Education Matters: Minister Defends Teaching Standards; Last Thursday the Post Reported on Concerns about Birmingham's Track Record for Teenagers Going on to Study at University. Higher Education Minister Alan Johnson Rebuts the Criticisms and Defends the Government's Record on Student Funding

Article excerpt

Byline: Alan Johnson

I was shocked and disappointed by the headline Minister attacks quality of teaching (18/3/04). This couldn't be further from the truth. I fully appreciate the efforts of teachers in Birmingham to do the best for their students through high quality teaching and by encouraging their pupils to consider the benefits of higher education.

Ofsted has described Birmingham LEA as 'very effective' and one of a very small number of LEAs which stand as an example to all others of what can be done, even in the most demanding urban environments.

Since 1997 the attainment of pupils in Birmingham has risen at almost all levels, nearly three times faster than the national average.

The Aimhigher campaign has a particular focus on reaching young people from families and communities who do not have a tradition of entering higher education, providing invaluable information about the benefits of higher education.

GCSE results for pupils in Aimhigher areas are improving at more than twice the rate of pupils in other areas. I am thrilled by this progress, but must emphasise this could not have been achieved without the support of teachers, whom we depend upon to raise the aspirations of their pupils.

I am aware that some student leaders feel that variable fees are likely to deter students from going to university.

We are introducing a support package which is more generous than it has been for decades, so there is no reason for any student from any background to be deterred.

From 2006, we are proposing to introduce a new upfront nonrepayable maintenance grant of up to pounds 2,700 a year and expect around 50-55 per cent of all full time students to benefit from some, or all of this grant.

Upfront fees will be abolished from 2006 under our proposals, so neither parent nor student will have to pay anything until the student has graduated and is earning more than pounds 15,000. …