Previous Section Home Page

Column 674

Mr. Pickthall : I shall not give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I am not trying to be discourteous, but I know that a couple of my hon. Friends want to speak, so I shall finish as rapidly as I can.

The partnerships achieved so far represent the response of institutions, students and schools to the perceived need for more class-based teaching. They are based on people's experience and day-to-day expertise. The Government seek to stop all that, and to impose the idiocy of Lawlorism, regardless of the consequences. Teacher education should be about partnerships and consortia, in which higher education must play a major part. Such partnerships have to grow and be negotiated--they cannot be forced.

Legislation should be enabling and fostering, not destructive, as the Bill is. It should ensure higher status for newly qualified teachers, the best quality of subject acquisition, a variety of experience in different schools--my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) talked about that--access on a daily basis to research-quality libraries and to technology and collaboration with peers and tutors, as well as the maximum possible classroom experience. The Bill is designed to achieve only the last of those aims and it does so only for reasons of dogma.

The Bill is based on a Grand Old Duke of York policy, for surely, having marched that nonsense up to the top of the hill, the Government, if they have the time, will have to march it back down again.

9.11 pm

Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport) : What a pleasure it is to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall), who spoke so powerfully, with good sense based on experience. We have not heard much of that from Conservative Members.

The Bill was conceived in prejudice, spawned in rhetoric at Tory party conferences, and born in ignorance. What a pity that it was only half strangled in the other place before it came to us. It has been driven by dogma masquerading as raising standards. So here we are, picking over the remains of the Bill after its mauling in another place. I hope that, despite what the Secretary of State said, some of the chunks bitten off it in another place will not be replaced by means of a whipped vote here.

There is no question but that good teachers are a prerequisite for the good education of children. The right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) took us on a stroll down memory lane--but my experience was somewhat different from his. He was right to say that some of the emergency trained teachers were excellent, but equally some of them were not very good. In my experience, some of the best people who have come into schools in recent years are those who have taken either a university degree followed by a PGCE course or a four-year BEd course. Those are the people who have provided real quality in teaching in our schools.

I shall limit my brief comments to part I, which deals with the training of postgraduate teachers. The Secretary of State talked about raising the standards of teachers, and I have no quarrel with that. If we can find ways of doing that, I shall agree with them. The Secretary of State then said that 46 per cent. of teachers are not able to teach reading properly when they leave college. If any of the new

Column 675

proposals were to address the task of putting some of those shortcomings right, we on the Labour Benches would be voting for them.

The Bill contains a number of curious contradictions. It will remove the responsibility from those who know what they are doing and place it in the hands of those who do not know. It is little wonder that we are getting things wrong--or the Government, at least, are getting it wrong--if we consider the comments of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) and the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), who is not in his place at the moment. The hon. Lady was talking about teacher training colleges that have not existed for almost 20 years. Asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) to name one college, she named two universities instead. It is small wonder that the Government are getting things wrong when Conservative Members do not understand the basics of the subject.

The present system relies on a partnership between schools and higher education, and schools are currently very much involved in the process of teacher education. However, there are some strains on the present system, because there is sometimes a reluctance in schools to take on too many student teachers.

Even in large schools, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West pointed out, there are sometimes pressures not to take more than three or four students at a time, because of the amount of energy that that consumes of the existing teachers in the school. The main fault of the present system is that the teacher mentor role has not been properly resourced or properly funded.

We also need to consider the proposals in the context of the present situation. Schools are struggling to implement local management of schools. They are grappling with the constant change being brought about in the national curriculum. They are dealing with the testing and all the uncertainties that that has introduced, as well as with the new regime of inspection and, increasingly, they are dealing with children in schools who are challenging the authority of teachers. Many schools are barely coping with those things already, yet those very schools, which are now only just coping with all the so-called reforms that the Government are throwing at them, are being asked to do the job of training the teachers as well.

What effect will all that have on our schools ? What about those schools which will do the training ? The governors make the decision to put the proposal to the Teacher Training Agency, which then hands over that responsibility. Can the Minister, if he is listening, answer the following questions ? Will he tell us what consultation there will be with parents whose children attend those schools ? The proposals will seriously affect the children in those schools. If 10 or 15 student teachers are to be permanently taught at that school, what attention will be taken from the children there ?

The Bill will draw good teachers away from the job that they are doing in the classroom and put them into the job of teaching teachers instead. When the governors put their proposals to the Teacher Training Agency, will the Minister tell us what consultation there will be with teachers ? Teachers will need to change their contracts of work. I shall ask the Minister again : who will train the

Column 676

teachers to teach the new teachers ? Where will the funding come from ? How will we release those teachers from their schools so that they may perform that task ?

There is another inconsistency in the Bill. Originally, before the House of Lords amended it and took out the proposal, it was suggested that five to seven-year-olds would be taught by people who were barely qualified at all- -the so-called mums' army proposal. Yet part I proposes that those people, who barely have qualifications themselves, will be teaching the people who are to carry out the rest of the teaching in the school.

That seems to be quite extraordinary and the Minister ought to address that issue. How many of those training students would the Minister expect there to be in any one school ? I hear that the cost-effective number is in the region of 15, and I am trying to picture a small primary school coping with 15 students in the school, as well as all the other pupils and all the other tasks.

Is the Bill not going to create a two-tier system of schools--those that are training teachers and those that are not ? What will happen to those good schools which are presently working in co-operation with higher education institutions to train students ?

The Bill will not help the postgraduate education of students, who must have a combination of academic study and school experience, and time to reflect on that experience in a neutral place. The students must have a grounding in the art and practice of teaching, and the effective pedagogy that goes with it. They must be well prepared outside school for practice inside it.

The Bill proves that there is a danger when fantasy becomes reality, when irrational remarks made to draw applause at the Tory party conference become real, when Sheila Lawlor's guide to solving Britain's education problems goes into print, and when the reader in the Conservative club sees last week's bird-brained idea from the inebriate on the corner bar stool turn into yesterday's leader in The Sun , and wakes up to find that it is today's Government policy. That is the road to destruction of education. The Bill represents the ascendency of prejudice over good sense. It puts teacher education in reverse, and does nothing to improve children's learning. That is why we shall oppose the Bill.

9.20 pm

Mr. Bryan Davies (Oldham, Central and Royton) : I have little to say that is good of the Bill, but at least it has given us the chance to engage in an interesting and, in some respects, stimulating debate about the fundamentals of education. It is a pleasure to take up the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) and for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall), which were based on their experience in education, as opposed to some of the prejudices of Conservative Members that have been on display. What a desperate old nag the Secretary of State has entered into the legislative stakes this year. This old horse--the Bill --is running to placate the fierce right-wing challenge that the right hon. Gentleman always senses from within the Conservative party. Although he purports to come--some say that it is the reality--from a more liberal stable, his ministerial career largely belies it. So we have a legislative measure that is largely anti-student and anti-teacher. It is meant to be a brisk,

Column 677

no-nonsense populist measure that will bring the student unions, and especially the National Union of Students, to heel. It is designed to put teacher training and education into a straitjacket of classroom-based experience. If it is implemented, it will produce not educators but education technicians.

Behind the Bill is a deeply flawed philosophy, if such a ragbag of prejudices can be called a philosophy. My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport rightly identified the antecedents of the Bill. The Secretary of State is pandering to the elements in the Conservative party--they comprise a substantial number--that respond to the word "union" like the dogs responding to Pavlov's bell.

The NUS and student unions generally are to get the same harsh and restrictive treatment that has been meted out to trade unions over the past decade. Does it not dawn on Conservative Members that student unions are not trade unions ? They are very different. Their relationship to university life is integral. Universities are not teaching factories with operatives, workers and consumers. Instead, they are educational communities.

I know that the Thatcherites on the Conservative Benches say that there is no such thing as society, so how can they understand the concept of a community ? Let us remind them that, in a free society, universities, with a degree of self-government and some independence from the state, are important in our national life. It must be recognised that students are a part of that community--they do not simply attend university : they are part of it.

The philosophy behind the Bill's approach to teacher education is also desperately flawed. Who, in any part of the House, doubts the significance of classroom experience ? Who thinks that anyone was ever trained as a teacher without having classroom experience ? But how can teachers teach without an understanding of their subject and the educational principles ?

There was an interesting minor debate among Conservative Members in the early part of the debate, when three Members--the right hon. Members for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) and for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) and the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson)--wrestled with the issue of what teacher education should consist of.

From what I could discern, the right hon. Member for Brent, North believed on the whole that no training was necessary, that most teachers received gifts from God, and that one could readily identify those who were not gifted and should be booted out.

The right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden, in a thoughtful speech, spoke of the problems related to teacher training. She recognised that it was important to consider how best to train teachers and argued for classroom experience.

The hon. Member for Norwich, North argued strongly and passionately for the careful training and education of teachers, but, for the life of me, I was unable to identify whether he thought that classroom, school-based teaching alone would be sufficient.

With the Bill, the Secretary of State goes back to the 19th-century monitoring system. As the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said, the Secretary of State has returned to the education of Nicholas Nickleby. Some Conservative Members think that they can identify that teacher education went badly wrong in the 1960s and produced degrees of incompetence in the literacy of our children today.

Column 678

When I first came to the House in 1974, I was privileged to join Christopher Price, who then represented Lewisham, West, and the late Gerald Fowler, a Minister of State, in order to obtain money for a literacy programme--a minor pump-priming exercise that I am glad to say has, over the years, born substantial fruit in the development of the adult literacy movement in this country. In 1974, we were wrestling with millions of functionally illiterate people. The Government suggestion that the old forms of training and skills, and the old schools, produced a literate and numerate society is hogwash.

The Bill is a horse bred of populism and prejudice. The old nag is meant to chase around the parliamentary course once again. It has already been subject to some parliamentary scrutiny-- [Interruption.] Perhaps the Secretary of State will listen. He has undoubtedly read the proceedings from the upper House and he must have realised what an appalling race the horse ran on that first outing. We all recall that, when it arrived at the starting gate in the other place, it had already lost a portion of its intended content. The mums' army proposal had already been jettisoned even before the Bill was published. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) said, the jettisoning of that proposal was a precursor to the Government backing down on other proposals in the House of Lords.

But having then charged away on Second Reading in the upper House, the Bill ran into severe difficulties the moment that their Lordships began to consider the second part of the Bill relating to student unions and the National Union of Students. As Lord Beloff indicated, the Bill had succeeded in uniting the most reactionary

vice-chancellor with the most radical student in opposition to what was being proposed.

Not only was the NUS against the proposal ; so were

vice-chancellors and university teachers. There was also widespread opinion in the House of Lords, which was reflected among Tory Members on the Secretary of State's own Back Benches, who had already expressed their reservations about the proposal. The clause then had to be withdrawn. What we face is a compromise that is not entirely to the liking of my hon. Friends. However, we recognise gains from a largely obdurate Administration when they occur, and we intend to support the change.

As for the Secretary of State, not even his most sympathetic colleague would refer to Lord Beloff as anything but a somewhat reluctant arrival in the Labour Lobby on that occasion. I can only assume that the Secretary of State must say that he can look after his enemies, but God protect him from his friends.

The poor old Bill then staggered off into the country, and was lost from view for a couple of months while the Government scratched their heads to find out how they could make the poor horse run again at all. On the Bill's return to the upper House, it was about to be somewhat knackered again, as certain aspects of it proved unacceptable to their Lordships.

As my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) and for Lancashire, West said, the House of Lords accepted a Labour amendment. We recognise that the Government now define it as technically deficient, but nevertheless it contains the principle which the House of Lords made clear- -it does not believe that the training of teachers should be separated from higher education. Indeed, there should be no such divorce. We

Column 679

should recognise that divorcing the training of teachers from higher education would have the same impact as all divorces : it would be the children who suffered.

How easy will it be to organise such school-based courses ? At present, the Government are proceeding with the legislation against the background of an experiment which is not even half-finished. An absolutely minuscule number of students are participating in the present scheme. Harrow school is involved in the scheme. I hope that I can quote Harrow school to Tory Members as having some authority in education. It has pulled out of a partnership arrangement with the Institute of London because of the strain on senior staff of coping with students. If one of the best-resourced schools in the country finds the strain of training the next generation of teachers extremely difficult, where will the Government find willing volunteers in the hard-pressed ranks of teachers in our state schools ?

Consideration in the Lords has conferred some advantages. At least the upper House recognised that the Teacher Training Agency, which we shall subject to intense scrutiny in Committee should the Bill get a Second Reading, is obliged to restrict its research to matters directly related to its work. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said, the success of students on any course, and certainly on courses concerned with teacher education and training, depends upon adequate resources, and for more than a decade the Government have set a record in impoverishing students. The Bill received a mauling in the upper House, and even the truncated version has won few friends. Predictably, the most radical criticism on the Government side came from the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), who told the Secretary of State that he will have a rough ride on the remaining stages of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman feels that the Bill does not go far enough, and he wants to revive what the Secretary of State now regards as quite impossible--the full-blown onslaught on the National Union of Students and student unions which the Secretary of State envisaged when he set about the Bill.

Far from satisfying Conservative interests and completing a jigsaw of education, the Bill is creating a jigsaw of prejudice about the development of British education--perhaps I should say, English education, because substantial parts of the Bill do not relate to Wales or Scotland.

The Secretary of State has not delivered what his party hoped and expected. Therefore, it is no surprise that the somewhat less than benevolent influence of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) has been drifting around the Chamber, no doubt bent upon that restructuring of the parliamentary Conservative party which he alone thinks will enable it to survive.

This poor old exhausted Bill will not run well for the Secretary of State. Touchstone introduced his friend Audrey to the court in the Forest of Arden with the phrase, "A poor thing, but mine own." The Bill is a poor thing but the Secretary of State's own, but Touchstone, interesting character as he was in "As You Like It", was the fool. The Secretary of State may try to make the horse run again, but we think that he is guilty of cruelty, and that he should be relieved of his burden. His friends should put him out of his misery, and they can do that by joining us

Column 680

and voting against the Bill. That is the only humane way to ensure that the Bill disappears, and that the Secretary of State saves what little face he has left.

9.38 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education (Mr. Tim Boswell) : With the greatest charity, my only comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Davies) is that they never come back and even when they are reshod they are liable to slip a shoe and leave themselves trailing in the race.

I am delighted to deliver the winding-up speech for personal reasons as well as those of policy. My wife trained as a teacher and many members of her family and quite a sprinkling from mine were teachers in their time. I therefore have an interest, as we all should have, in the vital subjects of teacher education and teacher training. In addition, exactly 30 years ago I was president of my own student junior common room, so I know something about these matters. We carried out a free and fair election and the beaten candidate is one of my constituents.

I was for a moment persuaded of the possibility that there might be a measure of consensus in the House on the measure. I refer the House to the opening words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's blue paper on teacher training issued last autumn, from which the proposals are derived. The very first sentence stated :

"In education, the role of the teacher is central."

Indeed, it is essential. Most of us would accept that.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) almost surprised me by saying that she had one goal : to improve the quality of education. I cannot argue against her goal, although I find her means somewhat defective. She is still inexorably impaled on the crossover point of those twin searchlights which hold her fixed. One is ideological correctness and the other is vested interest. She cannot get out of it ; she is not allowed to move because it would not be correct and in any case it would upset at least one of the teacher unions. So nothing comes out of the Opposition.

Despite the blandishments of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth), we heard no clear answer on the hon. Lady's view of testing. She did not say yes, no or even "don't know". Equally, we had no condemnation from her of the remarkably stinging but entirely inappropriate if characteristic criticism from her clients--if such they be --the NUT, in relation to specialised teachers' assistants. We had nothing from the Opposition on that.

I come to such debates with one clear purpose in mind. If I had any tendency to what the theologians call doubts, I would soon lose them when I got here. If I had any worries about the Bill before I started, the Opposition would put them out of my mind.

If my hon. Friends think that the Labour party is static on these matters, the Liberal Democrats are still more so. Neither made any attempt to address the present position. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of lessons delivered by new teachers are deemed unsatisfactory, 10 per cent. of new teachers are not up to the job and many new teachers themselves admit to unhappiness and uncertainty about their central role of delivering the essential educational attainment of reading. That cannot be right. Equally, when Opposition Members whinge or cackle about our proposals for the reform of student

Column 681

unions, can they honestly say that what has happened in the past has been entirely in order and desirable, when we all know that it has not ?

In this long and interesting debate, there has been a remarkable contrast between the speeches of Opposition Members and the contributions from my right hon. and hon. Friends, which without exception have been thoughtful and positive. I should also record that they have been supportive of the Government. They reflect the reality which I concede has been expressed on both sides of the House. I give way to a fellow classicist.

Mr. Enright : While I accept that there is always party solidarity in these matters, is the Minister honestly telling the House that he agrees with every word spoken by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), whom I do not see in his place at the moment, let alone the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) in his divisive speech ?

Mr. Boswell : If the hon. Gentleman sets up an Aunt Sally, it is not surprising when it is then knocked down. We are not a monolithic party and we do not have to agree with every last word. Unlike the Opposition, however, we are united in our determination to raise educational standards.

When the hon. Gentleman interrupted me, I was about to make the bipartisan point that both sides have admitted that teaching is a complex matter. As we are on the classics, it occurred to me during the debate that the most appropriate story that I could produce to the House was the one about the former professor of classics who took his turn on the golf course. He was not very good and his caddy became exasperated with his performance and eventually said, "Well, Latin and Greek are all very well, but when you come to this game you must have a head." That is precisely the point of these proposals. That man was placing a proper emphasis on moving from the academic grounding that was necessary or desirable to the practical execution which was essential in the task.

I shall respond to the points made as far as I can and if I overlook any I will write to hon. Members. Once again, we had a vacuum in the speech of the hon. Member for Dewsbury. We had a policy-free zone. Spinning around in the vacuum only two points of interest were discernible. Yet again, we had the stale call for a general teaching council. A general teaching council as envisaged by the hon. Lady would be merely a talk shop. It would not achieve anything. Because of her ideological positioning, she is unable to suggest anything stronger than a little chat and a discussion--as though it might ever be possible to proceed by consensus in the teeth of vested interests.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), in an extremely thoughtful speech, put a much more helpful spin on a general teaching council. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has always said that he would consider the possibility of the teaching profession bringing forward a professional body to concern itself with standards in the form of a royal college of teaching, or something like that. That would be the right way to approach the matter, although I look forward to debating it again.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury, who is not paying attention at the moment, made much of one defeat by two votes that we suffered in the other place on a particular point when, frankly, their Lordships did not exactly conclude the matter, at a time when we defeated by a

Column 682

substantial majority in the other place an amendment seeking to establish a general teaching council. Yet again--the only other point that I want to select from the hon. Lady's remarks--we had the canard that schools would be forced to particpate in the teacher training proposals. I can assure the House that that is not the case. We then had a very interesting speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), in which he drew on his unmatched and unrivalled experience of running difficult schools with leadership. He taught us a few home truths and ran up a drainpipe to teach them to us.

The hon. Member for Hindburn (Mr. Pope) made a number of points. It will be the responsibility of the Teacher Training Agency to consider teacher supply. It will continue to do so based on the advice of and the general steer from the Secretary of State. That matter will continue to be looked at just as it is now. The hon. Gentleman should not confuse that with structural changes in the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold), another distinguished former Minister, specifically rejected a return to the past, but drew on that valuable past experience to emphasise the importance of teaching and delivering. As for the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), he keeps on droning away and occasionally tries to sting us, but he does not often succeed. He talks occasionally about general teaching councils and that was about all that I made of his speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North not only mentioned the general teaching council in a much more positive way, he emphasised the importance of standards and rigour. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) spoke as ever with some passion on that. Out of a speech with which I did not substantially agree, I must take the hon. Lady up on one point. All participating schools will require their student teachers to go into more than one school. That will be an essential part of the scheme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) made a characteristically trenchant and interesting speech. [Hon. Members : -- Where is he ?"] My hon. Friend advised me of the reason for his absence from the Chamber now and apologised. However, his spirit is with us. I assure my hon. Friend, in his absence, that his arguments will be carefully considered. As ever, these are not simple matters--as the Committee will discover. I look forward to debating them in detail.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) made a wide-ranging speech, although I had to be absent from the Chamber for part of it. Almost alone among Opposition Members, he is not frightened to confront the facts. I hope that that is not seen as an insult to him. The new proposals for the Open university to participate will provide some additional flexibility.

My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, spoke strongly about the Opposition's constant inability to come to terms with earlier reforms and their amazing propensity for claiming credit for reforms when they are in place. It is reform at one remove. My hon. Friend referred rather alarmingly to teacher training as having softened the brains of a generation, but it was not my hon. Friend's brains that were softened.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) spoke interestingly about the Welsh aspect. I

Column 683

will reflect on his comments and communicate them to my colleagues. It will be for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to determine the transfer of functions within Wales.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) spoke with great passion and illumination about what goes on in some of the worst boroughs in the delivery of education, and of the political correctness of some colleges of education. Despite the jeers of Opposition Members, those are the plain facts. If Opposition Members cannot see the problem, I invite them to consider it. The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) was in teacher training for 22 years, which may have been a year or two longer than he might have been. He was not able to advance a substantive argument, so proceeded by proxy--by referring to an article by a Conservative academic that is not part of the Bill. Just as there is no requirement for schools to participate in school-centred training, neither is there any requirement for individual teachers to do so. Additional resources will be made available by the agency to help make the scheme more acceptable and practical for schools. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) was, as ever, strong on the rhetoric of which he accuses others. He referred to the implications for governors. It is entirely for them to bring forward their proposals on behalf of their schools. The hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Davies) attacked proposals for the National Union of Students that we have now changed. He referred in extenso to our philosophy. That is rather like the argument about a hidden agenda. Every time somebody refers to a philosophy, I metaphorically reach for my revolver because I know that the Opposition cannot have read the Bill and followed the arguments. We have no hidden agenda for driving higher education out of teacher training. We do not wish to force schools to assume responsibilities that they do not want. If we had a hidden agenda, we would not have provided in the Bill that students on training courses must be on degree courses or already be graduates. Many of our teachers are not, but all new teachers will be--except for the specific exceptions of licensed and overseas teachers.

At present, we approve every individual course of teacher training at every university and college of higher education. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also approves and directly funds all school-centred courses. He can choose whatever rate he wants for that work. He has exactly adopted a level playing field between them. The hon. Member may be interested to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State currently has the power to pursue any agenda that he wants. In a mood of characteristic humility and self-denial, however, he proposes to relinquish those sweeping powers in favour of a new and independent agency with an open and positive agenda. That agenda is set out in clause 1 of the Bill, and I invite the House to reflect on the agency's objectives : to raise the standards of teaching ; to promote teaching as a career ; to improve the quality and efficiency of all routes into teaching ; and to secure the involvement of schools in all courses and programmes for the initial training of school teachers.

Column 684

Are there any sinister motives in that ? Are there any in the additional requirement that the agency should ensure that teachers are able to promote the aims of education set out in clause 1 of the Education Reform Act 1988 ? There are not. There is nothing in the Bill about driving out higher education or forcing schools to take on training.

Mrs. Anne Campbell : Does the Minister agree that one of the things that teachers find difficult in today's schools is the total lack of morale brought about by too many Government reforms ? Does he feel that the Teacher Training Agency will do anything to improve that ?

Mr. Boswell : I urge the hon. Lady to visit some schools and ask them. There are some very positive attitudes. If there is any problem, it is with some of the disinformation that is flying around. I hope that what I put on the record will help to disabuse the hon. Lady of that.

We believe in equal treatment of schools and higher education providers. We believe in a focused agency to take over

Mr. Don Foster : Will the Minister give way ?

Mr. Boswell : This will be the last intervention.

Mr. Foster : On equality between schools and teacher training institutions, can the Minister give us an estimate of the number of students under the postgraduate certificate of education scheme who are likely to go into the school-based only system, and tell us whether he believes that the average unit cost for the two types of training will be the same, or will it be different ?

Mr. Boswell : I am not prepared to give an estimate of what may happen in the next year or two. That will depend on the readiness of schools to come forward. The agency is charged with securing both quality and value for money. I simply cannot see why the proposals should be seen as a threat.

Equally, I cannot see why our proposals on student unions should be seen as a threat. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his statement last July, we believe in a firm foundation of principle for our reforms : choice, democracy and accountability, and the subordinate principle of the avoidance of victimisation. Those are now being debated in another place.

Our measures will ensure that students have power over the union, rather than the other way round. Student unions can focus on their primary role, which is to look after students, and not to promote the political objectives and careers of a few committed individuals. I remind the House that the old Adam is still around in colleges of education and student unions. For example :

"Within a psychosemiotic framework the shared reading lesson is viewed as an ideological construct where events are played out . . . children need to learn to opposition themselves in three interlocking contexts".

I thought that they were supposed to be learning to read and write.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam referred to those who dared to use the word "caveman" being marked down for not using the term "caveperson". All the cavepersons are on the Opposition Benches. It is nearly as bad with student unions. I went to visit a university and was greeted thus : "Picket. Big mistake. We are going to insist that one or two hundred students are ready to great you."

Column 685

"Join the picket, get your face on the telly and have some fun! Demand,"

among other things

"the withdrawal of the threat of voluntary membership." What have they to be frightened of ?

The Bill is a further reforming measure, taking its place with pride and confidence alongside those great reforming measures that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State catalogued. We will establish a Teacher Training Agency. We will make student union membership voluntary. We will promote proper behaviour by student unions within a framework of democracy and accountability and within the bounds of charity law.

I commend these reforms, and the Bill that takes them forward, to the House.

Question put , That the Bill be now read a Second time : The House divided : Ayes 299, Noes 244.

Division No. 228] [10 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)

Aitken, Jonathan

Alexander, Richard

Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)

Amess, David

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)

Ashby, David

Aspinwall, Jack

Atkins, Robert

Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)

Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)

Baldry, Tony

Banks, Matthew (Southport)

Banks, Robert (Harrogate)

Bates, Michael

Batiste, Spencer

Beggs, Roy

Bellingham, Henry

Bendall, Vivian

Beresford, Sir Paul

Biffen, Rt Hon John

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Body, Sir Richard

Bonsor, Sir Nicholas

Booth, Hartley

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)

Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia

Bowden, Andrew

Bowis, John

Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes

Brandreth, Gyles

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Graham

Brooke, Rt Hon Peter

Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)

Browning, Mrs. Angela

Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)

Budgen, Nicholas

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butcher, John

Butler, Peter

Carlisle, John (Luton North)

Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Cash, William

Clappison, James

Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coe, Sebastian

Colvin, Michael

Congdon, David

Conway, Derek

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cope, Rt Hon Sir John

Couchman, James

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)

Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Deva, Nirj Joseph

Devlin, Tim

Dickens, Geoffrey

Dorrell, Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Duncan, Alan

Duncan-Smith, Iain

Dunn, Bob

Durant, Sir Anthony

Dykes, Hugh

Elletson, Harold

Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)

Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)

Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)

Evans, Roger (Monmouth)

Evennett, David

Faber, David

Fabricant, Michael

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)

Fishburn, Dudley

Forman, Nigel

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Forth, Eric

Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman

Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)

Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)

Freeman, Rt Hon Roger

French, Douglas

Fry, Sir Peter

Gale, Roger

Gallie, Phil

Gardiner, Sir George

Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan

Garnier, Edward

Gill, Christopher

Gillan, Cheryl

Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair

Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles

Gorman, Mrs Teresa

Gorst, John

Next Section

  Home Page