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Lord Northbourne: I oppose the amendment. The General Teaching Council is intended to be a council to improve the standard of teaching and learning in this country. Indeed, an amendment to that effect was included in the Bill. The council is not solely for the benefit of teachers.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, Amendment No. 322—and Amendment No. 323—would change the wording of one of the new functions of the General Teaching Council. The Bill already achieves what I believe the noble Baroness seeks. The new promotional role is one of a number of additions in the Bill to the functions of the General Teaching Council as set out in the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998. I know that noble Lords took a special interest in the establishment of the General Teaching Council during the passage of the founding legislation.

I shall take a little time—but only a little time—to remind the Committee of the core features of the Act. The principal aims of the General Teaching Council are to contribute to improving the standards of teaching and the quality of learning and to maintain and improve standards of professional conduct among

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teachers in the interests of the public. Its key function under the Act is to regulate the profession through maintenance of a register of qualified teachers and through the exercise of disciplinary functions and to advise the Secretary of State on that and a range of other professional matters. The Committee will know that those include standards of teaching, standards of conduct for teachers, the role of the profession and recruitment.

Our intention in introducing the new function of promoting the standing of the teaching profession is to put beyond doubt the role of the GTC in speaking up for the teaching profession and thereby raising its status, morale and public standards. There are 44 teachers on the General Teaching Council out of 64 members in total. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne said, the new function is to be about the role and standards of teachers and to promote teaching. It is important to ensure that a balance of people serve on the council. It is entirely consistent with the public interest that the GTC should promote the standing of the teaching profession. I am therefore doubtful that the amendment would add anything to the Bill and I hope that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw it.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for her reply. The concept of regulation here is of course one of self-regulation, just as the GMC is a self-regulatory organisation in the medical profession. That is why it is important that there should be a substantial number of those from within the profession on the council. I am reassured by the fact that the Minister told us that they now comprise 44 of the 64 members. That is approaching a better balance.

If the GTC is to secure the wholehearted support of the members of the profession, it is extremely important that it is seen as a body that raises the professional status of teaching. That is really the import of the amendment, but, as the Minister suggests, it is in a sense semantic. Her reassurance is helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 323 not moved.]

Schedule 12 agreed to.

Clauses 144 and 145 agreed to.

10.30 p.m.

Clause 146 [Childcare functions of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector and National Assembly for Wales]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 324:

    Page 89, line 37, leave out "have" and insert "by order specify"

The noble Lord said: Subsection (2) of Clause 146 reads awkwardly and my amendments are simply an effort to improve the drafting. I hope that they will achieve the same objective.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Childcare and early years functions of both Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England and the National

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Assembly in Wales are confined to those set out in the Children Act 1989, as amended by the Care Standards Act 2000. This means that those bodies can only regulate childcare providers covered by those Acts. Parents who use those forms of childcare and whose income otherwise makes them eligible can claim childcare tax credit to help pay for the cost of that childcare.

Clause 146 would allow HMCI and the National Assembly's functions to be extended to approve providers who fall outside the Children Act confines and in doing so would allow parents who used those providers to receive childcare tax credit support. As work patterns and family circumstances change over time, we need to be flexible and ensure that support arrangements, such as childcare, can adapt accordingly. That is why we need to allow for those national bodies responsible for regulating mainstream childcare services to be able to take on new functions, if they are necessary, to approve additional providers.

I am advised that the current wording of Clause 146 needs to be maintained for two reasons. First, the amendment does not specify on whom the functions are to be imposed. Even if we were to resolve that, we would need a new amendment to do so. Secondly, Clause 146(2), as drafted, gives the Assembly power to confer functions on itself. The effect of the proposed amendment would mean that the Assembly would be under a duty to specify additional functions. The Secretary of State would be under no such duty in respect of England. By placing the Assembly under such a duty, it would work against a fundamental and important principle of devolution that the Assembly should have choice in such matters.

For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: Once again I am reassured by the explanation of the noble Baroness, but I still think that the wording of subsection (2) is unnecessarily complex. I wish that it were simplified and perhaps it can be looked at further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 325 not moved.]

Clause 146 agreed to.

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 325A:

    After Clause 146, insert the following new clause—

(1) Section 79A of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (2), after "premises" there is inserted "or other suitable premises".
(3) After subsection (6), there is inserted—
"(6A) "Other suitable premises" means any premises other than domestic premises which are suitable to be registered for childcare."."

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The noble Lord said: The amendment is tabled to address a dilemma that has arisen out of the change of the inspecting authority for childcare registration from the local authority to Ofsted.

Ofsted has formed the opinion that certain family centres are operating childcare illegally because the Children Act 1989, as amended by the Care Standards Act 2000, now provides that childminders may only be registered if they are operating from "domestic premises".

A particular case in point is the Soho family centre which has provided suitable accommodation, training and support to selected childminders as part of its wider services to parents in Soho since 1986. Westminster social services department recognised the quality of the work being done by childminders at the centre and was prepared to designate the premises as "domestic premises". Ofsted would not.

At the national level it is strange that childminders may operate only from domestic premises. Surely there can be advantages under certain circumstances if childminding takes place in premises designed and equipped for the purpose. Is it not important that childminding should be available in areas where most of the residential accommodation is in units that are too small or too crowded to provide proper space for childcare? Are there not significant advantages in having specialist training and supervision of childminders on site?

Looking at the broader canvas of our developing society, is it not important that affordable childcare, including care of very young children, should be available at or near the mother's place of work? I shall say no more at this stage as I understand that the Minister may be helpful on this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: I support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in his amendment. I referred earlier to childminders, and their registration. Like playgroups, they are now very vulnerable because of some of the measures that have recently been put in place. However well intentioned they are, such measures could work against the supply of childminders, and the ability of some of these organisations to exist—very often in places where they are most needed.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I support the amendment. It certainly seems strange to me that premises of this kind, with all the support that they are able to provide for individual minders—and, indeed, for the families who leave their children at such premises—are no longer to be regarded as acceptable. It does not make any real sense. One gathers that such organisations are unable to recruit new replacement minders, all of whom would have the benefit of being supervised and trained, as well as benefiting from the mutual inter-action with one another. The parents would also have the benefit of knowing that their children were under, as it were, dual supervision. Some explanation is required as to why this has not been

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dealt with; and, indeed, cannot be dealt with under the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why this type of establishment is not now acceptable.

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