HC Deb 06 July 1994 vol 246 cc334-47 'Part I of this Act shall come into force at the end of the period of twelve months beginning with the day on which it is passed.'.—[Mrs. Ann Taylor.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.35 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 4, in clause 5, page 3, line 32, after 'may', insert 'after 1st April 1996'.

No. 11, in clause 26, page 16, leave out lines 26 to 29.

Mrs. Taylor

The Opposition have tabled the new clause and amendments to give the Government another chance to reconsider their ludicrous timetable for the implementation of the measures contained in the Bill. We are opposed to the Bill in principle and we think that it has some serious practical faults. We are extremely unhappy with the Government's lack of attention to the practical difficulties that their proposals will bring to education. We believe that it would be appropriate, even at this late stage, for the Government to think again.

One of the main features of education in the past decade, and especially in the past two years, has been change on change, experiment on experiment and change seemingly for the sake of change. If any hon. Member asks a parent, a school governor or a teacher to state their concerns about education, above all else—there is much else that they complain about—they will speak out about the pace of change that the Government have imposed on education.

Regulations have been introduced before those that preceded them were implemented. Enormous amounts of education legislation have been introduced in recent years. Even now, the Government having been forced to reconsider the national curriculum, there is an insistence that that be done at breakneck speed.

The Bill is yet another example of the haste that the Government show when introducing their legislation. I thought of asking the House who it was who claimed that a good maxim is legislating in haste and repenting at leisure. On reflection, I considered that that would not be a fair question to put to the House because the statement was made by the Secretary of State at the time of an Appeal Court hearing by the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers.

It is fair to ask why the Secretary of State always insists on legislating before consultations are complete and in pushing legislation through regardless of the views of those involved in education. Why does the right hon. Gentleman, time and again, tell us that every piece of legislation that he brings before us will be the last piece in the jigsaw? That was the phrase that he used when the Bill came before the House for Second Reading. Alas, it was the phrase that he used on Second Reading of what became the Education Act 1993. Whoever is Secretary of State when the next piece of education legislation comes before us will undoubtedly use similar terminology.

I shall remind the House how rapid has been the change to education that the Government have introduced. In March, the Secretary of State announced that the SCITT—school—centred initial teacher training—pilot schemes were to go ahead. At the time, he said that those pilot schemes were going to be in advance of any future reforms. However, the Education Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 23 November and, as the Secretary of State was forced to acknowledge in response to parliamentary questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), the results of those pilot schemes will not be known until next May.

Therefore, we have a Bill which is supposed to be based on the experience of pilot schemes, but we are debating this important legislation before we know the outcome of those pilot schemes. It is clear that the pilot schemes were no more than a sop, a pretence and an appearance that the Government were going to be reasonable.

There are no arguments in favour of the very rapid timetable that the Government have introduced, but there are many arguments against it. One of the arguments against the Government's timetable is the confusion in Government quarters about what they think should be happening with regard to teacher education generally.

The Opposition argued on Second Reading and in Committee that it was essential that teacher education should be provided by a partnership between higher education and schools which could provide practical experience. That point was acknowledged on occasions by junior Ministers who seemed to accept that that was the best way to proceed. However, that is not what the Bill allows for. It allows for that partnership to be broken.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education (Mr. Tim Boswell)

Just for the record, does the hon. Lady concede that the Bill does not preclude that either? The fact that something may be desirable does not necessarily mean that it must be prescribed in statute.

Mrs. Taylor

Something as desirable as a partnership in this critical area should be on the face of the Bill. We will reach a critical amendment on that point later and I know that some Conservative Back-Bench Members are concerned about that issue.

I hope that Ministers will respond to my point at this early stage. What is the Government's collective view on the future of teacher education and that partnership between higher education and schools? I have seen the document which has been prepared by the Northern Ireland Office. That significant and official document is dated 1 June 1994. It is therefore also a very recent document. It is therefore a recent statement of Government policy. It states: The planning and implementation of ITT will necessitate the strongest possible partnership between ITT providers and schools. It is clear that Northern Ireland Ministers expect that partnership to be important and to continue.

In the past couple of days, I have seen an even more interesting statement by a Minister, this time at the Scottish Office. I assume that one Department responsible for education consults another Department responsible for education. However, in Scotland, the Scottish Office has decided that, far from schools having an even greater role in teacher education, the reverse will be the case.

Scottish Office Ministers have issued a document to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities which contains new guidelines. According to those new guidelines, instead of the present arrangement which has been advocated by the Scottish Office whereby trainee teachers should spend 22 weeks in school, the Scottish Office is now recommending that they should spend 18 weeks in schools.

The Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education may well look startled by my comments and I must admit that I was somewhat surprised when I read the new guidelines. While Ministers responsible for education in England and Wales are allowing school-centred initial teacher training—that is, schools to be the focal point of teacher training—their colleagues in Northern Ireland are talking about the importance of partnership and their colleagues in Scotland are reducing the number of weeks that trainee teachers need to spend in schools to obtain practical experience.

I submit that, with Ministers facing in so many different directions, it would be wise to accept the new clause and allow further time for reflection.

4.45 pm
Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West)

I was not aware of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) about the Scottish Office and the Northern Ireland Office document. Her points add a great deal of weight to the new clause.

The fact that not enough time is being given to assess the results of the pilot schemes properly is very important to the new clause. However, the new clause, like the Bill, is also about the future of the quality of teacher education. Public confidence in our teachers in future will depend largely on what happens as a result of the Bill.

We believe that the Government intend in the longer term that their programmes like school-centred initial teacher training should be expanded across the whole of the teacher education sector. At the moment, the Government argue that that programme applies only to a section of postgraduate courses. In Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education said that there were no plans to expand the scheme at this time. When talking to a Centre for Policy Studies meeting last year, the Secretary of State said that SCITT schemes give students the opportunity to bypass teacher training. That phrase says a great deal about the intentions.

In Committee, we also heard what many Back Benchers would like to see happening to teacher education. In contrast to that, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) who has a distinguished record in education, said: By all means let us try to reform teacher training…by encouraging a great deal more emphasis on classroom skills and experience…However…we must be careful not to reduce too far the role of higher education institutions. They have a great deal to contribute".—[Official Report, 23 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 353.] That was well said and I hope that Ministers will take that point into account.

Clause 16 allows the Secretary of State to impose any changes he wishes on the Teacher Training Agency. That again opens up an avenue about which we are concerned. We have tabled new clause 1 because we believe that the consequences for education could be dire. It could be dire for the teaching profession; for schools and their pupils in consortia; for teacher education departments in universities and colleges; and for local authorities and their responsibilities.

Those dire consequences may not happen, although we do not know that. However, we know that education institutions of all kinds are infinitely adaptable and none more so than higher education and HE in so far as it is involved in teacher education. It has adapted enormously over the past two decades. However, the balance of probability is that there is a massive element of risk in what the Government are doing. About 99 per cent. of education practitioners are at best apprehensive about the consequences of the Bill, and at worst diametrically opposed to it. Asking why leads us to seek to amend the Bill.

In recent weeks, we have seen the disintegration of some partnerships or parts of partnership schemes. We know that the basis of partnership is being extended into SCITT schemes. In Committee, we noted that the deputy head of the Bishop Stopford school in Enfield was reported in The Guardian of 17 May as saying that the consequences of partnership for his school were extremely problematic. There had been serious consequences for senior members of staff who were using far too much time in the supervision of students, and therefore the school was withdrawing from the partnership.

In Committee, we were informed of an article in The Times, written by a mature student, Jeremy Howard, who had spent 15 years as an art dealer before experiencing such a partnership. His view—it is straight from the horse's mouth—is: The trouble with learning in the classroom is that you get few second chances. It is not easy in school to admit when things are going wrong, for fear of an unsympathetic response or being labelled incompetent. He reports on Keith Holt, who leads the school-based pilot scheme at Whitmore school in Harrow and who believes that students who plunge straight into a school-based course tend to be less adventurous in their teaching. Perhaps that is what the Government want.

Attrition rates among mentors in partnership schemes are up as much as 25 per cent. That is what Manchester university has experienced. Student drop-out rates in partnerships are growing and are greater than in older established schemes. There have been reported cases of students in partnership schemes having restricted access to higher-ability pupils because the school fears for their over-exposure. Obviously, it has league tables in mind.

The Association of University Teachers and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education sent hon. Members a document which pointed out that, in one Birmingham partnership scheme, all the selective schools have left the scheme because of pressure on staffing resources.

Those cases are anecdotes and individual examples, but they are important straws in the wind to demonstrate the risk that the new clause would avoid.

The response of head teachers in particular is that, as teachers of children, they are inherently unsuited to teach students in the school situation. Time is needed to examine that judgment, about which teachers have been informing us throughout the progress of the Bill.

Current pilot schemes obviously benefit from initial enthusiasm and commitment. One would expect that. Therefore, one would imagine that the Government had everything to gain from delay. Presumably, the results from pilot schemes will be good and will be enthusiastically reported. The Opposition believe that there should be time for them to be properly assessed.

There is much concern about the widening of and the effect of SCITT schemes over a period, the effect on cost assessment in schools, and the effect on the increased bureaucracy needed in schools to run the schemes. The Bill does not allow time to assess those wider implications. We have had reports of the pressures on teachers as a result of the incessant changes, which my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury remarked on, and there have been the pressures of curriculum change, which I hope will ease a little over the next 12 months.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)

One understands that the hon. Gentleman is a former lecturer and that he wants to stand up for the old higher education lecturers who are his friends, but has he taken the trouble to go to a school which has a school-based initial training scheme and assess it for himself, as I asked in Committee? Has he done so yet?

Mr. Pickthall

I have not been to one of those schemes, but I intend to do so. As I said in Committee, I do not expect to be critical; I expect such schemes to be well run. That is not the substance of my argument.

There have also been league tables and reports of tensions that have been created by league tables, particularly if a schools finds itself slipping in comparison with other schools in the neighbourhood, which could happen because of over-exposure to students. One has seen that already. There have been problems in schools of managing surplus places and the financial consequences of that. There has been the exceedingly high incidence of retirements among experienced teachers in the past few years—the very teachers who would best be able to support students in those circumstances. All those factors mean that there will be excess stress on school staff involved in the schemes or the neglect of students—one or the other.

We also must consider the effects on students. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) said that it takes five years to assess the success of a student's training or teacher education. I would not go that far; I do not think that one could wait that long, but at least some time is needed to assess output—one year, perhaps. For example, we should ask how many students have a job at all at the end and what problems they have in terms of their qualifications. Will there be two tiers of new entrants into the teaching profession as a result of the Bill? What success have students had in the first year, particularly now without a probationary year as a support?

What will be the effect on students of the lack of individual tutorial supervision, the lack of library and research back-up that higher education institutions have, and the lack—I would not underestimate it; it is terribly important—of student mutual support and welfare systems? We must also consider the effect on teacher education departments occupied by young lecturers as well as old ones, I might add, in universities and colleges. They need time, just as the country needs time, to assess the consequences for themselves.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

The hon. Gentleman seems to assume that all is well in higher education institutions. That is certainly not the case. There is enormous dissatisfaction with diploma of education courses and others. That is fundamental to the pressure for change, and the hon. Gentleman should know that.

Mr. Pickthall

I did not imply even remotely that everything was perfect in existing teacher education institutions—that would be foolish. Of course we need continual change and improvement. If such institutions are as appalling as the hon. Gentleman suggests, why are Ministers constantly concerned to tell us that they are only tinkering with a corner of the postgraduate certificate of education courses and leaving all the rest of them alone? If matters were as appalling as the hon. Gentleman says, they would wipe the lot out and start again. Some Conservative Back-Bench Members would like to see that happen. I have seen no evidence in any quantity to suggest that dissatisfaction with the present teacher education arrangements in colleges and universities is as widespread as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman regard it as an indictment of the training of teachers that so many school leavers are illiterate after 11 full years of compulsory state education? Is not that an indictment in some way of teaching training?

Mr. Pickthall

No, it is an indictment of 15 years of Conservative control of the education system. The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) cannot have it both ways. His Government have been in charge of the education system for 15 years, and presided over a period when the education standards to which he refers fell.

Mr. Hawkins

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before we go any further, hon. Members should get back to debating commencement.

Mr. Hawkins

If the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) is suggesting that the figure for the literacy of school leavers was significantly better in 1979, he is entirely mistaken. I suggest that he looks at the statistics.

5 pm

Mr. Pickthall

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that literacy has not decreased? I do not follow that argument at all. I shall try to wind up quickly.

Local education authorities also need time to adjust because the impact of consortia on local education authority networks will be considerable, depending on the concentration of them. They will have an impact on special educational needs provision, reading support services, the existing cluster arrangements and the existing feeder school arrangements. All that adds up to a compelling case for delay and for proper assessment of what is going on at present, much of which we approve of and want to support.

The Bill is going through on hope and guess. There is no disagreement about partnerships, which should be given more time to demonstrate that they can deliver better education. There is no disagreement about the need to continue to improve teacher education and to refine the increased class-based training. But those working in schools and colleges express deep concern about the likely outcome. They deserve to be reassured by proper assessments. We must get it right first time; otherwise, the Government essentially could be conducting an experiment on school pupils and students which is likely to fail.

Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)

I want to make a brief contribution to the debate on new clause 1, not only as a former teacher from the 1970s but as someone who is married to a teacher. I shall begin by commending the work on the Bill by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and the Ministers on the Front Bench, my hon. Friends the Members for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) and for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire). It is pioneer work and should be supported by the House.

We all want better teachers. We want better trained teachers. We all want better standards in the classroom. We all want academic excellence, good vocational courses and good basic education. For all those things, we need well-trained, well-motivated teachers. I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) said that we should put off the reforms for 12 months. Many of us feel that reform is long overdue because teacher training has been too academic; it has not looked enough at the chalk face of what is going on in schools, and it has been based too much in an ivory tower.

In the Bill, we have an innovative approach to providing better and more relevant teacher training so that teachers can do a better job, parents can be happier with the teaching in our schools and all pupils can be better educated. We all know that the majority of teachers in our schools do a good job. They have a difficult and demanding job and we must ensure that they have the tools to be able to do that job to the best of their ability. If we come along, as we have in this Bill, with considerable reform to try to improve teacher training, why should we wait? What is the benefit of saying that we want reforms and improvements but we want to wait?

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)


Mr. Evennett

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. It seems that he always wants to wait until tomorrow.

Mr. Gunnell

I am struck by the fact that the hon. Gentleman has told us that the majority of teachers are good. He said that the majority of teachers have the skills. Almost all of them have been through the present training system, and they have acquired those skills from that system. Why is the hon. Gentleman confident that these changes will result in all teachers having those skills? What evidence does he have that there will be an improvement? We think that the whole thing is rubbish and will not help at all.

Mr. Evennett

That is the voice of unenlightened self-interest—the voice of teacher training colleges and lecturers. What I am saying is that teaching changes. We are in a different world now. We are on this side of the House because Labour are still living in the 1960s.

Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)


Mr. Evennett

I will not give way. I must be brief because other hon. Members want to speak.

All I am saying is that we have come forward in the Bill with reforms that are necessary to deal with teacher training today to ensure that we can educate the children of today and tomorrow. The hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) is looking back. There are some good teachers but they need retraining. More importantly, we want teachers to train our children for today and tomorrow so that they can compete in the world. As we all know, it is a competitive world out there. We want the best teachers. We want them trained so that they can get the best out of our nation's children. That is what the measure is about. We must therefore reject the new clause.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)


Mr. Evennett

I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman can make his own contribution in a moment; I know that he wants to do so.

What I am saying is that we must reject the new clause. We want the Bill implemented now for the interests of our children, the parents and, ultimately, the teachers. Teachers want to be well trained so that they can enable our future citizens to make a good contribution to and fight for this country with the skills that they need to take on the world in industry, commerce and so on. Without good, well-trained teachers, we cannot have well-educated children. Therefore, we must reject the new clause and get the Bill on the statute book as soon as possible, in the interests of education and in the interests of the people of this country.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

It is extremely difficult to make a speech following the one by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). The hon. Gentleman said that he wants to see high-quality teaching in our schools from well-trained and highly motivated teachers. No hon. Member would disagree with that. The problem is that the hon. Gentleman has failed to give an example of one element of the Bill which will lead to the improvements that he wants to see.

Mr. Heald

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who is bought and paid for by the union for higher education lecturers—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Bath is in order; otherwise I would have ruled him out of order.

Mr. Foster

I should point out to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) that I am not bought and paid for by the union for higher education. I would be interested to know the union to which the hon. Gentleman is referring. As he is well aware, and as I have declared on many occasions in the House, I am supported by two teachers' unions. That has been regularly declared, as the Secretary of State will recognise. [Interruption.] I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order if I went into the question of how much, which would lead me to ask the Secretary of State how much he has been paid recently for a number of his activities.

If the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) is accepted by the House, it will give the Government the opportunity to stop and think and, in doing so, to reflect on the Bill, especially part I. If we are lucky, they will realise the error of their ways.

The Secretary of State has claimed that the Bill is the last piece in the jigsaw of education reform. I hope that he will recognise that all the recent pieces that have been put in the jigsaw have been hastily introduced, have had little consultation and, following their introduction, have often had to be changed. For example, reference has already been made to the national curriculum and procedures for testing and assessment.

I hope that the Secretary of State will recognise those constant changes in higher education, to which he wants to add. In a recent speech he referred to the "pell-mell pace" of change. I also hope that he will recognise that many of our teachers are suffering from what can only be described as innovation fatigue. I suspect that the difficulties that have been caused by those rapidly introduced bits of the education jigsaw—ill-thought-out and poorly consulted on—together with what might generously be described as some insensitivity, might lead to the Secretary of State's downfall in the forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle.

Hon. Members may wish to remember that, on Second Reading, the Secretary of State said: When I eventually leave my post in a good number of years' time".—[Official Report, 3 May 1994; Vol. 242, c. 597.] I think that his prediction is wrong. If he were willing to undergo a last-minute conversion and to accept the new clause and amendments, he might just save himself, although I suspect not. If he accepted the new clause, it would give him time to question why such legislation and such a body as the Teacher Training Agency are so important for England, but are not yet necessary for Wales or Scotland. It would give him time to consider whether it is right for the Secretary of State for Education to take on yet more powers. He already has more powers than any Cabinet Minister, other than the Prime Minister.

If the Secretary of State accepted the new clause and the amendments, it would give him an opportunity to reflect on whether it is right to establish yet another objectionable, costly and superfluous quango, whose membership is to be determined solely by him, thereby undermining any possibility of it being seen as independent or credible.

Mr. Heald

I was somewhat surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman deny that he represents the lecturers, as he does. He represents the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Is it not the case that he opposes school-based initial teacher training? If that is so, why does he want to introduce it in one years' time? Why the shilly-shallying? Is it because he does not want to nail his colours to the mast in case the changes succeed? Will he answer the question that I put to him in Committee? Does he support such training, or is it the usual Liberal compromise?

Mr. Foster

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman as clearly and unequivocally as I did in Committee. I am opposed to the introduction of entirely school-centred initial teacher training. I should have thought that he would have understood why I support the new clause, if he had been listening. It will create some time for the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench colleagues to reflect on the errors contained in this legislation and will possibly allow them to introduce further legislation that would prevent those moves from taking place.

Mr. Heald

Does the hon. Member agree that that is a complete nonsense? If he is against, he should be against and not introduce the change in a years' time. That is shilly-shallying in case it succeeds——then the Liberal Democrats will change their tune.

Mr. Foster

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could wait until Third Reading, when—by voting—I will make it absolutely clear where I and my party stand on the Bill.

The time that would be created, and might give the Secretary of State the opportunity to change his ways, would also enable him to consider whether it is right to fragment higher education, which is what the Bill will do, by separating the education of teachers from all other aspects of higher education and thereby diminishing the already fragile professional status of teachers.

The Secretary of State would also have time to reflect on why so many organisations oppose the proposals and so few accept them. On Second Reading he said: The success of all our reforms depends on teachers working hard to put them into effect."—[Official Report, 3 May 1994; Vol. 242, c. 600.] If that is so, would it not be a good idea to ensure that those, or any new proposals, are widely accepted before they are implemented?

The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) said that he wanted well-motivated teachers, but the introduction of one piece of legislation after another with which they disagree is hardly the best way to motivate teachers.

Because of the time allowed in the new clause, the Government will be able to reflect on whether it is appropriate to have yet more changes in initial teacher training, on top of the many changes that have already taken place in recent years and which the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) so rightly described. There would also be time to reflect once more on the advisability of moves towards skill-centred initial teacher training.

The hon. Member for Lancashire, West was not certain whether the Bill intended such a move. I believe that the Government intend to push hard towards school-centred initial teacher training.


If one wants evidence, one needs only to read the Secretary of State's words on Second Reading, when he said: We are taking training closer to the chalk face and out of the ivory silo."—[Official Report, 3 May 1994; Vol. 242, c. 600.] Much more convincing evidence comes from the 1994

Conservative party campaign guide, which stated: The Education Bill currently before Parliament will give effect to the clear and distinctive Conservative view of teacher training—based on the belief that schools themselves should play the principal role in devising, and running, teacher training courses. Students should spend time in the classroom gaining practical experience and less time in higher education institutions learning (often left-wing) educational theory. That is the principle that underlies the Government's move.

As other hon. Members have asked, is it not foolish to move towards school-based initial teacher training before the results of the pilot schemes have been evaluated?

One final matter on which the Secretary of State and Ministers may wish to reflect is that, if the measures go ahead, there is a danger that the number of institutions that participate in initial teacher training will decline markedly during the next few years. If that is the case, the very choice and diversity that Conservative Members are keen on providing will not be available.

I hope that the House will accept the new clause and the amendments, as they will give us time to reflect on the appalling proposals contained in the Bill and, having reflected, allow us ultimately to throw it out in its entirety.

Mr. Hawkins

In a very brief contribution I want to make one important point—that the people who matter in an education system are the children, followed by their parents.

As a former teacher, the son of a teacher and a university don and, most importantly, as a parent governor in a state junior school for some years, I was appalled by the low calibre of some people coming from teacher training colleges. There are many fine teachers and I pay tribute to their work, but when teachers leaving training colleges cannot spell properly, subtract, add up, or do simple mathematics, how are they supposed to pass on the required skills?

Mr. Enright


Mr. Hawkins

I am sorry, but I shall not give way because I said that I would be very brief.

I speak for parents and children, who deserve better-quality teachers. That is what the Teacher Training Agency will provide and that is why we should reject the Opposition's new clause. We want full support for the Government's proposals.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr. Robin Squire)

The amendments moved by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and supported by Opposition Members are misguided. They attempt to go back over the same ground which was trodden earlier in Committee, except that this set of amendments is rather worse constructed than the earlier amendment covering the same issue. I shall come to the technical aspects later.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Not too late.

Mr. Squire

I take that correction from a sedentary position from the hon. Lady.

The intention of the amendments is clear. The Opposition do not want to see the Teacher Training Agency up and running for another year, if at all. They do not want to see one body with an overview of teacher training bringing together the key functions of giving information to potential students and promoting teaching as a career, ensuring that all courses meet national standards, encouraging diversity in provision and offering choice to students, and allocating funds in pursuit of the statutory objective of raising the standards of teaching.

That is what the Teacher Training Agency will do and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) reminded us, it is something which the Government are firmly pledged to carry through. The House sees a compelling case for the agency, and voted accordingly on Second Reading.

I have yet to hear a compelling reason why the implementation of the new arrangements should be subject to an arbitrary and unnecessary delay. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) commented on it with wise words, and I agree with him completely. I accept that changes to the new arrangements for funding and accreditation will need careful planning. Contrary to the allegations of the hon. Member for Dewsbury, the changes will be phased in. Delaying the setting up of the agency will militate against sensible transition.

I listened to the hon. Member Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall)—as I did in Committee—talk about his fears and concerns about change and the possible risk. I accept that we are requiring a change in teacher training, but the change is designed to improve performance. We do not underestimate the importance of getting in the new arrangements properly with the co-operation of higher education and schools. The Teacher Training Agency will be well placed to oversee and monitor that process and adjust the funding and other arrangements as necessary.

Those, I submit, are arguments in favour of a specialist body and are scarcely arguments against. After all, only when the agency is up and running with members and officers can it start to take a view on the important issues. Not having an agency until this time next year will simply freeze the position for 12 months, and that will not help the agency at all. It appears that one single issue has blinded the Opposition to the range of important work that the agency will be doing and co-ordinating.

Mr. Don Foster

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Squire

I refer, of course, to school-centred initial teacher training and, at that precise moment, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Foster

I was trying to catch the Minister's eye just before he moved on from that point. He said that the Teacher Training Agency will be making vital decisions affecting teaching. Will the meetings of the TTA be held in public, following the advice given by Baroness Blatch to the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education, as the agency is making vital decisions on one aspect of teaching?

Mr. Squire

The meetings will not be held in public, but the hon. Gentleman knows from the points raised in Committee that the general code of openness will apply to the proceedings and deliberations of the agency. It will not have open meetings as such.

The key issue from the Opposition's comments both here and in Committee has been the question of school-centred initial teacher training. Delaying the Bill would not prevent progress with school-centred training under existing legislation, which would carry on and be funded directly by the Department on pioneer courses. It would mean that, rather than the agency looking across all teacher training—in the light of all the evidence—and making judgments about the balance to strike between school-centred and other courses, that balance would remain for my right hon. Friend to determine for another year.

In the light of the comments of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), that is scarcely an example of more power being taken by the Secretary of State. On the contrary, the Bill is another example of my right hon. Friend passing up powers.

I accept all that has been said about the importance of the Ofsted evaluation of school-centred training, and I say the same about all Ofsted evaluations. The agency will be well placed to take account of the emerging messages in the decisions which it takes on funding or courses during the academic year 1995–96.

Mr. Greg Pope (Hyndburn)

Does the Minister agree with the disgraceful comments made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) that many newly qualified teachers are of a low calibre? If he does agree with his hon. Friend, why does the Minister think that those low-calibre teachers are the people best placed to train the next generation of teachers?

Mr. Squire

The hon. Gentleman is trying to lead me down avenues which I am not particularly willing to go down. I am happy to tell him that, on the basis of several visits both to school-centred training and higher education teacher training, the calibre in general of new teachers is very good. [Interruption.] But I would think that it would not be a matter for argument across the Chamber that teaching in general needs ever higher standards to match the demands being made on schools by the world outside. I hope that that is not controversial. We are trying to ensure that there is a better chance of higher-calibre teachers emerging in the future.

Ms Estelle Morris

If the Bill becomes law, will the Government continue to make larger grants available to students sitting their teacher training course in a SCITT than to those sitting their course at another institution?

Mr. Squire

The hon. Lady is, in effect, referring to one of the many decisions that the Teacher Training Agency will need to take. That will be linked with the value for money which we have stressed throughout the proceedings. The agency will be looking for quality in courses and will also look for value for money. In very broad terms, the sums of money that school-centred initial teacher training courses will get will be similar to that which goes at present to higher education.

Ms Morris

The specific point about which I wished to talk was the grant being made available to students sitting their initial teacher training course. I think that I am right in saying that at the moment students get a greater grant when they are on a SCITT course than if they do the same training in another institution. Will the Government say whether that will continue, or will they allocate resources and grants equally to all students who are studying initial teacher training, whatever way they choose to do so?

Mr. Squire

I believe that I am right in saying that the intention is that students will be treated in the same way under whichever form of training they are going to be receiving, whether it is higher education-dominated and school-based or school-centred. If that is not true, I shall return to the point during our proceedings this afternoon. That is certainly my understanding of the matter.

I mentioned at the outset certain technical deficiencies, and I shall not spend too long on them. Amendment No. 11 removes the commencement provisions of the Bill. While new clause 1 would at least enable part I to be started-although late—it would not enable parts II and III to be started. That would not allow essential student union reforms and would leave much of part I ineffective without the general provisions of part III.

Amendment No. 4 adds little to the overall effect of amendment No. 11 and new clause 1. It would simply prevent the agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales from funding institutions under the Bill until the financial year 1996–97. Since the agency would not exist until 1995, that could hardly be described as a further bar as it could scarcely do otherwise.

The Government have no intention of agreeing to the amendment, or the others in the group. There is no reason to delay, and the case for the agency is clear cut and accepted by the House. The amendments are wrong in principle and in practice. They would create uncertainty and confusion, and I ask the House to resist them.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

The debate has been much longer than I expected when I moved the new clause. The Minister was correct in one point—the Opposition do not want to see the Teacher Training Agency established. We have consistently opposed the Bill in principle, and we are seeking with the new clause to give the Government time to reconsider and look at the evidence which is not yet available because the pilots have not been completed.

The Minister's responses to many of the questions show that there are still many points which need to be decided, such as the critical point which he was not able to answer with regard to student support.

Mr. Squire

Lest there be any confusion, let me confirm that SCITT students will be treated on precisely the same basis as HE students.

Mrs. Taylor

The Minister is learning all the time, and I think that that experience will apply to the whole Bill.

One of the most interesting comments was made by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald), who said that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) opposed the Bill in case it succeeded. If Conservative Members are Speaking in such terms, they are clearly not convinced that it will succeed. The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) expressed concern about children; his first concern should be to stop the experimentation that has so disrupted the quality of education recently.

The Minister did not tell us why the Government were adopting inconsistent attitudes to Northern Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales. Perhaps we can return to that on another occasion.

I accept that the new clause and amendments may be technically deficient. I do not want to waste time; we have other important matters to discuss. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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