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Lord Roberts of Conwy: If the national curriculum "subsists" in the Education Act 1988, I must bear some of the responsibilityalthough I share it, of course, with my noble friend Lord Baker, who led our production of that measure.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: Alas, he is not with us on this occasion. I looked up "subsist" in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary and found it defined as "exist". But I rest content that the national curriculum should continue to "subsist" in the Bill.
The noble Baroness said: I rise to move Amendment No. 295 and to speak to Amendments Nos. 296 and 297. Given that the Government have decided to continue with the School Teachers' Review Body, the purpose of Amendments Nos. 295 and 296 is simply to allow Parliament to review it from year to year to make it more accountable. That is a simple matter of principle.
I turn to Amendment No. 297. It is designed to write into the Bill guaranteed non-contact time for professional development for teachers. It is in line with the recommendations of the School Teachers' Review Body in its last report and it seeks to address the needs of supply teachers and part-timers as well as full-time teachers. One thing that disappoints those of us on these Benches most is the fact that the Bill does not address the key recruitment and retention issues of excessive workload, pupil behaviour and teacher morale. Indeed, by seeking to remove teachers' rights to have a representative on the governing body, the Government seem hell-bent on ensuring that teacher morale declines even further.
The amendment is intended to rectify that. If the Minister would give a commitment to write into the Bill the guarantee of an entitlement to "professional time" during the working day for all teachers, she would go a long way to rescuing the situation. That would make a positive difference to teachers' working lives and improve educational standards.
We are aware that the Government have made a commitment to address the issue of teacher workload through the Workload Review Group followed by the PricewaterhouseCoopers report. That is the first time since 1987 that teachers' conditions of service have been properly reviewed, which is most welcome. Last December, the School Teachers' Review Body was asked by the Secretary of State to consider several possibilities for reducing workload and its report has been widely welcomed. The evidence given to the review was weighty and credible. The report is particularly critical of Government initiatives, stating:
The Bill's passage through Parliament provides that earliest possible date. The Government asked the questions; they were given the answers; now they must commit to supplying the solution. I beg to move.
Lord Jones: On the question of teacher morale, in my recent forays into schools in north-east Wales, head teachers have always told me of their anxieties regarding the morale of their professional staff. When we visit schools, we are all able to say that the staff are working hard and well and showing great and increased professionalism. Only yesterday, I visited two Church of Wales schools. Head teachers are saying, "Please may we have fewer missives from Ministers so that we can consolidate?"
It is difficult to make that point to Ministers, who themselves are working extremely hard and have a mandate from the nation to improve our schools, but it is a fact that morale is a big issue in the profession. It would be heartening for head teachers and their staff to hear that Ministers in London and the country's other capitals are working on measures and that all have in mind the day-to-day requirements of the teaching staff. After all, those teaching staff are working in the midst of a greater social revolution. Society is changing quickly and the pressures on teachers are growing, not lessening. In many ways, the teacher is now the last line of defence for the values that we hold dear.
Baroness Blatch: I simply want to add two points. First, I remind the Minister that a letter of mine on the issue of the level of bureaucracy and the bureaucratic burden on schools is still awaiting a reply. Specifically, what is being done now to reduce that burden? I have read the report of the pay review body, which is cogent about the matter.
The other point is that there is a crisis in teaching. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, who is not his place, mentioned earlier that we have an unprecedented number of supply teachers moving in and out of classrooms, sometimes on a half-daily or daily basis, and a real lack of permanent teachers who build up a relationship with other school staff but also, more importantly, with the children. There is also an unprecedented number of teachers who teach subjects for which they are not trained, which will also have an impact. In our discussion on earlier amendments, we said that in just under two years' time, the Government have pledged to have one qualified teacher in place for every 10 children who are now in playgroups and early-learning settings. Many are run at the moment by trained leaders. In future, they will be run by teachers who will be subject to the pay and conditions that fully qualified teachers have the right to expect.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: In proposing the repeal of the 1991 Act and replacing it with the teachers pay and conditions provisions in Clauses 115 to 126 of the Bill, we in no way wish to disturb the smooth and continued operation of the School Teachers' Review Body. We have no reason to do so. The STRB has worked successfully since 1991 and the Prime Minister has just appointed a new chairman. The STRB needs to continue its work. That is why it is important that the statement that the STRB will continue to exist is set out on the face of the Bill. It is simply a way of ensuring a proper transition from one set of legislation to another.
Were the amendments to be made, the STRB would lose its stability, and there would be danger to the long-established and successful arrangements for providing for independent recommendations to Government on teachers' pay. That would be damaging and disruptive. The STRB could cease to function effectively and the bureaucracy linked to the arrangements as proposed would be excessive.
There is also the issue of what the situation would be if, however unlikely, the STRB's continued existence were to be rejected for whatever reason. School teachers would be left without any means of having their pay and conditions determined. I hope that noble Lords will agree that that is not a situation that we could countenance.
The issues raised in Amendment No. 297 are important and have given rise to some very important statements in your Lordships' House. I have a good deal of sympathy for the points raised and I am glad to have the opportunity to respond to them in debate.
I know that it is really important to secure professional time for all teachers for preparation, planning, marking and related matters. It is for that reason that the Secretary of State drew the matter specifically to the attention of the review body when she asked it to consider the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on teacher workload and to make its own recommendations. The remit letter drew specific attention to the possibility of moving towards a guarantee of professional time for teachers and managers, and of considering changes to contracts to assist in embedding the role of continuing professional development.
It is a key concern for us all for a wide number of reasons that teachers should have sufficient time to carry out professional duties properly and to undertake continuing professional development, both of which help to achieve higher standards of teaching and learning.
Noble Lords will know that the report has now been published and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, it has been widely welcomed. We look forward to a constructive consultation on the very helpful recommendations, several of which deal precisely with the matters raised in this amendment.
That brings me to the key reasons for resisting the amendment. To impose the requirements in this amendment would greatly fetter the discretion of the STRB to consider current facts and prevailing circumstances and to make recommendations independently. It is also inappropriate to seek to introduce into primary legislation something which is currently the subject of quite separate and important discussions. With regard to the matter of professional time, and in respect of the proposed specific requirements relating to time and remuneration for professional development, the amendment is much too restrictive.
The current arrangements, whereby the STRB works in accordance with a public remit provided by the Secretary of State, strike the right balance and work well. The STRB's duty is to make recommendations. I should remind the Committee that the STRB's statutory recommendations are as a matter of principle accepted by Government unless there are overriding reasons not to do so. That was the commitment from the start. The Secretary of State can require the STRB to take certain matters into account when making its recommendations, as indeed has been the case with the latest workload report. But the recommendations are its own and Government evidence is taken into account along with all other representations.
The amendment has raised some important matters for discussion, but it would be unhelpful and potentially damaging to the functions and operation of the STRB. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will feel able to withdraw it.
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