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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, because he and I enjoyed coming to the House at the same time. It was a noble Lord on the opposite Benches who chided me. I can understand why. I was the person, on the other side of the House, who was usually receiving proposals from various parts of the House about a general teaching council. I hope that all noble Lords who know me well, and certainly my noble friend Lord Butterfield, will be aware that whenever I argued against it, it was not against the principle that there should be a body responsible--I have always thought of teachers, by teachers, for teachers--for professional standards, the quality of teaching and professionalism. People will jump hurdles to become a member of that body, and there should be powers to remove teachers from that body. Those proposals were never on offer in this House, and for those reasons I have always had reservations.
I have reservations about those bodies that grow out of government. I have always been attracted to the idea--I am interested in what will come from the College of Preceptors--of this body rising from the body of teachers themselves, and not from some bureaucratic organisation or government. Regulations are to be made. When will the House see them? It is important, in relation to many parts of the Bill, that we see some of the regulations in draft as we proceed because it is only by seeing some of the Government's detailed ideas that our debates will make sense.
From the little we can glean from the Bill, the proposed general teaching council will be predominantly an advisory body. In fact, as I have suggested, it will be a creature of the Secretary of State. I am puzzled by some of the Bill's provisions. For example, references to registration in Clause 3(2) appear to imply that registration will be voluntary. Is that so? However, Clause 4 (2)(c) sets out that regulations will make provision as to,
There is to be a register of people who do apply to be registered and a register of people who do not apply. If the general teaching council keeps the register of those who do apply, who keeps the register of those who do not apply? Why do they keep the register at all? What information will be kept on the non-applicants' register? Where does the private sector fit in to all these proposals?
Clause 5 gives the Secretary of State the power to impose any additional functions. Is that included as a reserve power just in case one day in the future something may come along which sounds like a good idea, or has the Secretary of State in mind something particular which may follow on from the proposals?
An issue that has not been discussed today is the Welsh dimension. What will be the role of the Welsh assembly in these matters? Will it, for example, be free to interpret secondary legislation independent from the Secretary of State for Education? How does that fit with the explicit powers of direction by the Secretary of State for Education? I understand that the Welsh assembly will be free to interpret not primary but secondary legislation, so it would be helpful to know where the assembly fits into the proposals.
Clause 10 provides for employers to be required to deduct fees for the GTC at source. Will those who do not apply for registration, referred to in Clause 4(2)(c), be free to opt out of paying a fee, or is it likely that there is a fee to be paid by non-applicants in order to cover the cost of those who do not wish to register for the general teaching council?
Probing a little further on the establishment of the GTC, who will determine the qualifications for a person to start practising as a newly qualified teacher? Who, for example, will determine the training requirements for the professional development of teachers? Who will determine standards and codes of practice for the personal conduct of teachers? What will the role of the GTC be in all of that? What will the process be for determining whether the standards have or have not been upheld by individual teachers? Do the Government envisage, for example, giving the GTC at some time powers to remove teachers who fall short of professional competence or conduct? If so, the Bill needs revising substantially.
I turn to Clause 12 and the training for head teachers. I warmly welcome the measure and agree with it in principle. I, too, believe that training for headship is a good thing. However, I have concerns about the compulsory nature of the provision. Until we know what the provision is, it will be difficult to agree its compulsory nature. Other concerns include who will pay for the training, which teachers will receive the training and who will select the teachers trained. Perhaps as an aside, as someone who was involved in a local authority for a long time, I may say that I can remember the negative side of teachers being beholden to advisers who would come in and out of the school and choose the possible candidates for headships, deputy headships and heads of departments. I remember the bad feeling which grew up among the teachers that somehow or other the way in which they were being selected was very
Will self-selection for the training be acceptable? Will there, for example, be a menu of qualifying courses? Given that the gaps in knowledge and experience will differ from teacher to teacher, will there be a system of exemption from the requirements or will there be flexibility in precisely what qualification a teacher requires in order to be a candidate for headship? A compulsory monolithic qualification would present an unwelcome rigidity. Would, for example, a person coming from the state or independent sector, displaying all the competences and qualities for headship, be required to gain a specific Secretary-of-State-approved qualification?
I believe that the induction period provided in Clause 13 is a good idea in principle. However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I ask what period of induction is envisaged by the Government and whether they can give the rationale for choosing a particular period.
Does that mean that probationary teachers, as I prefer to call them, will be employed as full members of staff? If that is not the case, there is a very real cost involved. If they are to be employed as full members of staff before it has been decided that they are competent to teach, that presents a real conundrum for the Government and it would be helpful to have some clarification.
In principle we support Clauses 14 and 15 on the inspection of teacher training. We also believe that commencement should coincide with the passing of the Bill. We cannot see a reason for any delay whatever. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred to the debate about this matter within the higher education sector. I am aware that there are tensions arising as regards whether Ofsted should be given the task of inspection, whether the recommendations of the Sutherland Report should be followed or whether we should retain the present system of higher education inspection. On balance, we agree that Ofsted should carry that responsibility and that it should be statutory.
I could not refute more strongly the accusation made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that my government, when in power, showed only contempt for teachers. My noble friends, like my noble friend Lady Young and the people I worked with in ministerial teams, have the highest regard for teachers. In fact, most of our energies have been engaged in trying to find ways in which to make sure that the best teachers are recognised and that other teachers who are not so good are brought up to the standards of the best.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred also to the exodus from teaching. Perhaps I may give some reasons for many teachers leaving the profession. There was the introduction of trendy teaching methods in the 1960s, following through into the 1970s and 1980s, and the
If one was in a local authority, and more significantly, in a school which resisted such fashions, one was deeply grateful. But for many parents and children it was a game of chance. It coincided also with almost no choice of school available to parents. The children who were most let down at that time were many of our children from urban areas.
The introduction of tuition fees in Clauses 16 to 22 and the abolition of grants--because I want to couple those--is unacceptable. We prefer the Dearing recommendations which were rejected with unseemly haste--within a matter of hours--by the Secretary of State. The present proposals are in such disarray. It is unacceptable that students who are applying at this time for university places do not know, nor are likely to know for certain until the Bill has Royal Assent and the regulations receive parliamentary approval, the details of the financial arrangments. I wish to impress upon the Minister this evening that draft regulations must be placed in the Library of both Houses well before the first day in Committee. I put the noble Baroness on notice that if they are not, I shall be calling for a delay in the handling of the Bill.
What we now understand, not from the Bill but from what we have gleaned, is that there is to be a means-tested tuition fee applied differentially and there is to be the abolition of maintenance grants. Clause 18 is extraordinarily draconian and acts as a sword of Damocles over our free-standing, independent, chartered institutions. Let us make no mistake about it: the impact of the powers taken by the Secretary of State to impose conditions goes very much wider than the noble Baroness indicated and, I have to say, will inevitably impact on academic freedom in our universities. I would prefer to see it out of the Bill, rather than amended.
I turn now to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, on Second Reading of the student loans Bill. Why on earth are we creating a new piece of legislation, concurrently with this Bill, which includes a
We oppose the abolition of the present levels of maintenance grants and we shall do so by bringing forward amendments to place safeguards on the face of the Bill for those families whose income is sufficiently modest to qualify for maintenance grants under the present system to continue to receive them. Applications for places in higher education are already affected by the Government's proposals. Frankly, the proposals fly in the face of what we all believed was a concern of the Labour Party, both new and old; namely, to encourage bright young people from all backgrounds to benefit from higher education. These proposals actually mean that students from low-income families will leave university with the greatest burden of debt. How can the Minister justify that?
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, talked about the financial plight of students with great feeling. There is not another penny for students in the proposals now before us. In fact, those who presently receive grant for maintenance will lose it and will be required to borrow the difference. For the students referred to by the noble Baroness--those whose parents are expected to support their sons and daughters but who do not--there is no extension of loan facility. They will have to go out and borrow on the market and will actually be worse off. There is nothing in the Bill to alleviate that situation. The consequences for students as a result of these proposals will be to lose grants and face increased loans with an extended period over which to repay. Indeed, some students will be repaying loans over many decades.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, regretted the fact that there were no state teachers. However, if, for example, the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, had not mentioned the fact that she was a teacher, I would have probably guessed that she was. That applies also to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, to my noble friend Lady Perry and my noble friend Lord Mackay who sometimes sits with me on these Benches; and, indeed, to many others. We should not, of course, forget the noble Lords, Lord Glenamara, and Lord Dormand of Easington. There are quite a number in the House--
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