Sharon spoke in a debate in the House of Commons called by Labour on the value of having qualified teachers in schools.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): It is the second time this year that I have risen to welcome an intervention from the Deputy Prime Minister. First, I welcomed his intervention on child care ratios, and now I welcome his support of Labour’s position on teacher training. I admit that I have a newfound appreciation of him. Alas, it may not last. Of course, that means the poor Schools Minister is in the unenviable position of defending the policy, but he will be unable to defend it without being on the wrong side of his party leader—I think I have that the right way around.
Even more baffling than the political acrobatics being performed by the Lib Dems is the fact that, in 2013, we are having a debate in Parliament about whether we want the people who teach our children to be trained to do so. Anyone who last week watched the last episode of “Educating Yorkshire” will, after drying their eyes as I did, have been left in little doubt about the value of a great teacher, particularly when it comes to getting the best out of the children who face the greatest barriers to learning. Seeing Mr Burton try everything he could to unlock the ability of Musharaf Asghar to complete his English language oral exam—he eventually succeeded—was inspirational. Mr Burton was able to do that not because he knows a lot about poetry, although I am sure he does, but because he knows a lot about pedagogy. That is the thing about the best teachers: they know how to teach the class in front of them—every individual child or young person, with the myriad challenges they each face—rather than just the subject matter.
The Secretary of State is undoubtedly a man of great accomplishment with an impressive academic record but, with respect, I would not want him teaching my children. That is nothing personal. If a Nobel prize winner cannot manage behaviour in a class, and if they cannot tailor their teaching to the strengths and weaknesses of each person in their class, their presence is little better than giving a child a textbook and telling them to go away and read it. Schools are not universities, and teachers are not lecturers. Schools and schoolteachers must be there for every child, not just for the most academically gifted or self-motivated.
I have always thought that teachers perhaps do not get enough training on supporting the one in five children who have special educational needs, either through their initial qualification or their continuous professional development. For the Education Secretary to argue that someone who has had no training is a suitable person to unlock learning for those children is therefore incomprehensible to me.
Andrew Percy: Will the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs Hodgson: I am sorry—I cannot because of time.
I refer the Secretary of State to Ofsted’s report on the Al-Madinah school, which found that children with special educational needs and disabilities were particularly failed by the school, which did not identify them or provide tailored support, leaving them to struggle.
The Government’s position is not even consistent, because they insist that some members of staff in academies and free schools need QTS—special educational needs co-ordinators. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), who has responsibility for children—he is not in his place—snuck that one, in his wisdom, past the Secretary of State when he was drawing up the new SEN code of practice. I, for one, am pleased he did so.
I wanted to raise a couple of other issues but time will probably run out. In a Westminster Hall debate last week, I described in greater detail the deep concerns among universities, not least the university of Sunderland, about the impact that the roll-out of School Direct is having on the future sustainability of teacher training courses. That is not just another financial hit on universities; it is a question of whether we will lose the capacity to train the number of teachers we need. Some universities are already considering closing courses or losing experienced staff. The Schools Minister was perhaps more concerned with avoiding explaining his party’s flip-flopping last week, so I hope he can address the issue in his closing remarks today.
I want to raise a final point as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on art, craft and design in education. Despite the fact that the creative sector is a burgeoning part of our economy and one of our fastest growing exports, just 358 initial teacher education places were allocated for art and design teachers in this academic year, compared with just short of 600 places in 2009. That is much fewer than for the vast majority of other subjects.
I have more to say, but time has run out, so I will leave it there.