one time, it was guaranteed that there would be no more than 30 pupils in a class, but that is now commonplace in schools that I visit. The rising teacher vacancy rate over that period has seen more and more schools struggling to recruit. I have met schools in my constituency that have advertised vacancies two or three times and not had a single application. We need to stop for a moment and consider why that is. Is it the workload, the burnout that teachers experience, the highly pressurised environment, or the extent to which schools have become extensions of social work services? Rising poverty means that schools are expected to feed as well as educate our children, which is a massive social problem. It no doubt has huge consequences for teacher retention.

We have a great generation of teachers, but never have the Government expected so much while offering so little. Many teachers in my constituency, knowing about this debate, wanted me to express the sense that they are drowning in work and facing unimaginable pressures, due to the crisis in children’s mental health, the cost of living issues, and the number of families struggling to feed themselves and afford the basics. Our teachers are very much on the frontline of that economic crisis. It is crucial that we recognise the vital role that teachers play in our communities and do more to address the poverty behind many of those issues. We need to recognise the shortage of teachers that we have.

The last large-scale survey of teachers, administered by the OECD in 2018, found that full-time secondary teachers in England reported working on average almost 50 hours a week. Full-time primary teachers reported working 52 hours a week—more than any other participating country except Japan. In our country, the amount of time that pupils spend in school is less than it is for many of our competitors, but the amount of time our teachers spend working is more. That is simply a recipe for failure.

Recent recruitment campaigns to the teaching profession have tended to target those already in work, but many of the desired recruits, as the hon. Member for North West Durham said, will already have family commitments and all the other expenditure that makes it difficult to get away from the world of work to pursue full-time education. I absolutely agree with the principle that non-possession of a degree should be a barrier only where there is a specific reason why a degree is needed. I am someone who never went to university, and yet, despite having been a senior manager in business, I know from subsequently attempting to get into the public sector that there were a number of jobs there that I did not even have a chance to apply for, regardless of my abilities, because I do not have a degree.

The Labour party views apprenticeships as the gold standard, so we want to see further investigation of these important ideas, but there is a number of considerations that will need to be made to make the idea work. In conclusion, we are broadly supportive of the suggestion of apprenticeships for teacher training and we look forward to exploring these ideas in future.

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George, and to make my first appearance as the Minister for School Standards. It could not have been sweeter that it was my next-door neighbour in the parliamentary offices, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), who managed to get me at the Dispatch Box in Westminster Hall for the first time. I thank him and I thank his parents, who are obviously excellent teachers, for producing such a wonderful son. Most importantly, I thank all the teachers, teaching assistants and support staff who time and again go above and beyond in their incredible dedication to those amazing young people, who will be the future of our country and drive that economic growth that we are so keen to see.

This important debate has been secured by my hon. Friend, who is not just a great champion of his local schools, having visited 22 out of 40 in his constituency to date, but the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on apprenticeships. I was a member of that group for a period of time before starting in this role. I want to put on the record the fact that I am lucky, as the representative of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, to have my own apprentice in my parliamentary office. Jessica is on the verge of completing her qualification, and I felt that I could not preach about apprenticeships if I was not going to support one myself.

The debate is an important one, and my hon. Friend will know that there have been over 13,000 apprenticeship starts in his constituency since the beginning of 2010. They have provided fantastic opportunities for his constituents to enhance their careers and, as he says, earn while they learn. The Government are committed to providing world-class education and training for everyone, whatever their age or stage of life. Since 2015, we have transformed apprenticeships into a prestigious, sought-after option designed to meet the needs of employers and learners across the country, and we have seen over 2,600 starts on the level 6 teacher apprenticeship since its inception in 2017.

Thanks to our transformational reforms, millions of people in a wide range of sectors have benefited from these industry-led routes to earn and learn. In the last academic year, there were 37,000 new trainee teachers—10% more than the last pre-pandemic cycle in 2019-20. To support this, we recently announced a new package of financial incentives worth over £180 million for the 2023-24 academic year. That support for teacher training will include bursaries worth up to £27,000 and scholarships worth up to £29,000, and these incentives will encourage talented applicants to teach key subjects, such as chemistry, physics and mathematics. We are also offering a £25,000 bursary for geography and languages, a £20,000 bursary for biology and design technology, and a £15,000 bursary for English, all of which will be tax free.

I should declare an interest, having been a teacher myself and having got my postgraduate certificate in education at the Institute of Education only in 2011. Never in my wildest dreams—or theirs, probably—would I have thought that I would be standing here as the Minister for School Standards, and I am absolutely honoured to be guiding that next generation of young teachers on their journey, because they are so important.

I am very grateful for the time that my hon. Friend spent at the Department, meeting me and officials on 22 September. I heard and learned more about his idea and what could be done. I will set out the work that the Department has undertaken to date to consider that option. Between 2018 and 2020, a sector-led trailblazer group considered the viability of an apprenticeship with a pre-degree entry point leading to qualified teacher status. In 2020, after detailed consideration and wider stakeholder engagement with initial teacher training providers and schools, including a survey among headteachers, the group rejected the creation of an undergraduate teacher apprenticeship. That was due to its prohibitive costs, the duration required and insufficient demand from the sector.

The Department is always willing to listen to the sector, and as the Minister for School Standards I am absolutely putting teaching degree apprenticeships on the table. However, I need to ensure that there are benefits and take account of the wider views of schools, pupils and prospective teachers.

When the Minister says there was insufficient demand in the sector, does he mean there was insufficient demand from people wanting to study and pursue that route, or was there insufficient demand from schools to take on apprentices?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to clarify. From my understanding, it was headteachers who reported that there was not a massive desire—and nor did they believe that there would be—within the sector. The cost was definitely the main problem. A regular apprentice gets 20% of time off to undertake further learning, but that figure is 40% when applied to the school year, because there are 13 weeks when teachers are not physically in the classroom with their pupils. The cost to a school was felt to be too great to have someone off timetable for 40% of the time. However, allowing a teaching assistant to take a teaching qualification through a level 5 apprenticeship, which we are exploring, could be a way to deliver teachers through an apprenticeship scheme. We would be using people who are already in the school system—those 200,000-plus teaching assistants who do a fantastic job up and down our country.

Where there is employer demand for new apprenticeships in education, including a route to teaching for those without a degree, we will work with employers and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to consider how those proposals could be delivered. We are currently engaging in detailed work with a new trailblazer group to explore the viability of the new apprenticeship standard at level 5. That apprenticeship would enhance training opportunities for existing teaching assistants. It would also offer a route for high-potential individuals without an undergraduate degree, providing them with a career pathway to gain a qualification to train to teach.

I look forward to continuing discussions with school leaders, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham on how best to support talented non-graduates to gain the necessary qualifications to train to teach.

I want to ensure that I address the points raised by hon. Members, because that is important. I thank my good friend, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for his kind words and his continued passion for state education, a sector that I am proud to have worked in for eight and a half years. To declare an interest, my partner is a member of that sector as well. It is a fantastic career. I hope that anyone watching today who is not yet a teacher will be able to understand what a great profession it is. Not only is the new starting salary for this academic year over £28,000, but I have supported the pledge in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to ensure that a £30,000 a year starting salary is enacted for the next academic year.

On top of that, there are bursaries. The levelling-up premium is available in education investment areas. That can give someone up to £3,000 tax free, on top of their salary, depending on the subject they teach. We should really promote that. I believe that take-up is really good so far, but we are checking those numbers. I want every Member in those education investment areas to drive those reforms by getting people to sign up as quickly as they can.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) is a fine champion for his local area, and I am glad to have been able to spend time with him to learn about the work he has been doing for education. We have no plans in place yet to look at what we are doing specifically for men. However, my team in the Department are looking at diversity, which is not just about ethnicity; it is about gender as well. It is about men getting into the profession, particularly in primary schools, as well as women getting into leadership roles in the sector. It is also about socioeconomic backgrounds and those white, working class, disadvantaged boys who we want to see representing the profession in schools, as well as people from other ethnic minority groups who, tragically, are falling out of the profession at a quicker rate than their white counterparts. We are going to do a big piece of work in that area. I look forward to visiting Lambeth Academy tomorrow to meet Leon, one of those inspirational headteachers, and understand what he has done throughout his career journey.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond) was a teacher—

They were the ones I dreaded when I was in the classroom. It is absolutely brilliant that she has that insight into the profession. I understand the importance of maintaining that high-quality education and ensuring that that the skill and knowledge base is there, particularly with the important reforms that we have made to GCSEs and A-levels. That is why I am certainly intrigued to explore further what my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham said about primary education as potentially a pilot route.

I thank the Minister for giving up a few seconds. On the primary environment—the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) touched on this earlier—the challenges in disadvantaged communities mean that teachers are often seen as social workers, and some of the issues that come through the door are more akin to those experienced in an early years setting than in what we would traditionally associated with a teaching setting. Does the Minister agree that the opportunity to drag people from those care and early years settings and place them in those primary environments might be of huge benefit? That is slightly separate to the discussion about academic excellence and brilliance at post-16, which has been mentioned.

My hon. Friend makes fantastic points. I visited a school in Wolverhampton recently to hear how the multi-academy trust had hired its own social worker to work among its schools. I found that very inspiring. Absolutely, looking at how we can build that relationship between the early years sector and the primary school sector—that knowledge base, that understanding and that familiarity with the local people—is so important.

My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) is a doughty champion. He has been lobbying and banging the door over Carmel College and its fantastic CEO, Mike Shorten. We know that an appeal is coming, so my hon. Friend will appreciate, as I have said before, that I cannot make any comment, but his and Mike’s comments have been heard and will be taken into consideration when the appeal is made.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins), who also represents Staveley, for his kind words. I am sad that my natural counterpart, the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan), is not here. I assume that he is still in detention with the Commissioner for Standards, having been a bit of a naughty boy recently when he sent a letter about me to The Guardian before she had made a comment. However, I really do appreciate the opportunity to hear the fine words of the hon. Member for Chesterfield and about his passion for level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships, which are absolutely important and should not in any way be seen as unimportant by this Department. Yes, we have put a lot of work into the degree level, but we want those take-ups at level 2 and level 3, and we are very pleased that that is continuing.

Finally, on teacher numbers, we have 466,000 full-time teachers on the books. That is a record number and 24,000 more than in 2010. While there are, of course, rising teacher vacancy rates, it is important to understand the context. The situation across all sectors is challenging, but I will ensure that we challenge that head-on with recruitment and retention strategies.

I welcome the Minister’s pledge to continue to engage. I thank all hon. Members who took part today. Some important matters were raised.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised teacher workload. In an intervention, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) raised the importance of getting employers working with colleges and dealing with apprenticeships. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) mentioned recruitment issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond) spoke about how we have to ensure that standards are maintained at all costs, to ensure that children get the education they need. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) spoke of being a champion of real diversity in the teaching profession and in communities.

It was also good to hear from the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) that the Labour party is open to this, too, and want to look forwards. I share some of his concerns, in particular about things such as executive MBAs and cash from the apprenticeship levy being used for them by some very high-end companies, instead of driving skills for the people who really need them. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore), who I think is in his first gig as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, sitting behind the Minister.

In conclusion, I say to the Minister that there have been studies on this matter. I ask him to reach out to the vice-chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire. It was doing work with multi-academy trusts in this space, and I think there is a lot more that can be done. I do not expect the Minister to rush into anything, but I think that this is a real opportunity for the entire sector to turbocharge apprenticeships and open up the profession to so many more people who would be great teachers.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Apprenticeships and teacher training.

Sitting adjourned.