HL Deb 10 May 1999 vol 600 cc1046-55

8.37 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 22nd March be approved [14th Report from the Joint Committee.]

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, from September 2000, the GTCs for England and Wales will provide an independent and authoritative voice for teachers, working with the Government and others to raise standards. For the first time, teachers will have a major role in regulating their own profession.

The GTCs will advise the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales on a wide range of teaching issues, including recruitment, supply, initial training, induction, professional development and conduct. As with other professional bodies, the GTCs will develop and consult on a code of professional conduct and practice expected of registered teachers. The GTCs will also maintain a register of qualified teachers and will have powers to strike off teachers for serious professional] misconduct or incompetence.

The regulations we are to consider today deal exclusively with the composition of the general teaching councils, not their functions. During consideration of the Bill that became the Teaching and Higher Education Act last year, concern was expressed that not enough detail was known about the composition of the GTCs. The regulations we are considering today provide that detail.

I should add at this point that I am also speaking on behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales to present regulations which will govern the composition of the General Teaching Council for Wales.

Briefly, I should like to draw attention to the main provisions of the regulations as they apply to the GTC for England. Regulation 3 provides for the composition of the council and is based largely on the consultation paper we published last year. I am pleased that the proposals received a good measure of support. However, inevitably some changes were needed. The main change is to increase the size of the council to 63 members, compared to our original proposal for 55. That is necessary to accommodate important additional interests not in the original proposals—including chief education officers and equal opportunities groups. We intend to add to the equal opportunities groups able to appoint a member to the Disability Rights Commission, once it has been established. We cannot do so until such time as the commission is established but will amend the regulations in future for that purpose—which will take the number of members to 64.

Regulation 3 shows an increase in the number of elected teachers originally proposed, which compensates for the additional appointed members and meets our commitment to retain a majority of teachers on the GTC. Regulation 9 requires the Secretary of State to ensure that at least two of his appointees can represent the interests of parents. It provides also that he has regard to the desirability of the council's membership reflecting the interests of the general public, and of teachers of pupils with special educational needs, when deciding who to appoint.

The regulations deal a with a number of constitutional issues. The proposed arrangements are modest and in keeping with our view that, wherever possible, the GTCs will be best placed to decide their own arrangements. Regulations 4, 5 and 6 provide for electing teachers on to the council, including eligibility criteria for appointments, voting and standing in elections. Regulation 10 deals with the terms of office; Regulation 11 with the filling of casual vacancies; and Regulation 12 with the appointment of the chairman.

We have been thinking again about the latter. We did not propose as part of the consultation to exercise the Secretary of State's power to appoint the first chairman but intended to leave that to the council when it first meets. In retrospect, we think that time will be rather short. The membership of the full council may not be known until May or June next year, and it will have many pressing tasks during its early days. We believe that the council may need the chairman in place later this year—to speak with authority on behalf of and as a member of the council. We will look at that again, consult a range of bodies and plan to amend the regulations so that the Secretary of State can appoint the first chairman from one of his 13 appointments before the end of the year.

I make it clear that we intend to make that appointment on a short-term basis, so that within the first year the council will be able to elect its own chairman.

The regulations for the General Teaching Council for Wales already provide for the Secretary of State to appoint the first chairman.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, why is it that in England, the bodies appear to be appointing their own representatives, whereas in Wales, the appointments will be made by the Secretary of State? Where does the National Assembly for Wales, which was elected last Thursday, figure in all this? It does not appear to be mentioned at all.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, when the regulations were drawn up, the National Assembly for Wales had not been elected. The GTC will be answerable to the assembly. The Secretary of State for England will be making a number of appointments. With respect to Wales, where there is a wish to have a much smaller GTC because of the lesser number of teachers, it has been decided to have other arrangements because a larger number of appointments is not thought to be necessary.

The regulations for Wales cover the same issues as for England but there are some differences in the detail. The smaller GTC for Wales reflects the relative size of the teaching profession there, and that difference in numbers means that it is not possible for interested bodies directly to appoint members in the same way. Instead, a wide range of organisations will be asked to submit nominations for membership of the GTC for Wales.

The proposals for Wales also received a broad measure of support. The main changes made following the consultation exercise are that explicit provision is made to secure the continued teacher member majority; and four of the nine members to be appointed from nominations by relevant organisations will be from teacher unions and associations.

In finalising the arrangements, we have sought to build on the widespread consensus on the composition of the councils. We cannot satisfy everyone's demand for a seat on the councils, because to do so would make them unwieldy and cumbersome. However, we believe that we have got the balance about right. I commend the regulations to the House, and I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 22nd March be approved [14th Report from the Joint Committee]—(Baroness Blackstone.)

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the Government's thinking. Before I talk about the detail, I welcome my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy back to the Front Bench. He had a fairly long period of illness and it is good to see him back in his place and to hear him intervene so soon after his reappearance.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Minister referred to the council's planned composition, but there are anomalies. It would be helpful if the noble Baroness could help. I find it extraordinary that consultation was on the basis of the chairman being appointed by the council; that there has been a change of heart; and that the chairman shall be appointed only from among those members appointed by the Secretary of State. Why should not the whole membership be eligible for the chairmanship? If the appointment is to be only short term, is it to be for a matter of weeks or months? Will it be only until the whole body is appointed—in which case, all members will not only have the opportunity to influence the choice of chairman but be eligible for the chairmanship.

I understand that the appointments will be for four years. I am sorry that the Government have not seen fit to stagger the appointments because it will be a case of all in, all out on the same day. I am not sure that will be good for continuity. I am sorry that aspect was not given some consideration.

The Minister's response to my noble friend Lord Roberts was highly unsatisfactory. The Secretary of State will be central to the appointments in Wales. Paragraph 6(1) states: The election of elected members…shall be conducted in accordance with an electoral scheme made by the Secretary of State". It states also that the rules will be made by the Secretary of State and that the electoral scheme may be amended or revoked by a subsequent scheme of the Secretary of State and an electoral scheme under paragraph (2) may be amended or revoked by a subsequent scheme…with the approval of the Secretary of State". Paragraph 7 states that nine members shall be appointed from a list of nominated persons. What on earth is the distinction in that list? It is a large number of bodies. All will go through the machinations of consulting and deciding who they would like to nominate. I understand that only nine members will come from that long list, so the disappointment factor will be two to one, which would be unfortunate.

Secondly, how will one know the balance? Are there any bodies on the list that are absolutely key and will receive any kind of priority? One concern is that no mention is made in the Welsh regulations about parents, those with special needs or even the general public interest. That is an interesting point in the context of the English body.

When these bodies go through the appointment procedures the Secretary of State decides. The Secretary of State for Wales ultimately decides on membership of half the council. That makes a real distinction between Wales and England. On the day when people are registering as Members of the Welsh Assembly it is extraordinary that we should be considering secondary legislation that cuts out the Welsh Assembly and gives the Secretary of State for Wales, a Westminster appointment for the UK, a key role in all of these appointments. There is nothing in the regulations to the effect that for "Secretary of State" one should read subsequently "First Minister in Wales". It would be very helpful to know what is to happen.

These appointments are for four years. During that period the General Teaching Council will not be influential. This takes place on a day when Members are taking their place in Wales and are cut out of the process. Is it really true that the Secretary of State for Wales will approve these appointments when the First Minister is in place in the Assembly in Wales? It would be interesting to hear the response of the Minister.

Does the additional Disability Rights Commission appointee—I have no quarrel with that at all—mean that the body will be 64 strong or that that appointee will take the place of one of the other appointees on the council? The noble Baroness appears to be telling the House today that some secondary thinking is still taking place. I deem that pretty unfortunate on a day when Parliament is being asked to approve these two orders. With those questions, I await the Minister's response with interest.

8.52 p.m.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, it is extraordinary that we began to debate this matter late at night a long time ago and it seems that we are destined always to discuss this particular piece of legislation at the same time.

I welcome the move by the Government to strengthen the role of the council. With others I spoke quite forcefully at all stages of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill. We should like to see the Government place even more trust in teachers to regulate their own profession. The General Teaching Council should be a body of and for the teaching profession and, like other professional bodies, the guardian and upholder of professional standards.

These regulations recognise the Government's acceptance of the views on these Benches that professional teachers need to be in the majority on the General Teaching Council. We welcome Regulation 6(2) which also gives that majority power to devise its own electoral system for the election of the 25 serving teachers. We on these Benches welcome the inclusion of a nominee from the National Children's Bureau. That body has a very good record in defending children from all kinds of pressure and abuse, but it also has a particular commitment to developing education for citizenship. In passing, I congratulate the Government on their announcement today that they intend to include citizenship in the curriculum, which is a matter that we have discussed in this House in the past.

Referring to the 25 elected members and nine appointed by various bodies, I should like to put two questions to the Minister. One is to do with the definition of junior pupils. There will be 11 teachers of junior pupils. Can the Minister clarify where pre-school children come into it? There is a definition of "junior pupil" in Regulation 2(1) which appears to include three and four year-olds, but the Minister will be aware that we on these Benches are particularly concerned about pre-school education. I seek clarification as to that.

I am aware from debates in another place that there is one area about which concern remains: representation of the interests of Jewish, and now Moslem, voluntary-aided schools on the General Teaching Council. Can the Minister explain further how she sees that happening?

I turn to the appointments by the Secretary of State. All of my comments refer to the English regulations. My noble friend Lord Thomas will deal with Wales. The Secretary of State is to appoint 13 directly appointed members. Two or more must represent the interests of the parents of pupils. Can the Minister indicate where the Minister will be looking? I am aware from debates here and in another place that the Government are a little wary as to how to achieve parent representation and whether that person should come from a parent-teacher association. There are other parent bodies; for example, the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education. Quite a number of the people on that body are parents. Perhaps the Minister can clarify that further.

We welcome the fact that following debates on the Bill the Government consulted fairly widely on the make-up of the General Teaching Council and have made changes as a result. But the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in particular wonders why, when the number of people appointed to represent major bodies was increased from 13 to 17, thereby being a bit more specific, the Government did not believe that there was a possibility of reducing the number to be directly appointed by the Minister, given that they had changed the other numbers. Did the Government consider reducing the number from 13 and, if not, why not?

I am particularly pleased about two other areas. First, people who have experience in relation to teaching those with special needs will be involved. Has the Minister also looked at the position of gifted and highly able pupils? Will that feature in the Minister's nominees? I listened with interest to the noble Baroness's comments on whether the chairman would be elected from within the body or he or she would be appointed by the Minister at the beginning. The position is not clear.

In conclusion, it appears that the Government still find it difficult to believe that teachers can take control of the General Teaching Council. In previous debates we heard a lot about the fact that it needed to be evolutionary. I had hoped that under the English regulations the Government would allow the General Teaching Council to appoint its own chairman, but perhaps tonight the Government are going back on that. I believe that that would be a retrograde step even if the Government give the commitment that it will be for only a short time. It is important that this body is controlled by teachers. Only time will tell whether the Government really believe that and in the end let them do it.

8.59 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I associate myself with most of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. It is particularly important that this should be a professional council of teachers. That is what we have wanted for a very long time. I hope that the council will be given a few more powers than it was given under the Bill. It must be an important body if it is to be successful.

I am somewhat alarmed by the size of the council; 63 seems an enormously unwieldy body. I approve that chief education officers, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission should have representation. But it will be an enormous body. I should not like to chair it; I cannot imagine many people who would be adept at that. I look forward to hearing more about the chairman and the change of view that has occurred.

I congratulate the Government on having set up this body. I wish it the best of luck and hope that it will he enormously successful. It must be given sufficient powers; and it must be professional.

9 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Maddock I welcome the principle of the General Teaching Council for Wales. It would be churlish of me not to welcome also the provision of separate regulations for Wales since this afternoon I complained that the Local Government Bill mixes up Wales and England in a way that confuses and will confuse the new Members of the Welsh Assembly.

However, these regulations appear to be somewhat premature. The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy—I am delighted to see him back in his place—about the role of the Secretary of State and the National Assembly was not answered by the Minister in her reply. Does the National Assembly for Wales take over from the Secretary of State the appointment of the people to this council when it comes into existence on 1st July? If not, why not? Why should this remain a Westminster matter by a Westminster appointed Secretary of State when the whole of the education provision for Wales has been devolved to the Welsh Assembly?

Furthermore, if it is to remain with the Secretary of State for Wales, a Westminster appointed Minister with only a month or two to go, why do we have a council which consists of 12 elected members but a majority, 13, nominated members? It is true that of those who are to be nominated some are to come from the organisations set out in Part I of the schedule; that is to say, four out of eight. But the other five can come from something like 26 organisations. The Secretary of State can pick and choose among those whose names are put forward.

One notes in particular the lack of any consideration for the position of Welsh schools. Someone who represents the interests of pupils who attend Welsh schools may be nominated by one or other of the teaching organisations. But it does not follow that that person will be appointed to the council. I also note the absence of a specific person to deal with special educational needs, although that is fully dealt with in the English regulations.

Finally, there is a complete absence of any representation of parents. Parents exist in Wales. I should have thought that traditionally parents in Wales take a greater interest in the education of their children than parents elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

These regulations lack sensitivity at this time. The regulations should be withdrawn at this stage. It should be left as one of the first tasks of the Assembly to set the body up in the way that accords with the special needs of Welsh education.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by talking about Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, was perhaps a little unfair. I felt it right to wait until we got to the end of the debate, and allow people to put questions about the position in Wales, before getting into too much detail. However, as I believe I made clear, the functions of the GTC will be taken over by the National Assembly for Wales. The GTC will be responsible to the First Minister in Wales and to the National Assembly. But we have to wait until the transfer of functions order which will take place, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, intimated, from 1st July of this year. When that happens, the Secretary of State will no longer be involved. It will be for the First Minister. I believe that the appointments would be made by him. I hope that that clarifies the situation.

We need to move forward on the setting up of the GTC. It would be wrong to have delayed introducing the regulations until after that date. The regulations will be covered when the transfer takes place; and the National Assembly and the First Minister will take this on.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, also raised the issue of membership from those who will be nominated in Wales. I am sure that the National Assembly and the First Minister will want to take on some of the suggestions he made. It will be important that those with special educational needs and their teachers are represented, just as they will be in England. The same goes for parents.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. First, why is it deemed necessary to make it explicit for the English council to have someone with special educational needs experience and someone representing the interests of parents on the council, but not for the Welsh council?

Secondly, although it will be some weeks before the assembly receives its devolved powers, the composition of the body will be important to the Assembly. Why can it not be left to the Assembly?

Thirdly, whether the First Minister and/or the Secretary of State is involved, why cannot the bodies in Wales be trusted, whereas those in England can?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I thought that I covered the last point in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. I had not been aware that he had been ill. I wish to add my welcome to him. It is good to see him back in the Chamber.

I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has forgotten that there has been widespread consultation on this matter, not just in England but also in Wales. The responses that we have received there have been extremely positive. The wish to get on with establishing the GTC is as strong there as it is in England. In the responses that have been received, there has been no suggestion that the number of people to be nominated is either too many or too few. It has been accepted that the number is about right and that there should be some flexibility for the balancing which must be done to make sure that the range of those who are represented is reasonable and one with which teachers and others in Wales can be happy.

I turn now to some other issues which have been raised. The noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Maddock, asked about the appointment of the chairman. When saying that the chairman was to be appointed from one of the 13 allocated at present to the Secretary of State, I was not suggesting—and I hope that I can explain this—that the chairman would be taken from one of the 13 who had been nominated. That appointment will be made in advance of any other appointments made to the GTC. The idea is that we shall consult about the issue but the Government's current thinking is that it would be right to try to appoint the chairman before other members of the council are appointed for approximately a year before the council is able to select its own chairman. That is in order that the preliminary work should be done and that somebody should be in place to represent the council and its interests.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked also about the Disability Rights Commission and the numbers to which that would give rise with an additional appointment in that regard. It will be 64 strong with that appointment. She questioned whether it would not be a good idea to stagger some of the appointments. Indeed, those appointments made by the Secretary of State will be staggered over a two to five year period in order to ensure that not everybody leaves the council at the same time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked about the definition of junior pupils and whether that would include three and four year-olds—those in nursery and pre-school education. Yes, they will be covered by the elections made for teachers in junior schools.

The noble Baroness also raised the question of specific representation for parents. We looked carefully at that issue but we were not able to find a suitable body through which such representation could properly be expressed. However, there are proposals to establish a more general structure. We have not yet reached a stage at which we can name a specific appointing body. That is why the regulations specify that the Secretary of State must include in his appointments a representative for parents. As and when different channels emerge that are able to command the respect of those interests, we shall be open to consider how best to take account of them.

My noble friend Lady David asked about the number of people on the council. I accept entirely that it is a large group the working of which will require considerable skill on the part of the chairman. But there are other public bodies of this sort of a similar size. I once chaired the General Advisory Council of the BBC which, when I took it over, had more than 60 members. We had to increase the size of the GTC to accommodate the commitment which we rightly made—and I believe my noble friend strongly supported it, as did other Members of your Lordships' House—that there should be a majority of teachers on the council. That means that it has become slightly bigger.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked about gifted pupils. She commented on the importance of having representation for those with special educational needs. Again, that is something which the Secretary of State may wish to consider when making his appointments. But it may well be that one or more of the teachers elected will have a particular interest in gifted children. It is important that we do not neglect their needs in any way.

I think I have covered all the questions raised. However, I shall, of course, write to noble Lords who raise questions en any points I have not managed to cover. I believe that we must all welcome the General Teaching Council. The arguments for establishing the council have been very well rehearsed. At all stages we have tried to proceed through dialogue and consultation. Without this, I believe that the GTCs would fail to command the respect of both teachers and the wider educational world. We all want the GTCs to succeed. They have a key role to play in revitalising the profession. These regulations are a vital stage in giving councils the best possible start. I hope that the House will join me in approving them. I commend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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