Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: Before the noble Baroness sits down, does she not feel that even from the beginning there is a certain lack of symmetry in the

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1440

GTC being empowered to establish and maintain a register but to have no role in suspensions and dismissals?

Baroness Blackstone: No, I do not believe that there is any lack of symmetry in relation to individual dismissals and suspensions but we shall come to that later in our deliberations in Committee.

Baroness Maddock: I thank the Minister for that extremely detailed and helpful answer. In particular, I am grateful to her for pointing out so clearly how the Welsh teaching council will operate and the difference between that and the GTC here. As part of the consultation exercise, that will be very helpful to people outside. I hope that, despite what the Minister said this evening, should views be expressed through the consultation which are in favour of some of the measures proposed in the amendment, the Minister will look favourably upon them. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 28:

Before Clause 2, insert the following new clause--

Functions of the Council

(" .--(1) The Council shall be responsible for determining the following matters--
(a) standards of teaching;
(b) standards of conduct for teachers; and
(c) medical fitness to teach.
(2) The Council may be required to seek advice from--
(a) the Secretary of State; or
(b) such other persons or bodies that he may from time to time designate,
on matters falling within subsection (1).
(3) This section has effect in relation to regulations made under subsections (2), (3) and (6) of section 218 of the Education Reform Act 1988 (regulations relating to schools, etc.) as they apply to teachers at schools.
(4) The Secretary of State shall make provision in such regulations for a determination or direction under those regulations to be made by the Council.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 30, 33, 39, 43, 49, 51 and 52 which are consequential upon it. At the outset of my remarks, I make it clear that this is a probing amendment. However, this issue has recurred throughout our debates and it has been raised most clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara.

This amendment, which I tabled at the request of the National Association of Head Teachers, would give the council its full responsibility as a council rather than as an advisory body. In moving the amendment, I am perfectly clear that that is not what the Government intend. However, I believe that we should look hard and long at the arguments that there are for making the council responsible, as my amendment provides, for standards of teaching, the standards of conduct for teachers and medical fitness to teach.

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1441

In doing that, the amendment makes it quite clear that the Secretary of State would have power to require the GTC to seek his advice or the advice of bodies designated by him on those matters. Subsections (3) and (4) place with the GTC the power to determine whether a person is qualified to teach; to determine provisions in relation to licensed teachers; and prohibiting or restricting the employment or further employment of teachers along similar lines to those proposed by Clause 8 in relation to the GTC for Wales.

The proposed clause requires that paragraphs (a), (b) and (f) of subsection (2) be deleted, along with subsection (4) of that clause and subsection (3) of Clause 5. References to the Secretary of State in relation to directions given by virtue of Section 218 (6) of the Education Reform Act 1988 must also be removed as a consequence.

These are really major issues. However, it is quite clear that they are extremely focused points. They do not spread over a great area. It is a matter of principle as to whether or not one believes that the GTC must be more than an advisory and administrative body. I believe that the Government are saying in effect that they will set up an advisory body and at some time, not named, in the indefinite future, it could become a body like the General Medical Council or the Law Society, but they do not know when that is likely to be.

The issue of principle is quite clear. Teachers will see their body as a second-class body right from the outset. I do not believe that we need to pretend that it will be anything other than that. I put the matter in those crude terms because frequently that is the way in which advisory bodies are looked upon. It is worth looking at the powers which I have suggested in the amendments to see whether or not we believe that teachers cannot be trusted to deal appropriately with those conditions.

The first is in relation to the standards of teaching. In view of all the back-stops there are in teaching now--league tables, statutory tests, inspections and everything else--it would become quite clear if standards of teaching were falling. The GTC would then consider what it was going to do about that, because there are other measures.

The more important issue is the question of standards of conduct for teachers. If an organisation has its own responsibilities, it seems to me fundamental that it should regulate itself. In regulating itself, one of its most important tasks would be to decide who is in and who is out. Of course, in the case of teaching it is terribly important that if a teacher is to be dismissed for misconduct--I am not now talking about a teacher who simply teaches badly but I am talking about what we all understand as misconduct--the GTC should be the responsible body to deal with that.

As long as we feel that the GTC is not a responsible body to deal with that, we are weakening it all the time. We are also creating quite a lot of bureaucracy. As a matter of interest, if the GTC is to be advisory, I should like to know how the matter of a dismissal will work. Let us suppose there is a case of misconduct and the GTC advises, "Teacher X should be dismissed". What will happen then? The matter goes to the department

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1442

which then goes through all its processes. Does it then go back to the GTC and then something happens, or does it stop with the department?

What particular purpose is served by having the view of the GTC on such matters? I do not know whether that is one of the ministerial responsibilities of the noble Baroness, but it was one of my less happy responsibilities when I was in her place at the Department of Education. I cannot quite see what purpose would be served by having yet someone else giving advice on what are really very tragic but most important matters from the point of view of the safety of schoolchildren. We are discussing a most serious matter. Therefore, it will be most interesting to know how all that will work in practice.

It seems to me that the same applies as regards the issue of determining matters relating to "medical fitness to teach". Again, this is a measure to determine whether a teacher is medically fit to teach. It is something for which presumably one would obtain outside professional advice. That is why we feel that a GTC would not be able to undertake the task and that it would only be able to act in an advisory capacity.

The other point I wish to raise is one which was touched upon in the Minister's response to the previous group of amendments. Indeed, she covered so much in her reply that I shall have to read most carefully in Hansard what was said because it was somewhat difficult to take it all in. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, raised the point as regards Wales. It seems to me--I should like to know whether I have read the Bill correctly--that there is a read-across to what will happen in Wales and it looks as if the council in Wales could from the start have more powers than that in England. We already know that the council in Scotland has more powers than the council in England. My English nationalist spirit is now rising and I ask myself whether that is fair. A certain noble Lord is tempting me to say something about this, but I shall be careful because I can say things.

However, rather more seriously, we should know the nature of the council's powers in Wales as opposed to those for the English council. As a matter of natural justice, I feel that the two organisations ought to have similar powers because the situation could give rise to great difficulties. It would be most helpful to have a clear explanation as to what the powers of the Welsh council are and what the powers of the English council are, so that we know where we stand. That is the serious point about the whole matter.

In summary, it would be helpful to know, and to have on the record, an idea of the timetable envisaged for the development of the GTC as regards when it will reach the stage that I have suggested in the amendment with full powers on a par with those of the General Medical Society and the Law Society. It is most important for us to be able to say to teachers that that is our ultimate objective and that we expect to reach that stage within a relatively short time.

Moreover, at the stage when those full powers belong to the GTC, it will be important to know how the Government will make the judgment as to whether or

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1443

not the council has succeeded as regards its advice. How does one judge whether its advice was good or bad? Does one judge it by the fact that every time advice was given the Government accepted it and, therefore, it was very good? Alternatively, although the council's advice may be very good, the Government may not accept it. Does that mean that the advice was not so good and, therefore, merited a black mark, thus holding up the council in its development? These are big and important issues which need to be determined.

As I said, this is a probing amendment and clearly one that I shall not press to a Division this evening. However, it is a serious amendment and one which relates to an important consideration which is being demanded, as others will know better than me, by many teachers. If we want to create an organisation which gives teachers the respect that we want them to have, we need to think most carefully about giving it the powers of a fully responsible, self-governing organisation. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page