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Employment Protection (Amendment)

3.31 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) rose -- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Will hon. Members leave quietly, please ? I am sure that the hon. Member can project his voice.

Mr. Banks : Thank you, Madam Speaker. I am sure I can.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prevent discrimination in employment against persons solely on grounds that they are overweight.

In historical terms, one of the most sympathetic supporters of such a Bill might have been Julius Caesar, because, according to Shakespeare, Caesar liked fat men. In act I, scene II of "Julius Caesar", Shakespeare has him say :

"Let me have men about me that are fat ; Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o'nights ; Yond' Cassius has a lean and hungry look ; He thinks too much : such men are dangerous."

The Prime Minister would do well to heed Caesar's words. Of course, his choice of Parliamentary Private Secretary follows the emperor's formula. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) has left the Chamber, but he is certainly fat and sleek-headed--and no one could accuse him of thinking too much. However, yond' right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) has that lean and hungry look, and probably never stops thinking about leadership. Caesar would certainly have marked him out as a dangerous man--and I suspect that the Prime Minister would tend to agree.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) suggested during Prime Minister's questions that, if the Prime Minister could now identify which member of his Cabinet would play Brutus, he might yet avoid having his back turned into a knife rack come the ides of November.

Caesar may have preferred to surround himself with fat people, but many employers in this country are prejudiced against them. There are problems of definition as to what constitutes overweight. Measurement of appropriate size by reference to height lacks precision. At best, it provides only rough estimates. A person's body weight is determined by a number of factors, including genetics, metabolism and dieting history.

Appropriate--that is, attractive--size is usually decided in cultural terms, and women especially are subjected to impossible cultural pressures. If the ideal female shape is deemed to be that of a Naomi Campbell, a Kate Moss or a Stephanie Seymour, clearly the overwhelming majority of the female population will fail the test. Predictably, it is men who provide the definition, and women who are expected to conform to it.

The obsession with being thin, and thinness being equated with attractiveness, seems to be a western phenomenon, and one of fairly recent vintage. In many other societies, being fat is associated with desirability and status. In this country, and in the United States, fat people are often thought of as indisciplined, unappealing, lazy and probably suffering from some psychological problem.

With such pressures on people, is it any wonder that the diet industries on both sides of the Atlantic have become

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multi-billion dollar businesses ? What a con many of those diets are. Tomorrow, 4 May, is International No Diet Day, with a lobby of Parliament among many other activities in Britain and abroad. On such a day, it would be well worth reminding ourselves that about 95 to 98 per cent. of all diets fail over three years. The remarkable thing is that dieters blame themselves for the failure rather than the diet. The truth is that people in the country are getting fatter, and shapes are changing. It is estimated that about half the male population are overweight, compared with 39 per cent. in 1980. The proportion of overweight women has increased from 32 to 40 per cent. The average Briton today is not only broader, but about 10 mm taller than his or her counterpart of a decade ago.

Some businesses are taking those challenges into account. London Transport has done just that with the design of the new Central line tubes, where seats have an average weight allowance per person of 74 kg, compared with 65 kg seven years ago. For more than a decade, aircraft weight has been calculated using an average of 78 kg for each male passenger and 68 kg for women. Now, British Airways is designing seats that will cope with the broader bottoms and longer legs.

Although airlines may use seat size as part of their positive advertising campaigns--they will say that they can seat larger passengers--it is a different story when it comes to the recruitment of their staff. As part of the background to the issue, I asked my American intern to call Virgin Airways to see what policy it had in respect of size. She told Virgin that she was 5 ft 8 in tall and that she weighed 11 stone, which is a normal size as far as I am concerned.

In response, she was told that, at 5 ft 8 in, she had to weigh in between 8 stone 9 lb and 10 stone 6 lb. When she asked why, the Virgin spokeswoman said that they at Virgin had an image to keep up and that they only liked to hire young, thin men and women. When my intern protested that she was very athletic and in good shape, she was told again that she would have to lose weight. Virgin informed her that, in any case, it only offered a certain size of uniform and that she would not fit into it--[ Laughter. ] It sounds like a laughing matter, but that excuse has been used before. For example, Berni Inns was taken to the Equal Opportunities Commission for adopting a similar stand by introducing a maximum uniform size. Berni Inns has dropped that policy, but such discriminatory practices are clearly in evidence in industry. There have been a number of other cases when jobs have been refused to people who are considered overweight, such as in the national health service and by British Rail. Another recent case occurred when a couple in South Glamorgan were rejected as foster parents because of their size.

Although employers rarely admit it, fat people are often passed over for more attractive, thinner people. Employers come up with a number of reasons why they should take thinner people. They say that it is because of the demands of the job or because it is a health matter. However, there is definitely a hidden agenda. Fat people are considered to be unattractive, and employers want to avoid employing them whenever they can.

While it is considered entirely appropriate to have legislation against discrimination on the grounds of race and sex, there are no laws dealing explicitly with the rights of employers to discriminate on the basis of looks. What protection there is comes under the anti-race, anti-sex

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discrimination laws. Most jobs that lay down maximum size are wrong to do so and, in many cases, such size discrimination is entirely unjustified.

Of course, the trouble is that many of those who are discriminated against are loth to complain, which adds to the problem of there being no specific legislation on the statute book to protect them. My Bill would plug the gap. Personally, I like voluptuousness. Dawn French did a splendid programme on "The South Bank Show" recently, extolling the virtues of Rubenesque women. Most fat people I know are naturally jolly and kind, and are only made unhappy and guilty by what is considered the tyranny of thin people and fashion. If the Prime Minister thinks about these matters for a bit, he could strike a blow for fat people and do himself a big favour into the bargain. Those he described recently and famously as bastards in his Cabinet--we take them as being the Home Secretary, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Secretary of State for Wales--are all thin and exceedingly mean men.

The Prime Minister should sack them instantly and promote the likes of the hon. Members for Crawley (Mr. Soames), who is presently the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) and for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens). He should then express his gratitude for the advice by allowing time on the Floor of the House for my Bill. Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tony Banks, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Ms Dawn Primarolo, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Ms Diane Abbott and Mr. Harry Cohen.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : They are all thin.

Mr. Banks : Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to join us. After all, she qualifies.

Employment Protection (Amendment)

Mr. Tony Banks accordingly presented a Bill to prevent discrimination in employment against persons solely on grounds that they are overweight : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 10 June, and to be printed. [Bill 101.]

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Points of Order

3.41 pm

Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I recently tabled a written question to the Secretary of State for Health. I asked her to provide an estimate of the number of children who are placed in unregistrable children's homes. The right hon. Lady's response was that such information was not separately identifiable in figures available centrally. In fact, the information is identifiable in those figures under code 98 of the returns that local authorities are asked to make to the Department of Health. I could understand the Secretary of State's response if she had included "easily" in her answer, but she merely used "not". The right hon. Lady's answer is a matter of some concern. Many hon. Members are concerned about the placement of children in unregistrable homes, and it is a sensitive issue. I appeal to you, Madam Speaker, to request the Secretary of State to pass the relevant information to the House.

Madam Speaker : The hon. Lady will be aware that I am not responsible for answers given by Ministers. However, those on the Treasury Bench have heard the hon. Lady's point of order, and no doubt it will be passed on to the appropriate quarter.

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Orders of the Day

Education Bill [ Lords ]

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker : It will not come as a surprise to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) to hear that I have not selected the amendment standing in his name.

3.42 pm

The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I approach this debate on the Bill, with its important provisions on teacher training and student affairs, with relish. I welcome every opportunity to take forward the Government's vital programme of education reforms. I particularly welcome this one, coming as it does on the day marking the 15th anniversary of Conservative government, and also the first day of the next 15 years of Conservative government.

I offer Opposition Members a few moments to reflect on a few of their past campaigns, as they think about what to say in this debate. They have campaigned in the past against the national curriculum, local management of schools, performance tables, school tests, school inspections and now, of course, grant-maintained schools. They were all hard-fought battles over proposals which we were told were "unworkable", "unfair" or "unacceptable".

What better evidence could we have of the lack of vision that pervades the Opposition Benches ? All these reforms are now becoming accepted parts of the education scene ; and there is every evidence that they are doing just what we intended--levering up standards for children in our schools, challenging schools to do better and working together to enlighten parents, pupils and teachers and raise their expectations of what our young can achieve. They help our children to do better and to work harder, as they are--hard work is good for children--helped by hard-working teachers, to whom all of us in the House should be grateful. I certainly am.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that many of Labour's campaigns in the past 15 years have been against the incompetence of successive Secretaries of State for Education ? Will he confirm that the average tenure of office of each of those incumbents--all of whose photographs appear in the anteroom to the Secretary of State's offices--is two years ? Does he agree that that suggests that our campaigns have been pretty successful in getting rid of Secretaries of State ? Does he acknowledge that his time is up ?

Mr. Patten : There is a handsome run of photographs--both in black and white and in colour. When I eventually leave my post in a good number of years' time, I think that I shall have a sepia photograph. Most attitudes towards education were, until recently, essentially producer- driven.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that part of the educational scene to which he referred is the unremitting, relentless and consistent opposition of the National Union of Teachers to our

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reforms ? Is it not true that that opposition by the NUT has been consistently endorsed by the Opposition Front-Bench team ?

Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend speaks with great authority as someone who has taken a formidable interest in education in the House since 1979. He had a most distinguished period as a noteworthy reforming Education Minister. He is absolutely right--the NUT has opposed at every twist and turn, and wherever it can, educational reform over the past 15 years.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) has also been twisting and turning, and successive people have failed to get her to say publicly whether she is in favour or against present NUT action. She did so most notably a couple of weekends ago, when even Mr. Vincent Hanna, having done his best, could not persuade her to say more than the immortal words that she was neither supporting the NUT nor opposing the NUT.

If the hon. Lady wants me to give way now so that she can explain, I shall do so. I do not think that she wants me to give way so that she can explain her position.

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury) rose

Mr. Patten : I am delighted to see that she does.

Mrs. Taylor : I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, and am happy to help him to delay the start of our discussion of the tatty Bill that we are supposed to be discussing today. The Secretary of State knows that the NUT action is not the problem--the problem lies in the difficulties created by the Secretary of State with the national curriculum and testing arrangements that are still experimental. If only the Secretary of State would stop to listen and take notice of advisers, the education system in this country would not be in the position that it is in today.

Mr. Patten : We are clearly in murky water. I always give way when my hon. Friends want me to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) introduced an important topic that is connected to the standards of teaching and teacher training in this country. The hon. Member for Dewsbury quite properly declares her sponsorship by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which supports the present tests that are already being conducted in so many of our schools. All I can divine from what the hon. Lady said--trying to do so is a murky business--is that, despite the fact that the union that supports her in this place supports the tests, she supports the NUT's sporadic boycott of testing. If she wishes to contradict me, I shall give way ; if she does not rise to do so, we can only accept that she supports the NUT's action. I shall happily give way to the hon. Lady. She does not seem to want me to do so. Most attitudes to education were, until recently, essentially producer-driven. They focused on the inputs of money, buildings and numbers of pupils into the education system. We now focus on the outputs--what is produced, and what pupils and teachers achieve in schools. We are establishing a new settlement around the reforms that will be just as lasting as the settlement achieved by the Butler reforms, whose 50th anniversary we are celebrating this week. There are four important ways in which our reforms have a direct and positive effect on the quality and outcomes of education in this country. First, they increase

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the accountability of schools and colleges, vastly extending the information available to teachers, parents, students and others. Secondly, they encourage well-informed choice among a much greater diversity of institutions and courses. Thirdly, they are opening up wider participation in education beyond compulsory schooling. Finally, they are tackling quality and standards directly through the national curriculum, which gives pupils, parents and teachers clear national benchmarks for performance, and through regular tests of progress leading to rigorous and reliable qualifications at 16 and beyond. Apparently, that is not supported by the hon. Member for Dewsbury, although it is apparently supported by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). In a notable debate last Monday, I recall the hon. Gentleman saying that he was amazed by, and concerned about, what he heard at the NUT conference which he attended. He had every reason to be amazed and concerned. I salute his bravery, and his introduction of open government to the Labour Benches.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : Surely the real test of the effectiveness of socialist education must lie in the fact that the 10 worst local education authorities in the country are all Labour-controlled, save for the Liberal Democrats who hold Tower Hamlets, and who are now rated third.

Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is absolutely and precisely right, as she always is. I know that she shares my views about teacher training.

Part I of the Bill will help us to bring those four levers to bear in a vital area--improving teacher training. Our reforms--some have criticised us for not starting here 15 years ago--will be driven by the need for higher standards, informed by greater diversity and choice.

In our drive for higher standards, we have always recognised the key role of the teacher. I quote :

"In education, the role of the teacher is central. For every child, high standards of achievement depend on the skill and dedication of individual teachers. It is therefore essential to ensure a continuing supply of high quality entrants to the profession."

I am quoting from the first paragraph of my proposals for the reform of teacher training, which we are considering in the Bill. Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) rose

Mr. Patten : I give way to my hon. Friend with pleasure.

Mr. Beggs : I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Does he recognise the increasing concern of parents, especially those with children who are perceived to require special education ? Can he give an assurance that more teacher training will be directed at enabling teachers to cope better with children who are perceived to suffer from dyslexia ?

Mr. Patten : Special educational needs have come a long way with the assent of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I accept the good advice that we have received from both sides of the House since the hon. Gentleman and I first met in Larne when he was the mayor and I was the most junior Minister in the Northern Ireland Office. A lot has happened since those days in the mid-1980s to improve the lot of children, including those with dyslexia. It is fashionable to attack in this place. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman.

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I also pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools who, over the past two years, has pioneered the most massive reform in special education and help for children with educational needs.

The success of all our reforms depends on teachers working hard to put them into effect. Current pressures--from essential education reforms and wider social changes--challenge even the best teachers. It is because we care about the profession and its standards that we have brought forward the Bill--to set the seal on a whole raft of improvements now in hand, bringing to an end a programme of legislation that began in 1988, and putting in place the last vital piece of the jigsaw of educational reform.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that teachers and lecturers who teach teachers to teach have been too far removed from the classroom for too long, and have failed intending teachers in a way that the Bill addresses centrally--by relating the training of teachers to those who are currently teaching successfully ? Will the Bill not be useful in improving the educational performance of children in future years ?

Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend speaks with the authority of someone who was a distinguished deputy headmaster for a considerable period. For a long time now, people have recognised that what my hon. Friend says is right. Indeed, in the best higher education institutions and universities, that has also been recognised for a long time, and they have been putting it into effect. To borrow a hackneyed phrase, we want to bring the rest up to the standards of the best. Over the past couple of years, much has already been achieved on teacher training.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) : The Secretary of State makes the important point that this is the last piece in the jigsaw, and that he does not intend any new legislation on education. Does he accept that many of us are extremely concerned by the fact that all the preceding legislation has stripped so much power from local government and put it in his hands that he has no need for new legislation ?

Mr. Patten : Since 1988, we have been busily engaged in moving power and influence from the hub of the wheel in Whitehall to the rim of the wheel, giving power to parents, individuals, communities and businesses. In that, we have been much helped by teachers and by the new inspection system. I was sorry to learn in the press this morning that in East Anglia, of all places--in Cambridgeshire--the Liberal party is quoted as being totally against OFSTED and the new inspection regime. That was said in an interview, some footsteps of which reached me this morning. I am sure that that causes considerable concern in OFSTED.

In the past two years, we have set out new and rigorous standards for the practice, knowledge and practical skills that all new teachers must have. During that period, we have also ensured that students will have to spend more time in the classroom and less time in the lecture hall. We are taking training closer to the chalk face and out of the ivory silo. New teachers must be ready from day one to meet the new challenges of the classroom.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) : The Secretary of State has spoken several times about the changes to teacher training in the past two or three years. Does he not think

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that it is time to reflect on those changes and see what their effect will be before introducing further legislation to make more changes ?

Mr. Patten : The network of changes made since 1988 have to be regarded as dependent on one another, and teacher training reform is the last part of that network of changes.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth) : Has my right hon. Friend any evidence to cast doubt on the competence of teachers when they leave training colleges ? For example, what is their competence in teaching reading ?

Mr. Patten : We have laid down that primary teachers must spend more time learning to teach the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. OFSTED, the independent schools inspectorate, found that nearly half--46 per cent. to be precise--of all new primary teachers felt ill-prepared to teach reading. That was not an inspection judgment which could be open to dispute, but what new teachers themselves reported. They had spent four years doing a BEd degree or following similar courses and, alas, 46 per cent. of them felt unable to teach reading properly. That sort of thing must be put right urgently. It is not a matter of ideology or politics : we need much better quality control.

We have also increased diversity of courses and providers, most notably by breaking up the old monopoly and allowing groups of schools themselves, if they wish, to take charge of postgraduate teacher training. I stress "postgraduate teacher training". There are now more than 200 postgraduate students on school-centred courses of that kind. Today I announced the approval of six more consortia. Needless to say, some are in Essex, and some are in London and in the midlands. That means that, next year, there will be about 450 students in 15 consortia involving more than 80 schools throughout the country--in inner-city areas as well as leafy suburbs. I applaud the willingness of schools facing other challenges to face this role. It was schools, such as some in Kent which are already undertaking this sort of postgraduate teacher training, that first persuaded me by sending representatives to tell me that they wanted to do that. That drove this change of policy, which came from the grass roots, from teachers themselves. It was not a bright idea from a think tank or one that was parachuted in from a Whitehall desk.

Those schools do that because they are confident that their staff and pupils, as well as the profession as a whole, will benefit from bringing good professional practice and teacher training even closer together. That is what drives them.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon) : My right hon. Friend referred to the challenges that schools are facing. Among those challenges is the movement towards the integration of pupils with special educational needs in mainstream education. Does he accept that that development implies an ever higher degree of skill in relation to special needs on the part of all teachers ?

Does he correspondingly accept that it is most unlikely that individual schools will be able to devise adequate training programmes, and that it really should remain a

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requirement that training in special educational needs should be carried out in conjunction with institutions of higher education ? If that applies in relation to initial teacher training, it is more emphatically necessary where specialist training is concerned. Will my right hon. Friend reflect on that ?

Mr. Patten : Of course I will. My hon. Friend is yet another distinguished previous Under-Secretary of State for Education. He knows a great deal about these issues, and he speaks with notable authority, in his own constituency and elsewhere.

It is absolutely right that we must make sure that young teachers and those of later years, such as those of our age who are entering the profession, get training in the skills they need, whether it is teaching children to read, or in the difficult area of special educational needs where so much has been achieved, as the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) generously recognised.

The Teacher Training Agency will be in a position to accredit courses--that is, give permission for courses to be carried out, whether they are in a higher education institution or a school--only if they meet my published criteria--the criteria of the holder of my office, the Secretary of State for Education. Those criteria must include--this point will obviously be debated in Committee--proper attention to special educational needs.

It is of interest to me to note that those schools or groups of schools which are already carrying out postgraduate teacher training are showing particular interest in the needs of children in that category. I welcome what my hon. Friend has said.

Many of our very recent reforms in teacher education in the past two years have been welcomed. Indeed, their success has been used by some as an argument against any further action, rather as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) argued in her intervention. They fail to realise that the Bill will give us a streamlined framework to underpin those reforms. It will also give them added impetus, by bringing together activities now carried out by as many as four different bodies--the Department for Education, the Higher Education Funding Council, the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education and the teaching as a career unit. The last two of those bodies will be abolished under our reforms ; there will therefore be a reduction in the number of public bodies involved. The Teacher Training Agency will be very much more than a funding body. [Interruption.] I give way to my new ally from Plaid Cymru, who wants to see grant-maintained schools in Wales.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : With friends like that, who needs enemies ? I wanted to ask particularly about the unit concerned with the promotion of teaching as a career. Will its functions in Wales go to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales or to the Teacher Training Agency ? I very much hope that it is to the former.

Mr. Patten : To the best of my knowledge, it is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, as are all matters over Offa's Dyke, but, as far as I know, it will be going to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

The new teacher training authority will be very much more than a funding body. It will take forward policies

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across the four areas I mentioned. It will increase accountability by ensuring good public information about all teacher training courses, and it will hold providers to account for their standards, whether they are higher education institutions for undergraduate training or higher education institutions and schools for postgraduate training.

It will increase choice and diversity by funding a range of high-quality providers and courses. It will increase participation by promoting teaching as a career and encouraging new types of courses to attract good candidates from different backgrounds, in particular industry. I would like more men and woman of mature age who have industrial and commercial experience to move into teaching. That is why I welcome very much the approval of the CBI for the proposals in the Bill. It is right behind them, and I understand why.

The teacher training authority will also increase quality in standards by using OFSTED advice to ensure that all courses meet national criteria and use evidence of quality to inform its funding decisions. The courses that produce the best teachers will have the first claim on resources. Therefore, the teacher training authority will be looking not only at whether the courses meet the Secretary of State's criteria, but at whether they represent good value for money, and quite right too. We want good, value-for-money, high-quality courses.

Characteristically unable, as always since 1992, to mount an effective action on the intellectual arguments for the new agency, the Opposition have fallen back on their usual tactic of undisguised scaremongering.

We value the contribution of high-quality higher education courses. The Opposition have attacked on that front, despite the clear assurances and clarifications of my noble Friend the Minister of State, Baroness Blatch, in another place--clarification of our intention to limit schools to providing postgraduate courses only, and clarification that all teacher training courses will be at degree or postgraduate level, all of which we are happy to see on the face of the Bill.

Mr. Harry Greenway : As the Teacher Training Agency will have such an important evaluation responsibility, will my right hon. Friend say a little more than has so far been said, in the other place anyhow, about who will be running it, if he can--or anyway, about how it will be run and what sort of people he thinks will be taking executive decisions ?

Mr. Patten : The distinguished chairman and members of the board will be supported by a chief executive and a small administrative staff. They will rely on the advice of the independent inspectorate, OFSTED, which has already commenced a rigorous examination of primary teacher training courses in a number of higher education institutions.

I envisage that, when the Teacher Training Agency is set up and in action, we shall want to compose a domesday book of the standards, or not, of all the teacher training institutions around the country. I do not wish to see any teacher training institution accredited, according to my criteria, to offer teacher training unless it is offering high-quality training at affordable prices, giving good value for money. Therefore, we shall take the opportunity

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to take a once-for-all look across the board at what is being done in higher education institutions, and I hope that that will be welcomed by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) : I know that my right hon. Friend is aware--I hope he is--of the strong demand and support for the idea of a staff college for head teachers, deputy heads and other senior teachers. Would it be appropriate for such a college, when it is introduced --I hope that it will be--to be funded through the Teacher Training Agency ?

Mr. Patten : I am still considering with my right hon. and hon. Friends in my Department and elsewhere the possibilities of better management training for heads and deputy heads, and aspiring heads and deputy heads. That is important. Such training has not necessarily always been done well enough in the past and when the time is right we shall be making an announcement.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not press me any further this afternoon about that. However, he is welcome to press the hon. Member for Dewsbury. As I understand it, it is becoming fashionable for Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen not to give way to interventions any more. They prefer not to, for fear they may say something that might be construed as a policy commitment that costs money.

It used to be different in the days of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). We used to have real debates in those days, but not any more. Good luck to my hon. Friend in dealing with the hon. Member for Dewsbury later.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for being so responsive to so many interventions and questions. Before he leaves the point on teacher training, can he give the House a fuller idea of the way in which he intends to strike a balance between too much training being done in institutions of higher education and too much training being done in schools ? My right hon. Friend will be well aware that I have close connections with Kingston university, representatives of which went to see my noble Friend Baroness Blatch about higher education institutions being too much removed from training. That is one end of it. But the other end is that my right hon. Friend will be aware that parents may be alarmed at too many student teachers being brought into schools and children being subjected to too much teaching of teachers going on in front of them.

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