Teacher recruitment a focus in House of Commons before parliament recess

24th July 2023

Education ministers took departmental questions in the House of Commons this week. Shadow Education Secretary, Bridget Philipson MP, asked about the settling of the strikes and disputes over pay.

Philipson said that the refusal of the Government to talks had created needless and avoidable disruption. The Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, defended her record since coming to office in October last year. She said she had delivered an extra £2 billion to schools, additional childcare for families, and now has delivered a funded pay rise to teachers following recommendations from the School Teachers Review Body.

Following this, Philipson moved on to Labour’s own proposals to end tax breaks on private schools. She cited the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ recent research, which said these proposals would raise up to £1.5 billion. Philipson said this money would be used for 6,500 new expert teachers and better mental health support for all our young people.

The Secretary of State said that Labour’s policies were the politics of envy, and would do nothing to drive up standards. Also citing the IFS report, Keegan added that there were still a lot of uncertainties around the estimates.

Persistent absences

Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robin Walker MP, asked what the DfE was doing to tackle persistent absences. Gillian Keegan listed the series of actions already taken to improve attendance, such as rolling out the daily attendance data tool, launching the attendance action alliance group, and expanding attendance hub support. She acknowledged that while more needs to be done, these actions had led to 350,000 fewer persistently absent pupils from the summer term last year to spring this year.

The Select Committee is currently holding an inquiry into persistent absences, and Schools North East has submitted written evidence which can be read here.

Recruitment and retention

North East Labour MPs Grahame Morris (Easington) and Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) both asked about recruitment and retention. The Education Secretary again responded by referring to the funding delivered to schools. In accepting the pay review body’s recommendations in full of a 6.5% pay increase, school teachers would be receiving their largest pay awards for 30 years.

Keegan also said that a workload taskforce had been set up, and that an additional £185 million in 2023-24 and £285 million in 2024-25 was being invested into the further education sector, where there are additional challenges on recruitment and retention.

Teaching assistants

Elsewhere in parliament this week, a Westminster Hall debate was held in response to a petition on teaching assistants and their wages. The debate was opened by Labour MP for Gower, Tonia Antoniazzi. She argued that the role played by TAs is not fully understood by the Government.

Antoniazzi highlighted the role they play in tackling inequalities and improving attainment, especially for those pupils who are falling behind, or who have additional special learning or mental health needs or behavioural issues. She also noted the post-pandemic challenge, with the Covid period having ‘remade’ the teaching assistant role, and that these changes were likely to be long lasting.

Select Committee chair Robin Walker MP spoke about the particular importance of TAs in special schools, and the challenges it creates for these settings in funding. He said that successive Governments, when they have funded teachers’ pay, have not provided the same support for teaching assistants’ pay.

Minister for Schools Nick Gibb MP spoke on behalf of the Government. He argued that the DfE does recognise the valuable part played by TAs in the school workforce, and said that there is currently a generous offer on the table for employees covered by local government pay scales.

The Select Committee is currently holding an inquiry into recruitment and retention, and Schools North East have submitted written evidence which can be read here.

Maths to 18

Finally, the Education Select Committee held an accountability session, questioning Nick Gibb MP on the Government’s proposals to make maths compulsory to 18. Robin Walker asked what the overall objectives were in pursuing this policy.

Nick Gibb said that since 2010, there had been a range of successful pre-16 reforms in maths. The Conservatives, Gibb said, had reformed the content of the curriculum at primary schools, using an evidence base and international examples. Maths hubs had also been established to share best practice. These reforms, he argued, had led to rising standards in SATs, and improved the UK’s position in international league tables. On maths post-16, the minister said that Britain was an outlier, despite the high returns for both the economy and individuals compulsory maths post-16 can bring.

Robin Walker said that the reason we are an outlier is because our system allows for greater choice and specialisation. He asked if maths to 18 would be a departure from this approach.

The schools minister said that pre-16, schools have a broad curriculum and that this was supported by the Ebacc, to raise take up of a language. Post-16 sees a narrowing of the curriculum by allowing students to specialise, and Nick Gibb didn’t think the inclusion of maths would change this. He said a range of maths qualifications are already on offer, and they would be looking at how they can meet the range of abilities of students.