HC Deb 29 April 1999 vol 330 cc457-8
1. Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

When the General Teaching Council will be operational; and if he will make a statement on its introduction. [81514]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Charles Clarke)

From September 2000, the General Teaching Council for England will be the new professional body for teachers. For the first time, teachers will have a real role in regulating their profession, and we expect that the GTC will quickly become a key player in shaping the education service of the future. The Government are committed to revitalising teaching as a leading profession, and the GTC is a powerful symbol of our drive towards achieving that. The first election to the GTC is expected to take place in spring 2000.

Mr. Coaker

Is my hon. Friend aware of quite how much teachers welcome the establishment of the General Teaching Council? They have long wanted a professional body that is able to represent their interests and articulate their views on a wide range of education issues. Will he confirm that part of the Government's drive towards addressing education issues is to re-establish the teaching profession's morale, which is so essential if we are to raise education standards in our schools?

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct: the reform is long overdue and should have been made decades ago. It is also a very important step in establishing and strengthening the status and standing of the teaching profession in the community as a whole, and in ensuring that professional standards run right through our education system. I am absolutely delighted that this Government have put the reform on the statute book and will bring it into effect. It will have a profound effect on classroom morale.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

The Minister is well aware of our concerns about the General Teaching Council, and the fact that it is not the body that it needs to be if it is to encourage more people to join the teaching profession. We are also concerned about the extreme control that the Secretary of State has over members of the General Teaching Council—is not that yet another example of the way in which the Government seek to control from the centre, rather than allowing teachers and the profession to make decisions for themselves?

Given the recently released figures showing that the Government will yet again miss the teacher recruitment target—which the Government reduced, despite the fact that there are still 10,000 teacher vacancies in our schools—when will they accept the real classroom crisis of teaching recruitment and do something about it?

Mr. Clarke

It is a little rich for the hon. Lady to make that point, given that for 18 years the previous Government did absolutely nothing to address those issues. Although I am glad that she has given her general support, her remarks were a bit rich.

I defend the role of the Secretary of State in nominating members to the General Teaching Council on two important grounds. First, there is a public interest in regulation of the teaching profession. It is right that there should be such an interest, and it should be expressed by the Secretary of State in nominating people to the council. Secondly, the Secretary of State's nominations will give real flexibility to the council as it begins to evolve. In the regulations, we specify the Secretary of State's specific responsibility to take account of the needs of parents and of children with special educational needs. I believe that those are very important developments in ensuring that the General Teaching Council will evolve into what we wish it to be—an effective, strong and independent representative of the profession.

The Green Paper, the GTC initiative and all our other specific initiatives and measures —on science and on maths, for example—are designed to tackle teacher recruitment. It would be very refreshing if the hon. Lady gave us some support in those initiatives, rather than simply seeking to niggle from the sidelines, as she so consistently does.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

Does my hon. Friend agree that until the profession unites into a council, it will never achieve its full potential? Will he say that he intends urgently to press on and attempt to knock some sense into the profession?

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have said on a number of occasions, and I believe it to be the case, that the divided representation of the teaching trade unions damages the profession. I hope that the General Teaching Council will play a role in unifying and strengthening the profession's role in the provision of education, which is why I think that establishing the council is such an important step. I am glad to have his support.

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