Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I, too, respond to the invitation. The noble Baroness indicated that this was part of the consultation process. After many years in another place and some years in this Chamber, I find it a rather odd way to approach legislation. Legislation should consist of a series of clear proposals and Parliament should be asked to decide whether they are acceptable or acceptable with amendments. I do not recollect ever having taken part in a process the like of which we have today. However, if that is the process, we have to ensure that we make the best of it.

Amendment No. 14, grouped with Amendment No. 6, refers to disabled people. My noble friend Lady Blatch will remember occasions when we discussed special education. A number of noble Lords were concerned with the revised process and the ability of parents to choose which kind of schools their disabled children should go to. I refer to children with a variety of handicaps, including behavioural. We found ourselves at loggerheads with the Department for Education. In the end, as a result of some effective debate, I think primarily in this House, a code was established which was largely acceptable to the interests of those concerned with the education of disabled children. I do not think that my noble friend will attempt to deny that it took a bit of a battle.

That is why I believe it is important to have on the face of the Bill a provision that one of the interests which should be reflected in the general teaching council is that of disabled people. Primarily, the council must include those interested in the education of disabled children and young people. However, the interests of disabled teachers are also involved.

The point has been made by the National Deaf Children's Society that children who suffer from a sensory handicap have great difficulty in identifying with effective role models. I should have thought that no one was better qualified to talk about that than the Secretary of State for Education. He has succeeded in the most astonishing way in overcoming his handicap of blindness. He constitutes a role model of a remarkable

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1415

kind. I have the highest admiration for his personal qualities, as I have said to his face and will say again. In a Bill coming from Mr. Blunkett, I should not have thought it necessary to ask for specific mention of disabled people. But the reference is not in the Bill now. I hope that by the time the Bill leaves this House it will be.

My concern has tended to involve the area of visual handicap. For the past eight years I have chaired a body called the Visual Handicap Group representing all the major national bodies concerned with blindness and partial vision. We have made a number of important strides forward in raising the profile of the needs of that part of our population. If one includes the elderly visually handicapped--they are not much concerned with the Bill--the number involved is now almost a million. However, in my constituency there was a remarkable school for deaf children--the Sir Winston Churchill School for the Deaf. Over the 23 years that I represented that constituency, I found myself dealing again and again with the placement of individual children, teachers of children, relations with the local authority, and so on. So I have some experience of trying to integrate the special education of people with a sensory handicap into a national system. It used to be said to me that families came to live in my constituency for no other reason than that their children should be within reach of the Sir Winston Churchill School for the Deaf because it was such a remarkable place.

However, as regards people with mobility handicaps, the Redbridge College of Education has made a particular effort to open its gates and courses to people who suffer from a variety of physical handicaps--notably wheelchair users, and so on. The college and the London Borough of Redbridge are very proud of that.

I believe that it is necessary to set out clearly that that is an interest specified in the legislation which needs to be taken account of when appointments or elections are made. In his winding up speech at Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, suggested that members of the council will be elected. We have no idea who the members will be or what the electoral body will be. Nevertheless, some will be appointed after consultation with all the relevant interests.

Perhaps I may take a moment or two to draw to the Committee's attention the difficulties of handicapped teachers in getting past the barriers to become teachers in ordinary schools and therefore a role model for some of the pupils. The National Deaf Children's Society has a substantial list of deaf people who have successfully become teachers. But I am told that they have had to fight hard to overcome the prejudice of higher education institutions against disabled teachers. Deaf people face barriers in entering initial teacher training created by the lack of information on the part of higher education colleges about their abilities to manage the classroom situation effectively and narrow definitions of the "fitness to teach" medical regulations.

The society draws my attention to the case of a deaf student who applied to do a post-graduate Certificate in Education at a university in northern England. She had a struggle to convince the admissions officer that she

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1416

could manage both the academic and teaching practice component of the course. Despite excellent academic references from the mainstream school, she was refused admission, due partly to the failure of the admissions officer to understand how she proposed to overcome the difficulties on the course and through the medical officer's narrow interpretation of the medical regulations. Despite the fact that the medical regulations state that deaf people have to be able to understand, not hear, speech at six metres and therefore can use lip reading to assist them, the medical officer made the student lip read him while holding a document in front of his face making it impossible for her to see his lips. Those are the kind of misunderstandings that need to be addressed if we are to offer the best possibilities for pupils with handicaps such as deafness or blindness and for teachers who want to teach, and can teach extremely successfully, despite their handicap.

For that reason I very much hope that the Government, whatever they may say about the total number, the method of appointment, the chairman or any of the other matters, will see the merits of writing into the Bill, whether at this or a later stage, a clear declaration that the interests of disabled people must be represented on the council.

Baroness Maddock: I wish to speak primarily to Amendment No. 10 but many of the issues raised by it touch on other amendments on the Marshalled List. I agree with those Members of the Committee who said that we need to clarify some of the detail today. What is most important about setting up a general teaching council is that we send a clear message to teachers that we are serious about setting up a general teaching council in which they can have faith and which will do the job they want it to do; namely, make sure that people regard them as members of a profession. That is why it is important to examine many of these amendments--although it is clear that some Members on the Government Benches would prefer us not to go into too much detail for the moment.

As was discussed at Second Reading, for many years now we on the Liberal Benches have been strong advocates of a general teaching council. In our discussions over the years we have been quite clear as to how we see the membership of that council. It must include a wide variety of people who have a legitimate interest in education--representatives of local education authorities, parents, governors and people in higher and further education.

As we have heard, there is agreement in this place and outside that the majority of members of a general teaching council should be drawn from the teaching profession. We discussed this matter at Second Reading. It is not good enough simply to say, as was said then, that the voice of teachers will be central. That has to be recognised on the face of this legislation. Otherwise, we shall not be setting up the sort of professional body which most of us believe is the aim of this Bill. Unless we set it up as a proper professional body, the general teaching council will not be able to speak with legitimacy on behalf of the teaching profession. Without

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1417

recognition of the majority interests of practising teachers, it will not be able to play the sort of role that the Government would like to see.

Perhaps I may take this opportunity to clarify matters in regard to the way in which the amendment we have tabled was portrayed in the Times Educational Supplement. I wish to make it quite clear that what was written there was not in fact what our amendment seeks to do. The amendment makes it clear that "at least half the membership" of this body will be teachers, and not the employers of teachers, as stated in the Times Educational Supplement.

Outside this Chamber, those in the teaching profession know that we are discussing the matter, and they have sent in their views as to how they think the council should be constituted. I consider that part of the consultation to be well under way. We could consider the points that they have submitted by way of consultation on this matter. I hope that the Minister will take that to heart.

There is a variety of opinion. For example, the National Union of Teachers believes that the general teaching council should have rather more than 50 per cent. teachers. I hope the Minister will examine more carefully the views expressed outside this Chamber and give us the opportunity of providing more detail on this point. It is very important that it is stated on the face of the Bill in order to give teachers confidence that we are setting up the sort of organisation that they want.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Quirk: May I echo the word "confidence"? It seems to me absolutely vital that we get right on the face of the Bill the constitution of the GTC. The GTC has to have the confidence of the teachers of this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, pointed out earlier. It is welcome that in Amendment No. 15 something like a half of the GTC should be teachers, and that this will therefore assure us that the body does have the confidence of the teaching profession.

But it also requires the confidence of the general public. I should like briefly to speak to Amendment No. 10 and Amendment No. 13, bringing in "representatives of commerce and industry" in one amendment, "commerce and industry" in the other amendment. We must not forget that it is commerce and industry that are going to be the employers of the products of our education system and their view is terribly important. It is also the body of people that have drawn attention to many of the defects in our education system which have led to the very welcome spate of legislation about education since 1988. So I would very much hope that a specific reference to commerce and industry appear in subsection (4) of Clause 1.

As to Clause 15, yes, indeed it is important that we recognise there are different types of schools. When it gets down to the detail of appointing to the council by reference to representations of these subsections, I fear

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1418

that we might well have a GTC of more like 1,000 rather than 100 if all of these splinters are going to be represented. But the spirit of the thing is surely correct.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page