HC Deb 13 March 1979 vol 964 cc252-3
7. Mr. Raison

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress she is making in her discussions with teachers' unions and others towards the establishment of a general teaching council.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I refer the hon. Member to my hon. Friend's reply to a question from the hon. Member for Brain-tree (Mr. Newton) on 6 February.

Mr. Raison

Is the Secretary of State aware that there will be no progress without strong personal commitment on her part, and does she have such commitment?

Mrs. Williams

I have a personal commitment, and I have raised that matter at teachers' conferences and elsewhere. There have been great differences of opinion between the teachers' organisations. Initiatives were taken in 1976 and 1978 to bring the parties together. These broke down because of differences of opinion. Of all people in the House, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that it requires two to make an agreement.

Mr. Christopher Price

If there were a general teachers' council, might it not be able to make a better job of manpower planning and the general flow of people into the profession than the Department has done over the past decade? If it were set up, would not the general regulation of employment and unemployment in the profession be one of its jobs?

Mrs. Williams

A professional council of teachers could make a useful contribution, but I point out that in the past year there has been a reduction in teacher unemployment from 11,460 to 9,786. That constitutes 1.6 per cent. of the total teaching profession. Many other professions and trades would be grateful for such a low level of unemployment.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Is not the lesson of the two abortive attempts to form the council that unless and until a Minister takes a positive initiative the council will not be formed and the teaching profession will not be self-governing and self-disciplining, as it should be?

Mrs. Williams

That is a fair comment, but the hon. Gentleman will recognise that since 1970, when the Weaver report on a teaching council was published, more than one Minister has attempted to take an initiative. Lord Glenamara, as he now is, took such an initiative as did the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and on more than one occasion I have spoken along these lines to teachers' organisations. The problem is the kind of initiative to take, and clearly a substantial degree of pressure will be required.