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Mr. Enright : I am talking about choice, which the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton mentioned in moving his amendment. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I, for example, had no choice about the fact that the insurance company to which I was signed up contributed to the Economic League. To suggest, therefore, that students have some choice is wrong.
What is even worse is that the amendment should be proposed at a time when, as the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) suggested, students are genuinely suffering. Students in my constituency need the NUS and the solidarity--I use that word unashamedly--of that organisation to get by. The National Westminster bank has shown that one in three students is thinking of leaving. That is certainly true in my area. As hon. Members know, as from next September, 30 per cent. of the grant will be cut from students
Mr. Enright : I am suggesting that unless we have the solidarity of the NUS, which the amendment seeks to destroy in pettifogging fashion, a number of my constituents will suffer severely. I should like to outline those difficulties to show how they suffer. If, Madam Deputy Speaker, you rule that that is out of order, I shall sit down, but that is the purport of what I am trying to do.
The people in my constituency cannot be supported by their parents. One in three of the men are out of work and are seeking work.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sorry, but that goes far beyond the scope of the amendment. We are dealing with fairly narrow points. This is one single amendment and I fear that it will not bear the amount of weight that the hon. Gentleman seeks to put on it. I now call Mr. Graham Riddick.
Mr. Riddick : Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall attempt to speak to the amendment. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), with whom I have always got on perfectly well, has not done himself any favours this evening. I suppose that it was mildly amusing when he ran through my history and my curriculum vitae in Committee, but it is not very funny the second time round.
The hon. Gentleman was talking about the National Union of Students, but I do not believe that my hon. Friend
Column 396the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) so much as mentioned that body once during his speech. In fact, the amendment does not affect the National Union of Students to any great extent. Neither my hon. Friend nor I say that students should not be allowed to belong to the NUS. If they want to belong, of course they can. That is what we stand for ; we believe in choice. The hon. Member for Hemsworth was somewhat off beam, but perhaps he is a bit off form today ; perhaps this is a bad day for him. We shall put his performance down to that.
Hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee will remember that I initiated a debate on the practicality of the students' new-found freedom to choose whether to belong to a student union. I am pleased that the Bill introduces the element of choice to student unions, so that students who do not wish to belong can choose not to do so.
In my view it has always been nonsensical that young people who wish to study at institutions of higher education have had to belong to student unions, especially as some of those unions have done and said the most ridiculous and extreme things in the name of all students
The original Bill, which gave students the opportunity to opt into student union membership, provided genuine choice, but sadly the House of Lords had other ideas. Because we now have a different approach to the Bill, I shall argue that there is a case for allowing students to have a rebate of fees. That is what the amendment is about. We must ensure that the principle of voluntary membership is meaningful, and that students have a genuine choice. Under the current provisions of the Bill, they may not have such a choice. My hon. Friend the Minister will remember that we had a debate about whether students who have opted out should continue to have access to the facilities provided by student unions. He could not accept my amendment, which would have set that principle in tablets of stone.
Mr. Gunnell : The hon. Gentleman has already commented on the view of the clause taken by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. Does he not agree that the amendment would add yet more detail to what is already an extremely detailed clause ? It is already 124 lines long, even before we add the amendment and lengthen it even further. The CVCP described the clause as otiose and unworkable. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that paying back subscriptions halfway through the year would add more unworkable detail ? Does he not agree with the CVCP that there is already an awful lot of administration involved in universities, without adding further administrative details in a clause that does nothing worth while ?
Mr. Riddick : I should have thought that it had become clear that I do not altogether agree with the approach of the Committee of Vice- Chancellors and Principals. The amendment is fairly small, and I think that it would fit into the Bill rather well, actually.
Column 397I was about to argue that if the Bill does not say that all students will have access to the facilities of the student union even if they opt out, the amendment offers an alternative approach, whereby any student who opts out would receive a proportion of the money paid by his institution to the union on his behalf. At the moment the problem is that, when a student opts out, he not only opts out of what he probably wanted to opt out of--the political campaigning activities of the union--but forfeits his right to use the student union facilities.
Mr. Don Foster : Following the logic of his argument, does the hon. Gentleman agree that a student who opts out of attending lectures should be entitled to a fee rebate for the lecture course, and that a student who opts out of using the library should get a rebate, too ?
Mr. Riddick : I suppose that that is the sort of stupid intervention that one would expect from the Liberal Democrats. The sums paid by institutions to student unions vary significantly from institution to institution. If the money were paid to the student who opted out that would provide a tangible gain for him. Indeed, a fees rebate would mean that a student's choice whether to leave the student union would be based on a reasoned judgment of whether he could get better value from other student bodies or outside bodies, as well as on issues of conscience. Certainly it would give the student unions a real incentive to retain student membership --and they could do that by providing good-quality services and by being more responsible and representative.
Therefore, if students opt out of student union membership, either they should receive the proportion of the fee paid to the union by the institution on their behalf, or alternatively, if the money continues to be paid to the union, they should be permitted continued access to the union facilities.
If the Minister cannot accept the amendment I hope that he will spell out clearly the fact that the Government expect student unions to allow students who opt out of union membership to continue to use the facilities. Indeed, we made some good progress on that point in Committee, because several Labour Members went so far as to agree with that. It is important that my hon. Friend the Minister, and perhaps the Opposition spokesman, will reinforce that point again. The amendment is about giving genuine choice to students, and I hope that my hon. Friend will give a positive response.
Mr. Bryan Davies : That it should come to this : that the carnivores of the Conservative right wing should be reduced to tabling an amendment as meek and mild as this, trying to attack student unions on the basis of some concept about rebates. I may add that Conservative Members should show a little delicacy when talking about the openness with which funds are used by significant bodies. We are all too well aware of the fact that they are members of an association, a political party, that is staggeringly coy about donations, whether given or received. One would have thought that there would have been an element of delicacy in the drafting of such an amendment.
There are several real anxieties about the amendment, and I shall put them in straightforward terms to the hon.
Column 398Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). First, I know that he is thinking of the model of the large, aggressive, politically challenging major university union, immensely damaging to Conservative interests and campaigning on education issues. But the reason why such a union may operate against Conservative interests is contained in the policies that the hon. Gentleman has supported and the Government have carried out.
I remind the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton that there are other student unions as well. For example, in further education colleges the contributions per student may be about £1.20 per year. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should put into legislation a requirement that when a student leaves a college for some reason, or withdraws from the student union, or does not participate as fully as he wishes, he will be able to claim back a fraction of that £1.20 ? Is he saying that the institution would have to set up some machinery whereby that fraction of £1.20 should be refunded ? Of course not. It is ludicrous nonsense and it reflects the fact that some Conservative Members are more concerned with indulging their ideological predispositions than with looking at the reality of education. What kind of organisations do Conservative Members belong to or can they reflect upon which can budget easily on the basis of people being able to withdraw their subscriptions over part of a year ? It would be extremely difficult for most organisations to cope with that if they were anything like significant employers. Many student unions have quite large turnovers and employ professional staff. How would they cope if there were a withdrawal of a substantial amount of resources midway through the year ?
It should be recognised that, of course, the student union grant is a block grant for all facilities. Although the student may wish to withdraw himself from certain functions of the student union, the amendment's intentions would be extremely difficult to implement when that student still had access to services provided by the student union, such as heating and lighting of a building, health and safety provisions, insurance, and so on. How would it be possible for an institution to prevent some students from benefiting in part from some of the generalised services, while seeking to refund them for services which they no longer accept ?
I shall address the following point to the Minister as well. I have no doubt that the model that the Government have in mind in this aspect of the Bill is a group of people of political principle who decide that the student union has pursued an action which they no longer wish to support and the Government deem that such groups ought to have the democratic right to withdraw. We all respect such a model because it has a democratic concept behind it.
The worry is that, apart from people withdrawing from the student union on such political grounds, we may see minority groups of students withdrawing for a whole range of different reasons. Obviously, there are many ethnic minorities in our student bodies. They may want to withdraw from the student union on the grounds that it provides certain facilities which they would like to see provided in a slightly different way. They might want more no-smoking areas or areas where people could be quiet, or provision to be made for a particular diet in the refectory. If the student union fails to provide such facilities, the Bill puts an obligation on the institution to make good any deficit.
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I ask the Minister to consider that point seriously, because there are anxieties that higher education institutions will have burdens placed on them as a result of opting out by students, which have not been envisaged up to now--certainly not in the arguments put forward by the Minister. That shows how difficult this part of the Bill is. Therefore, if the Minister accepts the complicating, unhelpful amendment moved by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton and, somewhat predictably, supported by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), he will be piling additional burdens on an area of the Bill that I and many people involved in education to a much greater extent than I am already foresee leading to untold trouble for our institutions in ways that the Government have not recognised.
Mr. Boswell : This has been an interesting debate, which has enabled us to clarify a number of issues of principle and of detailed application of the proposed legislation. I should let the House know at the outset that I do not propose to advise my hon. Friends to accept the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), although I understand the spirit and sentiment in which he has moved it. I shall outline the ways in which we are addressing his concerns and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) in a moment.
I shall deal first with the comments made by Opposition Members. Frankly, the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) was somewhat below his best. He was particularly ungracious in his remarks about the Secretary of State and somewhat hysterical in his remarks about the general position of students.
No one is pretending that everything in the garden is lovely for students or that they have ample and huge funds. Of course that is not the case. Nevertheless, the real value of the package available to them is maintained year by year in terms of what they have to spend while they are students. Moreover, when one measures the drop-out rate on an objective basis, one sees that it is not generally increasing. I should add that for the past four years we have included the access funds as well. That is immensely useful in meeting the concerns of students who are in difficulties. The funds are administered by the institutions.
The hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Davies) gave tongue to his concerns and, understandably, expressed his personal anxieties about the amendment. He talked about the various types of provision and the wide range of facilities offered by student unions from the large, professionally staffed ones to those that are run on a shoestring, perhaps in further education colleges. The hon. Gentleman could have given the example of an Oxford or Cambridge junior common room. We acknowledge that there is a wide range of provision.
The hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton invented, perhaps, a Government model and suggested that we saw a group of politically motivated persons, or people not necessarily motivated by any other sentiment than dissatisfaction with their union, exercising their right of choice and opting out. The hon. Gentleman argued against that and said that there could be a series of principled withdrawals to force changes of provision or to avail those concerned of the provisions of the clause.
The anti-discrimination or unfair disadvantage provisions that we debated in Committee are exactly what they
Column 400are set out to be. They are directed to institutions or unions which set things up in a way that creates an unfair disadvantage for students. These provisions enable a group of students to claim that they are being unfairly disadvantaged. They do not prescribe that there should be exact equivalence. The hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton knows that elsewhere in the Bill we have provided that institutions are required to give details of the services that they offer, both through the student union channel and outside it. It should be possible, therefore, to make an informed choice. I have followed some of the speculation that has ensued and I seek to convince the House that it is somewhat alarmist. I assure the hon. Gentleman, if I did not make it clear earlier, that we have received a number of comments from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. It is my intention to reply to the committee's letter and my reply will be on the record by the time those in another place complete their consideration of the Bill.
I assure my hon. Friends that I understand the sentiments underlying the amendment to which they spoke. It is important in principle that students who choose not to belong to a union should not have to pay for services that they do not receive. They should not have to pay for the cake, as it were, and not receive the biscuit.
The Government have given an undertaking that public funding from which institutions provide services to students will not be altered or reduced on account of the reforms set out in the Bill. Institutions need that funding to maintain services for opted-out students.
It might be for the convenience of the House if I mention briefly the various channels--the audit trail, as it were--along which public money flows and makes its way through the system. The moneys come from the Government to the funding council. They move from the funding council to the institution and onwards to the student union. At no stage is there an earmarked amount of Government funds for the student union. Nor is such funding contingent on a particular level of union membership.
When we reach the levels of the institution and the student union, there is an intermingling of private sources of funds, which must be taken into account. As has been said, an institution may typically give a block grant to a student union without earmarking it, for example, as £X to the rugby club, £Y for the debating society, and so forth. It is a highly unhypothecated system and we would not seek to intervene in the process.
Having said that, however, I agree with my hon. Friends that the right to choose whether to belong to a student union is central to our student union reforms. It was on the front of the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a year ago. It requires--and we are determined to ensure that it achieves--a real choice. Indeed, that is exactly the point in respect of which my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton led his amendment. It is no good just talking about the voluntary principle : there must be a real exercise of choice. That must mean that those who decide not to join the union must not face such a loss or disadvantage as to render it a hollow option. We therefore amended the Bill to ensure that there would be no unfair disadvantage as a result of making that choice. There are bound to be differences between union and non-union members. For example, students who opt out cannot expect to take part in elections. We explored that point in Committee. Opting out cannot be cost-free.
Column 401However, students should be able to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of membership, with due transparency, knowing what they will get and without fear of discrimination or loss of access to important services.
We have already discussed with the representative bodies the importance of ensuring that services remain available to non-members. To underpin that, we have confirmed that institutional budgets will not be reduced on account of the number of students opting out. We have also discussed with those representative bodies the principle--and this relates closely to the amendment--of fair treatment of self-financing students who opt out, and the institutions understand that point.
Where self-financing students opt out, but continue to receive services through the union, institutions will need to decide whether a reduced fee, in proportion to any reduction in services, would be fair and appropriate. We do not think that it is appropriate to require the diversion of money used at present to provide services for all in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton suggests. We believe that that is too prescriptive. It is also a little too negative.
From the discussions that we have had and the assurances that we have received, we expect that institutions will wish to continue to provide services for all students, including those who opt out. They may be provided in several ways, either separately or on an agency arrangement through the student union. However, we expect institutions to continue to provide those services and they will therefore need to retain the funds in their hands to ensure that those services are maintained.
We believe in a real principle of choice and I am at one with my hon. Friends in that regard. That is extremely important. We believe in non- discrimination and fairness in the way matters operate. We believe in transparency so that people know where they are. We understand from the institutions their readiness to continue to provide services for all students, with the qualifications that I have given, but on the basis of non-discrimination or unfair disadvantage.
Mr. Bryan Davies : May we be clear about this ? I understand that where it can be readily identified that funds have been reserved because students have opted out, a deduction can be made from the contribution to the student union. However, there will clearly be a loss of economies of scale. It will be extremely difficult to quantify and to separate certain services in those terms. Will institutions therefore be able to look to the Government for supplementary resources to take account of the fact that the grant saved will be insufficient to make up for the deficit in facilities that will occur ?
Mr. Boswell : I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's seductive premise, nor his conclusion. In most cases, as I have already said, institutions wish to continue the services. We have received that set of assurances from the institutions, so the point about economies of scale would probably not arise in practice. On the hon. Gentleman's conceptual point, I have already made it clear that this is not hypothecated money. Any particular needs of institutions at any one time will be considered on their
Column 402merits by the respective funding councils in the light of the resources that we make available to that funding council. I can give the hon. Gentleman no clearer assurance than that.
We expect the services to continue. We believe in the principle of a free, real and transparent choice. For those reasons, although I fully understand the spirit in which my hon. Friend moved the amendment, I invite him to withdraw it, as we are not able to accept it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Order for Third Reading read.
I commend the Bill to the House for its very clear merits. Part I establishes a specialist agency to facilitate teacher training, with very clear and commendable objectives, which are set out in clause 1, to contribute to raising the standards of teaching, to promote teaching as a career, to improve the quality and efficiency of all routes into the teaching profession, and to secure the involvement of schools in all courses and programmes for the initial training of school teachers.
Only those blinded by prejudice or, perhaps, crippled by excess conservatism, could suggest that such a body will be anything other than a force for good in such an important sector. We believe unashamedly in the concept of a specialist, dedicated body with a specific remit to raise quality and standards in teacher training, and we will deliver it through the Bill.
On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) said that the Opposition would focus on school-centred training in later debates. My word, in that respect alone she was certainly right. Most effort in Committee was spent by the Opposition on a stubborn defence of the right of universities to hold the ring on teacher training--in effect, to decide whom to let in as competitors to their own provision. We tried hard to convince the Opposition that our purpose was to provide a measure of choice and diversity. We did not seek to subvert higher education provision of teacher education. We seek to provide an alternative which will be judged on its merits and will be accredited by the same body.
This House has made very clear on Second Reading, in Committee and today its views about our concept. It has endorsed the principles of choice and diversity within a framework of high quality, as now reflected in the Bill. It could not accept the unclear words that were added to the Bill in another place, and it also chose not to accept any of the many alternatives that were offered by Opposition Members with the same purpose of, in effect, compelling the participation of higher education in school-centred initial teacher training. We have no objection to its involvement ; but we do not compel it to take place. That has been the substance of the matter, although it was only briefly touched upon.
Inevitably, the Committee stage, which was good-natured, highlighted a number of different and interesting perspectives on the provision of teacher education. Many of us will have enjoyed hon. Members' contributions, and I hope that we have learnt something from them. On the
Column 403whole, it has been a valuable and good- natured series of discussions, even if we were unshakeable, as we felt we should be, on the main principle which I have discussed.
In the relatively long hours of a Committee stage, it is usually possible to find out a number of points about the Opposition's policies. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is not possible at the Dispatch Box to question the Opposition about the conduct of their policies from time to time. I was slightly disappointed with the responses of the hon. Member for Dewsbury and her hon. Friends. In spite of our questioning, we did not hear whether she supported the boycott of tests by one out of six teacher unions. We were hoping to hear about that but we did not. Can the hon. Lady tell us now ?
Mr. Boswell : Indeed. I was extremely interested in a number of other issues that were not raised in Committee, such as grant-maintained schools and specialised teacher assistance, which come within the concerns of quality and choice in teacher training. It is interesting--and I give due credit to Opposition Members--that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) did not turn up during our considerations today, despite his emphasis on education. He expressed a certain interest in teacher assistance, which I thought was coming at least a little bit our way on that matter. I shall be strictly fair to the hon. Gentleman. We agreed on one point which was entirely germane to the Bill, and it came out clearly from it. He said that he welcomed the proposal--as I do--by the National Union of Students to seek charitable status. I hope that that proposal-- painfully slow as it always is, because it must be painstaking--will proceed. That will be a positive gain from the Bill, as will the detailed provisions of the student union clauses we have been discussing.
For the most part, I felt that on the central issue of teacher training, we all aspire to securing quality, but we must find practical means and effective delivery to ensure that we get it. The hon. Lady and her colleagues showed only the splendour of unreconstructedness.
Part II of the Bill secures much greater accountability in the working of student unions and real choice about whether they can join, should join or choose to join those bodies. Those sound principles are not the subject of dispute. The Bill includes a good and workable method of putting them into practice, precisely in line with the objectives and principles that my right hon. Friend set out last year.
In part II, we have a structure which was introduced with common consent in another place. It provides a framework of good practice for universities and colleges to implement without bureaucratic interference from the centre ; and each in its own appropriate way. We have in this place made some improvements which are designed to ensure that the choice for students on whether to belong is
Column 404real and, as promised before the Bill left another place, to enhance the information provisions to increase transparency. Put simply, I believe that the Bill should pass into law as soon as possible to allow its full benefits of extending choice and raising quality to be realised. I hope that those in another place will be able swiftly to endorse the amendments that this House has made in the spirit of greater choice and accountability, in which they were clearly intended.
Mrs. Ann Taylor : We should welcome back the late Secretary of State, who clearly could not be bothered to turn up for much of the debate. Perhaps that is not surprising because he does not know the Bill well, not having served on the Committee. It would have been interesting to hear his swansong this evening, but it was not to be. I shall take up a point made by the Minister when he said that we concentrated most of our attention in Committee on part I of the Bill. That is true. I intend to concentrate most of my brief remarks this evening on part I as well, because I regard it as the most important part of the Bill and, in a sense, because I am charitable by nature and do not want to add to the humiliation of Ministers, especially when they have already been reminded of the rhetoric about student unions which has been used by the Secretary of State on other occasions. Perhaps the Secretary of State has suffered sufficient humiliation recently without our repeating some of his more extravagant statements from the Tory conference.
Unfortunately, the Secretary of State missed the comments of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), to whom I shall certainly give way.
Mr. Riddick : A significant number of teachers who are members of the National Union of Teachers will be directly affected by part I of the Bill. Will the hon. Lady join me in urging those NUT members to stop their boycott of tests ?
Mrs. Taylor : Even the hon. Gentleman's intervention is too contrived to be in order on this occasion. Perhaps he would be interested in reminding his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of what he said earlier, while his right hon. Friend was absent. The hon. Member was reminding us that part II of the Bill was a long way from "the spirit" of the original Bill. He said that by way of complaint. Opposition Members very much welcome that change in the Bill, however. This is one occasion on which the other place did a very good job of improving legislation that was seriously flawed. In the very brief time that I wish to take, I shall remind the Minister of some of the questions that are still important and which he should be reminded of before the Bill is granted its final passage through this House.
First, I should repeat what Opposition Members said in the Standing Committees on other education Bills. It is wrong when quango after quango is appointed by the Secretary of State alone, and that situation cannot continue. I say that as a shadow Secretary of State, as one who would very much like to sit on the Government Benches, and as one who would not always want the Secretary of State's powers to be curtailed.
Column 405We really need a system that is not so open to political abuse. The system that we have suggested, in which members of national educational quangos would be approved by the Select Committee on Education, is one which a serious Government and people who are seriously interested in democracy ought to take further.
Secondly, on the pace of change, the Secretary of State once said that change in education should be evolutionary and not revolutionary. During the past two years, as far as I can see, he has done nothing to ensure that that is the case. We have had rapid change on rapid change, which is causing serious concerns in education, as is the fact that the Government are going ahead with this legislation before the results of the pilot scheme have been announced.
Other specific questions were not answered in Committee and were not touched on today, such as the European validity of the qualifications that prospective teachers will get from courses. That is an extremely important question and one which Ministers ought to be willing to answer, for the sake of the prospective students. Also, the Minister never told us why the Government are taking these first steps to deprofessionalise teaching, when other Ministers are moving in the opposite direction, for example with nursing. The central consideration must be quality--whether any of the measures in the Bill will improve, or have the potential to damage, the quality of teachers. Our concerns remain. They have not been dealt with adequately throughout our debates on the Bill. The Minister said that we were stubborn in our defence of universities, but that is not the case. We are stubborn in our defence of the principle of partnership. Teachers should have both higher education and practical experience. In Committee, both Ministers frequently praised that partnership, and it should be an essential part of the provision. The principle of partnership should therefore be incorporated in the Bill.
Ministers have heard on other occasions the information about schemes that have been tried in the recent past. Mention was made this evening of the role of OFSTED. Ministers will recall the OFSTED report on the articled teacher scheme, which said that the degree of inconsistency in the scheme was more evident than in conventional postgraduate certificate of education courses.
That potential for inconsistency, a reduction in quality and a patchiness-- with qualifications that do not mean what the students might think they mean--are at the heart of our concerns about the Bill. Ministers have said that we have not provided all of the solutions. Perhaps a Bill that starts off in a confrontational way without a proper consultation and which is rushed through is not one that is open to much constructive amendment. We did attempt constructive amendment, and we tried to concentrate on quality issues.
We tried to resolve the dilemma that Government Members often seem to face of not being quite sure whether they think most teachers are rubbish or are doing a good job. We saw that dilemma with the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins), who was somewhat scathing in many of his comments.
From Second Reading onwards, we have suggested many of the issues that should be developed and looked at with regard to teacher education. The need for a core
Column 406curriculum and the issue of special educational needs were discussed, and there should be--I think that there could be--cross-party agreement on what is needed for prospective teachers. We talked about the need for better induction, better support teachers and more in-service training.
Ministers seemed to have fixed minds from the start. We got the impression in Committee that the Ministers saw the merits of many of our arguments and, left to their own devices, might have been able to come up with some modest amendments which could have improved the Bill. The Bill could damage teacher education in this country seriously, and could thereby damage the educational opportunities for our children.
I end by reminding the House of what the Secretary of State said on another occasion. He said that if we legislate in haste, we can repent at leisure. The Secretary of State may have a lot of leisure for his repentance, but, in the meantime, our children's education could be damaged.
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport) : The Bill came from the Lords to the House of Commons in a tattered state with bits taken off it. It staggered through Committee and tonight it has come to us for its final stages here. The two Ministers tonight--the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the education world--have not only been singularly unconvincing but also singularly unconvinced in what they told the House.
I asked myself tonight whether I would buy a used car from either of the two Ministers. They wax lyrical about the vehicle of change which they have presented in the Bill, but I would not buy a Ford Anglia from those guys. They have sold us a horse and cart from the monitorial age, and we have teacher training which comes from the "learning at Nelly's knee" syndrome.
Like so many of the Government's education policies and so many other Tory policies, the measure was spawned by denigrating, destroying and undermining all that is good at the moment. The Government create a climate in which almost any change and policy put forward can be accepted. We know where the policies come from. They come from the Centre for Policy Studies and from the pen of Sheila Lawlor, and that is how the Bill has come to pass.
It was spawned in response to the sort of scare stories that we heard from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady O. Maitland), whom I notice has been very much absent from this debate. Here we have a solution to the problem of teacher education that is still looking for the problem.
Where is the massive support for this proposal ? I have travelled around the country with the Select Committee on Education, and one sight that I have not seen is parents marching with banners reading "We want more students clogging up our children's classes." Let us consider one or two of the practicalities of the Bill. Opposition Members want broad-based teacher education : we believe that all teachers need practical experience, but that experience should be gained in several schools. Many students are currently trained in only one or two. We also believe that their education should be underpinned by theory, and placed in a context of knowledge.
A good teacher training course should include some element of the history of education, and provide knowledge of how children learn and an understanding of
Column 407the social context in which they live. Moreover--as the Secretary of State will doubtless agree--student teachers should learn about the national curriculum, testing and many of the other measures introduced by the Government.
How will the Teacher Training Agency and the new teacher training scheme work ? The Select Committee--and no doubt other hon. Members who have visited schools around the country--encountered a common criticism. The expression that we heard so often from heads and governors was "innovation overload" : because too many changes and new ideas had been imposed at the same time, teachers had been bogged down with paperwork and bureaucracy-- ticking forms, filling in boxes and dealing with the shifting ground of an ever-changing national curriculum, sometimes with poor facilities. On top of that, they are having to write courses for teacher trainees.
If individual schools, or clusters of schools, are to take on groups of students, what is to be the critical mass ? Will it be 10, 12 or 15 students ? If the scheme is to be cost-effective, there must be a critical mass. I think that it must be between 10 and 15. Even in a large comprehensive with as many as 80 or 100 staff, the addition of 15 students would impose a considerable burden ; most large schools would not take on more than three or four at any one time, because of the disruption involved. I need not remind the Minister that one of the reasons why Harrow school left the partnership scheme was the disruption that it anticipated. If a large comprehensive will not be able to cope, how will a large primary school with perhaps 20 teachers cope ? How will a small primary with six or seven teachers deal with perhaps a similar number of students at the same time ? As with so many of the Government's Bills and policies, no consideration has been given to the way in which the proposals will work in the classroom.
I know what many parents will feel about the Bill. They want their children to be taught by well motivated, highly skilled teachers ; they want those teachers to spend their time with the children in the classroom. What they do not want is for the school to be full of students so that teachers spend their time helping those students. The most serious contradiction in the Bill is the fact that Tory Members have constantly criticised teacher training and trendy ideas during the 1960s and those teachers who, supposedly, conspired to lower standards, yet the Bill gives the job of training new teachers to the alleged villains of the piece.
The Bill is seriously flawed. It has little support in schools and no support among parents. The only glimmer of light in the gloom is that few schools will take it on because it is totally unworkable. 9.40 pm