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  Recruiting more experienced
people as teachers
 

 

This speech was given in the chamber of the House of Commons as part of the debate on Teacher Recruitment, on 16 April 2002

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this debate, especially as I made three or four applications before I was successful. My reason for initiating it relates specifically to a constituent, Mr. Christopher Read, who teaches at the Hewett high school in Norwich, the largest school in Norfolk, which has 1,800 pupils and about 115 full-time equivalent teaching staff. It was not until I had been successful in my application for a debate and started to talk to colleagues about the subject that I became aware of how widespread the problem faced by my constituent is. I shall start with the particulars of his case, and then move on to discuss the more general themes that it illustrates.

Mr. Christopher Read, who lives in my constituency and works in the city of Norwich, is a qualified electronic design engineer. He worked for some 30 years for a local engineering firm, and has an impressive curriculum vitae. For example, he designed electronic control systems for Trident nuclear submarines. He also designed the electronic vane control systems for the Heysham and Torness nuclear power stations, as well as working on projects for clients such as the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Air Force, British Aerospace, British Steel, British Coal, BP, ICI and the former Government Department, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Read was made redundant from his engineering firm some time ago and decided that before the end of his career, he would like finally to do what he had always wanted to do at some point—go into teaching. We have all seen the advertisements that the Government have sprayed liberally over every medium known to man, including newspapers and cinema, asking people to go into the teaching profession. He responded to that call and, having a background in physics, he was particularly suited to help meet the shortage of teachers in maths and science subjects. The only problem was that because he had an HND, not a degree, he could not be taken on as a fully qualified teacher, but would have to work within the school environment towards fully qualified teacher status.

An additional problem was that because Mr. Read took his HND in 1968, it is not regarded by the Open university, with which he would need to study to gain the required number of points to obtain full teacher status, as attracting the same number of points as a more recent HND. Apparently, that is because before 1971 the HND was not modular—one had to learn everything and sit the exam at the end of the course—so it is said that there is no sensible way of comparing the old and the new HND. I may not be alone in thinking that that may be a point in favour of the old HND, and that it required more intellectual accomplishment than the new modular HND.

Indeed, in a widely quoted book, "Class War: The State of British Education", Chris Woodhead mentions the subject of modularity on pages 14 and 15. He says:

"The move to 'modularity' is a second, highly significant development. Nowadays many, if not most, GCE and A-level syllabuses are divided up into modules, or units, of work. The candidate is tested on each module once it has been completed.  Headteachers worry about the impact this has on teaching and learning and extra-curricular activities. Most feel that the introduction of the AS examination has reduced the sixth form to a treadmill that allows no time for anything other than preparation for the next wretched assessment. Many worry that a student who is unhappy with the grade he has achieved in a particular module can take the assessment again in the hope of achieving a better mark. Mr. Timms needs to tell us whether he thinks this new facility has made public examinations more or less intellectually challenging".

The Department told me last Thursday that Mr. Timms, the Minister for School Standards, would reply to this debate, but as he cannot be with us, I hope that the Minister for Young People and Learning, who is here in his stead, will answer my question. I am sure that young people are delighted that he represents them. [Interruption.] Indeed, do they know that he does? Can he tell us whether the introduction of modularity is an advance in creating an intellectual challenge?

My constituent is being discriminated against for the simple reason that he took a course and completed an HND before the introduction of modularity. In his case that has a particular effect, as he is 55 now—he was 54 when he began teaching. As a result of his HND not being valued as it should be and as a more recent HND would be, it will take him three to four years, rather than the 12 to 18 months that it would otherwise take him, to gain an honours degree equivalent and then the additional qualified teacher status—which would take him only two or three months, because of his extra experience. Mr. Read will be 58 or 59 by the time he achieves qualified teacher status. In the interim, not only will he be paid less than a fully qualified teacher—although I imagine that his greater experience allows him to impart more to physics students than some younger teachers can—but his job will not be secure because his "instructor" status means that he does not have a permanent contract.

The statutory instrument that deals with the matter is the Education (Teachers' Qualifications and Health Standards) (England) Regulations 1999. Paragraph 3 is about

"Instructors with special qualifications or experience".

I should have thought that being trusted by the nation to design electronic components and control systems for Trident nuclear submarines qualified Mr. Read under that heading. The paragraph says:

"This paragraph shall apply in the case of an unqualified teacher appointed, or proposed to be appointed, to give instruction in any art or skill or in any subject or group of subjects . . . the teaching of which requires special qualifications or experience if, at the time of his appointment . . . the local education authority . . . are satisfied as to his qualifications or, as the case may be, experience; and . . . no suitable qualified teacher, graduate teacher or registered teacher is available for appointment . . . Such a teacher may be employed at a school to give such instruction as aforesaid, subject to paragraph (3), for such period as no suitable qualified teacher, graduate teacher or registered teacher is available for appointment or to give the instruction."

The effect of that is that the school is not empowered to give him a permanent full-time contract as a teacher, and was recently obliged to advertise his post. Mr. Read had to apply for his own job, despite being trusted by the school and the head teacher and providing a valuable service to the students. Five people applied for the job in addition to Mr. Read, one of whom was interviewed. Mr. Read was also interviewed and, I am pleased to say, was successful in being awarded his own job.

Hon. Members may find that laughable, and it is rather extraordinary. The Government have a stated commitment to encourage more people to go into the teaching profession. Indeed, when one opens the broadsheet newspapers or goes to the cinema one cannot fail to see their advertisements, which show glowing pictures of people saying how much they owe to their teachers, and ask whether those in the audience have ever thought of going into teaching. In the light of all that, we should consider the ludicrous situation in which Mr. Read and others find themselves.

Mr. Read's head teacher at the Hewett school, Mr. Christopher Wade, says that there is much hype about the graduate teacher programme, through which a graduate without a teaching qualification can train on the job. He says, however, that in fact it is hype about nothing, because it is virtually impossible to obtain the required funding, unless it is for English or maths, and also in an education action zone. There are only 235 fully funded places across the country. He goes on to say:

"You can do it if the school funds it itself"

— and that his school is doing that with two of its teachers—

"But if there were teachers out there we wouldn't be doing it. We are not primarily a training establishment."

None the less, many schools have been turned into training establishments, paying out of their own budgets to train the teachers they need.

As a result of securing this debate and talking to colleagues about it, I became aware that the problem was not confined to my constituency. A colleague mentioned a case to me—I have not had an opportunity to speak to the individual involved, so I will not identify him. The case concerned a 49-year-old retired police officer who wanted to be a teacher, preferably in a junior school.

The local education authority concerned sent a letter to all parents asking for help from people wishing to enter the profession. The man duly contacted them in the hope that he would be able to join the registered training scheme for those who do not have a degree but have attained a good educational standard. He was informed that the RTS exists in name only—no school in the LEA concerned has taken on a teacher under the scheme because it is too expensive.

The Government have the system in place to solve the teaching shortage, at least in part, but they are unwilling to finance it. They must either pay up or shut up. As an aside, the individual concerned said:

"From what I've seen the possession of a degree doesn't necessarily make a good teacher—some experience of life would be more useful to those that have only gone from school to university and then back to school again."

One cannot help thinking that a 49-year-old police officer would have a lot to contribute to a classroom, especially as the first requirement in any classroom is the maintenance of discipline, without which there is no possibility of learning.

Another hon. Member mentioned to me another constituent, to whom I have spoken. This lady does not wish to be identified in case it should hinder her future prospects of employment. She is a qualified teacher with 17 years of classroom experience. It is my understanding, based on what she said at Education  Question Time, that the Secretary of State, too, had 17 years' teaching experience when she took her career break to go into politics.

The lady whom I have mentioned took a career break to have a family, then, in answer to the nation's call for more teachers, applied and was told that she had to have recent classroom experience. She pointed out that she was a fully qualified teacher with many years of experience but, as she says:

"I seem to be in an impossible situation. I am disqualified from even applying for the work that I would like to do, because my qualifications and experience are unacceptable, yet I cannot fulfil their requirements for registration without having worked."

There are many other examples. I shall quote that of Mr. Stuart Ballantyne, the head teacher of Diss high school, in my constituency. Diss high school is one of the best comprehensive schools in the country. It has been named twice by the chief inspector of schools in his annual report as one of the top 60 schools in the country. Mr. Ballantyne received an expression of interest from a police officer with years of experience and a master's degree in biology. I am pleased to say that that person is teaching at the school. However, he had to be given an enormous amount of reassurance by the headteacher because of the temporary nature of the contract under which Mr. Ballantyne was forced to employ him.

Mr. Ballantyne nearly lost the services of this individual on a number of occasions because he was so fed up with the runaround that he was getting from the Teacher Training Agency. According to Mr. Ballantyne, the forms that he has to fill in for teachers seeking qualified status are 26 pages long, and even after he has gone to the trouble of completing them, officials from the Teacher Training Agency telephone him and ask for information that has already been provided. He says that the service is neither impressive nor slick, and is not what one would expect.

Mr. Wade, at the Hewett school in Norwich, told me that coping with teacher job applications more or less required the attention of a full-time senior member of staff—someone who should, of course, be preparing and teaching classes. Mr. Ballantyne told me about a female modern languages graduate who had been working at a school in a clerical capacity for seven years. She had thought for some time about becoming a teacher because of her gift with modern languages and her degree. With the school's encouragement, she applied for the requisite programme, but the Teacher Training Agency turned her down flat, with no adequate explanation, despite the fact that the school had come to know her well over several years and wanted to take her on.

The Government talk about autonomy and about trusting schools and professionals. Paragraph 1.6 of the White Paper "Schools—achieving success" lists the secondary education reforms that the Government are dedicated to achieving. They include:

"Giving successful schools the freedom they need to excel and innovate."

Paragraph 5.17 makes a similar point:

"Where schools are successful, well-led and have a record of school improvement, we want to free them from those conditions and regulatory requirements which they tell us stand in the way of yet higher standards and further innovation."

The Secretary of State makes the point again in a pamphlet published by the Social Market Foundation called "Professionalism and Trust—the future of teachers and teaching". When I first came across the Social Market Foundation, it was run by a friend of mine, who was a good Conservative, but things have moved on, and it now publishes pamphlets by Labour Cabinet Ministers. In the foreword, the Secretary of State says that the pamphlet

"signals a new era of trust in our professionals on the part of Government."

She goes on to say:

"Recruitment and most especially retention remain a real concern."

I was prompted to take an interest in this issue partly by a front-page article in The Guardian on 28 August 2001, which appeared under the headline "Teacher shortage worst ever". I then read the chief inspector's report when it was published on 5 February 2002, and it alluded to serious problems in the recruitment and retention of teachers. The single biggest problem is not recruitment but retention. Many people want to go into teaching.

I have read the recent study published by the Centre for Education and Employment Research, and I am grateful to the National Union of Teachers for supplying it. This study, entitled, "Teachers Leaving", whose authors are Smithers and Robinson, says that teachers go into the profession overwhelmingly because of the prospect of "intrinsic satisfactions". It states:

"The most important reason, accounting for about a third of all responses, was 'working with children/young people'. This was particularly the case for primary teachers who gave this as a reason. About half the secondary teachers did so. Some teachers expanded the point as 'the pleasure of seeing children learn', 'wanting to do something useful', or 'wanting to make a difference'."

In other words, people enter the profession with a strong sense of vocation. Love of the subject—the desire to convey knowledge and the excitement and pleasure of teaching the subject to young people—came second. Yet people do not stay. The study noted:

"About 12 per cent. of those admitted to PGCE courses, or reaching the final year of BEd courses, do not successfully complete. But this pales beside an inexplicable post-training wastage of over 30 per cent. Of every 100 final year students, 40 do not make it to the classroom. With the initial teacher training budget currently standing at 245 million this represents an annual loss of 100 million."

I have spoken to the National Audit Office about that shockingly huge figure. Like me, my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) is a member of the Public Accounts Committee, and I am sure that he will be as interested as I am in understanding how the Government can spend so much money on training teachers who do not stay in the profession. That raises the question of why teachers are not staying in the profession once they have entered it. The Smithers and Robinson study identifies that among secondary teachers the most frequently given reasons for leaving were work load, 57.8 per cent., pupil behaviour, 45.1 per cent. and Government initiatives, 37.2 per cent. It is interesting that salary is not mentioned in the first three. It is included in the survey—it is fourth, with 24 per cent.—but it is clear that money is not the main motivating issue. Issues such as work load, pupil behaviour and Government initiatives are far more important.

I am again grateful to the NUT, which supplied with me a copy of a study by the Warwick institute of education, which quotes a teacher who said:

"I have the right to work without being abused—in industry it wouldn't be accepted, yet day after day it's now just 'part of the job'".

I was recently sent a poster by the Norfolk Mental Healthcare NHS trust. It is running a campaign called "NHS zero tolerance", saying: "Staff working in the NHS do so to care for others. They do not go to work to be victims of violence or threatening behaviour." Where are the Government schemes for the education system, highlighting the fact that teachers go to work to teach, not to be the victims of violent or threatening behaviour?

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): My hon. Friend may be interested to know that when I tried to ascertain the figures for teachers who have been assaulted either inside or outside the classroom, I was told that those figures are not collected. What does he think about that?

Mr. Bacon: It shocks me. It seems to me that there is no possibility of doing something about a problem unless one measures its scale. On the other hand, if I were speaking for the Government, which fortunately I am not, I would probably say that the numbers are so scary that it is best not to collect them, because they might frighten the horses, and even fewer people would be encouraged to go into the teaching.

The recruitment and retention of teachers is a serious problem, and I have identified pupil behaviour as the single biggest problem. The current state of discipline in schools is a direct result of the policy, which the Government promoted for several years, of having targets for exclusions. It meant that fewer difficult children were excluded from schools, and as a result discipline problems increased. I am pleased to say that the Government have recognised that that policy was flawed and have reversed it. Until they take the question of discipline in schools seriously and make it clear to teachers that they are backing them, rather than pupils who are violent or disruptive, there is no serious hope of improvement. That is a sine qua non for an improved situation.

Secondly, the amount of bureaucracy, paperwork and Government initiatives must be reduced. The Government say that such paperwork is necessary. At a recent Education Question Time, I think I heard the Secretary of State say that less paper was not the answer. That shocked me, and I have also heard my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) quote a similar line from her in a recent speech. I am sure that my ears were not deceiving me. If the Government do not believe that the answer must include reducing the amount of paper and trusting teachers more, they have a long way to go before they have any chance of restoring the education system. If there were ever a time to be creative in appointing teachers, it is now. From what I have seen, and according to the teachers to whom I have talked, the Government do not seem to take that problem seriously enough.

There is one further issue that I feel that I must mention: spending. Yesterday I was flicking through last Friday's Hansard, and more or less by chance came across a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills about whether she would

"list the (a) title, (b) subject and (c) associated funding of each (i) project, (ii) scheme, (iii) initiative and (iv) policy announced by the Department for Education and Employment since 1997".

The Minister for Young People and Learning, who is here today, took it upon himself to answer the question for the Secretary of State. His answer was:

"Information is not held in the format requested"—

that will not surprise my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)—

"and generating it would incur disproportionate cost."—[Official Report, 10 April 2002; Vol. 383, c. 160W.]

It did not seem to me to be that odd to ask about the costs of each project, scheme, initiative and policy run by the Government. Without an accurate record of what is being spent and what it is being spent on, it does not seem very likely that education can be successfully managed.

I have been flicking through the appropriations accounts for the Department for 1999–2000, the most recent figures available, and some of the detail will assist my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford a little, although perhaps not quite as much as he would like. On page 8, under the headings "Class 1, Vote 1" and "Central government's own expenditure", an item is given as:

"Ensuring that all young people reach 16 with the skills, attitudes and personal qualities that will give them a secure foundation for lifelong learning, work and citizenship in a rapidly changing world".

The cost of that is given as 83.625 million. However, from the second column, one can see that the Government actually spent only 64.336 million on it. On the next page, the item of expenditure given involves:

"Developing in everyone a commitment to lifelong learning, so as to enhance their lives, improve their employability in a changing labour market and create the skills that our economy and employers need".

That was to have cost 340 million, but the Government spent only 312.967 million. And so it goes on. Mr. Syms, my hon. Friend the Member for Poole, asked about the total underspend in the Department for Education and Skills. Those figures might be one reason why the total underspend in education spending overall, both capital and current, for the most recent available year, 2000–01, was 1,454 billion.

There is degenerating discipline in schools and pupil behaviour is cited as one of the single most important reasons for teachers leaving the profession, because of the Government's flawed policy on exclusions. The Government continue to bombard teachers with paperwork, despite huge evidence that they want to be left to get on with the job and be trusted to do so—one only has to go round one's constituency and talk to teachers, as I have, to find that out. Experienced people coming in from the outside—such as people who have designed electronic control systems for nuclear submarines or who have worked for 20 years as police officers, dealing with more dangerous behaviour than one would ever hope to find in a classroom—are stymied at every turn before they are allowed to get on with the business.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I apologise for not intervening on the hon. Gentleman earlier when he was talking about Mr. Read and the Hewett school in Norfolk, but as he has returned to that subject again in winding up his speech, will he say what the Conservative party's policy is for solving the problem that he has rightly identified? It is a very real problem, but what is the solution? Is it to allow anyone to join the teaching profession simply because they have good skills and abilities? Would that qualify David Beckham, for example, to become a PE teacher?

Mr. Bacon : I certainly hope that someone who is probably one of the most valuable footballers in the world would be qualified to be a PE teacher—subject to his foot being healed, for which we are all, of course, praying. I would have thought that any school where he were a PE teacher, in either the maintained or the independent sector, would have substantially higher applications as a result.

To answer the hon. Gentleman's more serious and general point, plainly one does not want to take simply anyone off the street—but the danger is that we have almost been in that position. Another facet of the issue is that so many higher education institutions are now keen to get Government funding that they are offering education degrees in the hope of attracting students who might not have made it on to any other degree course.

In a recent conversation that I had with a head teacher in my constituency, I asked where he was getting his teacher applications from. He said that he was lucky if he got a decent number to select from, and that when candidates come through the door, he, like other heads in a similar position, is more or less obliged to insist on watching them teach a lesson. That is because it is no longer possible to establish on the basis of the recommendation and reference that comes from the institution attended—in many cases, an institution of which one has not heard—that someone has undertaken a reputable teacher training programme and can be relied on, either as a teaching practice candidate or as a full-time employee.

The situation has got much worse. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) is right to say that it requires much thought. Taking people from industry and other backgrounds, such as the police service, is not the only answer. However, that is almost certainly part of the answer. People with much experience of life have a lot to impart. My personal view is that people should not seek to become teachers, even if they have a vocation for it, until they are in their late 20s. I worked as a teacher for seven months, which I did not do until I was 29. I worked in East Berlin, teaching East German factory workers just after the Berlin wall came down. I am sure that I was better at doing that in my late 20s than I would have been at 21, just out of university.

Part of the answer is finding people from other backgrounds, but we should also ensure that people who have a vocation for teaching and obtain a teacher training qualification actually then choose to go into teaching, because they see it as an attractive profession rather than one from which they are scared off because they are likely to be attacked, abused or have low professional status.

Teaching is one of the most important professions in this country. It should be one of the first careers that bright graduates from the best universities should consider. That is not the case at the moment. The Government's present policies mean that it is not likely to be the case, either, and it is about time they woke up to the seriousness of the situation and started to do something about it.
 


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