Children, Schools and Families Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Laws: I feel that we are making a bit of progress. Proposed paragraph (b) in the amendment says that before taking action, the Secretary of State should receive advice that supports the planned actions. Is the Minister prepared to go that far? I would be satisfied and reassured to a large extent, if, before such draconian action was taken, there was not only consultation with the local authority, but discussions with a body such as Ofsted to ratify the Secretary of State’s judgment.
Mr. Coaker: It seems that we are dancing on the head of a pin. If it reassures the hon. Gentleman, I will say that, in such circumstances, I would expect the Secretary of State to obtain advice and information from a whole range of bodies, starting with the local authority, and then to consult others, which might include Ofsted and the SIP. At the end of the day, the Secretary of State should have the power to direct something to happen in a local area when—this will be in a very, very small number of cases—the local authority is not fulfilling its responsibilities. Following that reassurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Laws: I feel a bit more reassured. I am not suggesting that there are not circumstances in extremis in which such powers might need to be exercised, and I am pleased that the Minister says that local authorities will be consulted. When he says that he expects such things to happen, he is talking about how he would conduct himself as a Minister, but we are legislating for future Governments who might behave in a totally irrational way, and who might, for political reasons, want to be seen to be making some sort of draconian intervention, even when that is not ratified by Ofsted, which has the expertise to judge whether the intervention is necessary. That was why I wanted to tease out that point.
Mr. Coaker: Of course in the first instance, before we direct, we may ask for action to be considered—as an intermediate step first, if that helps. As I said, we are dancing on the head of a pin.
Mr. Laws: I accept that, but we might not be dancing on the head of a pin if there has been a lot of consultation with the local authority, if the local authority has a clear view that a school is improving—it might have taken recent action—and if Ofsted takes the view that the school is improving and has taken the relevant action. However, a Secretary of State, who might be of a different political party to the local authority, could decide that he or she wished to override those two judgments. In that specific circumstance, we would have concerns. However, the Minister has at least acknowledged that he—the Government—would not wish to do that under the circumstances I have set out, so with that very modest triumph, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 23

Licence to practise
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment 336, in clause 23, page 22, line 22, at end insert—
‘(2A) Regulations under subsection (2) may only be made after consulting with the Council.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 204, in clause 23, page 23, line 43, at end add—
‘(3) (1) None of the measures set out in subsection (1) and (2) shall come into effect until the Secretary of State has commissioned an independent report into—
(a) the most effective ways of improving continuous professional development for teachers, and
(b) any necessary changes in the system of performance management for teachers.
(2) The Independent Report must be informed by consultation with the General Teaching Council for England, the Select Committee for the Department of Children, Schools and Families, representatives of the teaching profession in England, and other suitable bodies.’.
Amendment 196, in clause 24, page 24, line 6, at end insert—
‘(1A) Regulations may only be made under subsection (1) after the council has issued a statement expressing its support for the introduction of a licence to practise as described in section 23 of the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010.’.
Amendment 337, in clause 24, page 24, leave out lines 18 to 20.
Mr. Gibb: The licence to teach, as it is called in the White Paper—it is the licence to practise in the clause—has been launched to widespread opposition. The NUT said:
“The NUT can see no argument advanced by Government which justifies the introduction of the licence to practise for teachers”
and that the licence to practise
“is likely to have little or no impact other than angering the profession.”
The ASCL said:
“Until the Secretary of State conducts a full cost-benefit analysis demonstrating the need to create a Licence to Practise we believe that legislating on this matter is premature and unwise.”
In the Committee’s evidence session, John Dunford went on to say:
“what value does a licence to practise add, over and above performance management, CPD and capability proceedings”?
Chris Keates said:
“The NASUWT has opposed the introduction of the licence to practise, basically because of concern in the profession about how it might be portrayed in the media.”
What was most revealing, however, was the opinion on the proposal given by Keith Bartley, the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England—the body to be charged with implementing the licence to practise. In his evidence, he said:
“I see merit in measures that support teachers to develop and improve their practice and that confer real benefits for teaching and learning that serve the public interest. We do not yet know whether the proposals in the Bill will achieve those aims.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 18-23, Q26 and 33.]
Mr. Coaker: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm something for me? If a licence to practise is good enough for doctors, is it also good enough for teachers?
Mr. Gibb: The trouble with the proposal is that it is not administered by something such as the General Medical Council. Although administered by the General Teaching Council, that is a state body set up by the Secretary of State, rather than a body that has come from within the profession. There is a big difference between a professional body representing the profession and one that tends to represent the state sector.
Friday’s edition of The Times Educational Supplement reported that Keith Bartley had said at a conference in London that
“he was concerned that it would be ‘unduly burdensome’ for teachers and called for a change to the way schools are judged.”
He was reported as saying:
“We need assurances that it won’t be another layer of accountability in the system”.
Finally, according to the article, he added:
“A lack of information from the Department for Children, Schools and Families...about how the scheme will work means the advantages to teachers are not yet clear”.
When the statutory body charged with implementing a Government policy has concerns about that policy and expresses such concerns in public, we all need to take note.
The amendment would prevent the regulations to introduce a licence to practise from being made until the proposals had the support of the General Teaching Council. Our view is that the policy behind the licence is wrong. It is bureaucratic, it will not lead to more continuing professional development, and it will make it more, not less, difficult for head teachers to be able to manage and develop their teaching staff.
2 pm
Mr. Laws: I want to speak on the provision not only because we tabled amendment 204, but because this incredibly important part of the Bill could affect hundreds of thousands of people throughout the teaching profession. Although I feel that I keep making the same speech about our need to move on at some stage to other controversial issues, we cannot pass over the matter quickly, given the importance of the measure.
The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton mentioned the controversy that has been generated by this part of the Bill. I have a confession to make: when the Bill was first announced by the Secretary of State in the House of Commons last year, this was one of the few bits that, in a very Liberal Democrat way, I picked out and said that the Liberal Democrats supported it. However, the more that I have considered it, the more that I have heard representations and the more that I look at the Government’s policy, the less convinced I am that this is a good idea, partly because I am not sure what the Government are trying to deliver with these provisions.
Perhaps I can draw hon. Members’ attention to the rather large difference between what is in the very helpful impact assessment and how the Government decided to announce this part of the Bill. The provision was headline-grabbing when the Bill and the White Paper were announced last year. Indeed, in July, when, I think, the White Paper came out, the subject grabbed all the headlines. In relation to the motivation for the policy, one assumes that the headlines were inspired by the Department. The headlines generated were very similar in all the newspapers, so one assumes someone from the Department was spinning the policy.
Let me cite some of the headlines as examples to try to tease out what we are trying to achieve in the measure. The Sun covered the proposal under the headline, “MoT for teachers; ‘Licence’ test every 5yrs”, and the article states:
“Teachers must undergo MoT-style check-ups to make sure they are fit for the classroom under Government plans unveiled yesterday... The licence will help...weed out rotten teachers and make it impossible for those who have been sacked to walk into a job at another school. Rookie teachers must apply for a licence from next year.”
It does not seem that that was a briefing given to just one newspaper, because there are other examples. The BBC report on the White Paper used the headline, “Teachers facing classroom MOTs” and the Secretary of State even commented directly on the proposal. When he was asked what impact it would have, he said:
“It would be foolish to speculate about numbers”—
in other words, the number of teachers who would fail the licence. The article goes on to state that the Secretary of State said:
“checks would make sure that schools were ‘facing up to inadequacy.’”
I shall list the headlines—The Guardian, “Teachers face MOT every five years to prove fitness to teach”; the Daily Mail, “Teachers’ MoTs every five years”; and The Times, “Teachers face sack under new classroom licence plan”. The Times included a description of how incompetent teachers will be weeded out.
Mr. Coaker: I must tell the hon. Gentleman that that was not spun out by the Department. May I just caution him? He might not have noticed this, but everything that we read in the papers is not always true.
Mr. Laws: That is certainly the case with Liberal Democrat policy. I find what the Minister has said a little difficult to believe. Is he saying that the licence to practise is not designed to lead to MOTs to weed out poor teachers?
Mr. Coaker: It is certainly not the intention of the licence to practise to weed out poor teachers. There is a performance management process, which can then lead to a capability review that is in place. The purpose of the licence to practise is to raise the status of the profession and give people a proper link to continuing professional development.
Mr. Laws: Either a U-turn is coming on, or one happened a few months ago in response to the coverage. If it is true that the policy was never designed to weed out poor teachers, why does the Secretary of State say on the BBC News website that
“Without a licence, teachers will be unable to teach... It would be foolish to speculate about numbers”,
but that checks would be necessary to make sure that schools were “facing up to inadequacy”? Why does a teensy-weensy little line at the end of impact assessment refer to the possibility of a small minority of teachers failing the test and ceasing to teach?
Mr. Coaker: If it is apparent at the five-year point that a teacher has not met the various criteria that have been set for the licence, as a result of the CPD and the capability to which the hon. Gentleman referred, he or she will not obtain the licence. The intention of the licence to practise is to provide a positive statement about the status of teachers in this country and to help them with their continuing professional development. I repeat what I told the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton: if it is good enough for doctors in this country to have a licence-to-practise scheme and good enough for lawyers to have the same, it is good enough for our teachers, and it is long overdue.
Mr. Laws: Newspaper headlines on the MOT are making me cynical. I must be completely wrong when I assume that someone in the Department close to the Secretary of State decided to sell it as a sensational part of the Bill to weed out head teachers. When the Government came to tell the Social Partnership about the policy after it had choked on its cornflakes, it was watered down in the impact assessment. We do not read about culling teachers, but about building on the current performance arrangements
“to incentivise teachers to undertake high-quality CPD...increasing the incentive for schools to provide high quality CPD opportunities”
and increasing the professionalisation of teachers, and all the stuff about the culling of poor teachers has suddenly disappeared.
I agree that there are two important issues. There is a powerful case for improving CPD for all teachers, particularly returning teachers who have been out of the profession for a long time and for supply teachers, too. Whether the existing performance management regimes are satisfactory is a separate issue, but head teachers have a legitimate concern that they are not. I thought that the licence was supposed to be dealing with teachers who, for example, are poor quality in the view of the head teacher. For example, when the head teacher tries to take action against them, they resign and get a job in another school. If the head teacher was right, they might be a poor teacher in that school, too. If a licence to practise was operated in a coherent and effective way, the GTC has been thinking that those teachers might have either their licence withdrawn or qualified in some way to show that there were concerns about them.
The Government seem to suggest that the policy is not about improving performance management, but only about CPD. Indeed, that makes me wonder whether it will make the performance management parts even more difficult. I cannot remember whether it was John Dunford at our evidence session or the guest of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton from the academies movement who said that taking action against poor teachers could become even more difficult as a consequence, given that a teacher who was performing badly could say that that was because they had not had their quota of CPD. The last thing that we need is to make things more difficult for head teachers who often make the difficult decision to get rid of the minority of poor staff. A minority of people in every profession do not do their jobs well, including at Parliament. We should not make the job of head teachers even more difficult.
The Government have two things tangled up. The CPD system will be expensive, and there is no estimate of the return on its £94 million cost. It will be applied not in a discrete way to the category of teachers who might need support, such as supply teachers or returning teachers, but to all teachers in the profession. It will be an enormous bureaucratic impediment.
The teaching unions are passionate about CPD. They want improved CPD, but they question whether the Bill will deliver it. We might look at the proposal as a performance management tool, but we now know that, contrary to all the stuff about MOTs and weeding out poor teachers, it is not supposed to deliver that in any case—the Government have rowed back from that. I fear that by the time the Government have finished legislating for the measure, tying themselves up in knots and retreating from the original spun intention, it will be even more difficult for head teachers who want to take tough action against teachers to do so, as they will have to go through a mechanism of proving that the teacher had all the CPD support that they needed.
Again, like the school report card, the proposal responds to some concerns about the existing provision of CPD, which is not adequate for some categories of teacher, such as supply teachers and returning teachers, and tries to touch on the issue of performance management, but is being done in a mangled way. If we allowed the measure to pass, its outcome would look much like that of performance-related pay, for which the Government legislated 10 or so years ago.
The performance-related pay scheme was supposed to incentivise teachers to teach better, but by the time that it came in, it had been so mangled up by the Government, who did not want to offend anyone, that such pay was paid to virtually every teacher, unless they simply did not appear in the school for years on end. It was a complete waste of time and resources. The measure before us will be the same because the Government are not clear on why it is necessary and why it is being delivered in this form. It will be a waste of money and a bureaucratic impediment. If we are trying to deliver CPD, it is unnecessary to do so in this way. If the Government are no longer trying to deliver a better performance management regime, the slender string from which the policy is hanging has already broken.
For those reasons, our amendments and those tabled by the Conservative party ask the Government to do what I genuinely think they should—not to implement the measure hastily and for every teacher in the country, when many will not gain from it. They should not legislate without a clear view from the GTC, which, I understand, does not have such a view, or without further consideration by the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, which has played a useful part in scrutinising the Government’s policies. That could save the Government from making a big mistake.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): I have a few questions to put to the Minister regarding this part of the Bill. I am aware, as is everyone else in the room, of the difficulties that head teachers have had in the past regarding disciplinary matters. There is no question about the fact that the structures of local authority personnel departments have made life somewhat difficult to weed out—there are no other words for it—teachers who simply have not served our children as we would wish. It is, has been and remains the duty of head teachers to ensure that their staff are delivering education in the prescribed manner and in the way that the school wishes to happen.
Previous Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 5 February 2010