HL Deb 08 October 2003 vol 653 cc362-77

7.40 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 8th July, be annulled (S.I. 2003/1663).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the regulations before the House today have been amended since the initial draft. Therefore, consultation on the amended regulations is denied to those teachers and others who have concerns about the detail. That is why I am using this opportunity to invite the Minister to explain the changes and to respond to some of those concerns.

One of the changes would allow a person without a formal teaching qualification—that is, an instructor, an overseas trained teacher, who may or may not be familiar with the British school system, a teacher trainee who has yet to pass the skills test, or a trainee or graduate on a registered teacher programme—to be responsible for the direction and supervision of assistant teachers in our schools. If I am correct in my understanding that an unqualified person working as a teacher could be supervised by someone without qualified teacher status, that represents a serious deviation from the original draft regulations. If I am wrong, will the Minister specifically point out the legal reference which prevents that from being the case?

Under Regulation 6, an unqualified person is able to undertake the planning and preparation of lessons and courses for pupils, the delivery of lessons to pupils, and the assessment of and reporting on the development, progress and attainment of pupils. Such an unqualified person may carry out any or all of these functions for two years or even longer if the Secretary of State agrees. Would the Minister say what, over and above that list of professional activities, would differentiate the job description of a qualified teacher from an assistant teacher described in these regulations? Would the Minister also confirm that an unqualified person could be assigned teaching duties, as set out in Regulation 6, to support the work of a nominated person, referred to in paragraph (10) of Schedule 2, who may also be unqualified? If a person is deemed by a head teacher to have the skills, expertise and experience to plan, to prepare and deliver lessons, and to assess and report on the development, progress and attainment of pupils—which, frankly, is about the same job description as that of a fully qualified teacher—how will they be paid? Who will validate their qualifications?

Teaching assistants have played, and continue to play, a vital role in our schools. We have also had unqualified teachers employed in our schools for many years. However, at present, such teachers who are detailed in Sections 4 to 9 of Schedule 2—instructors, overseas, graduate or registered teachers—are strictly controlled by regulation, which is very different from the open-ended use by head teachers to employ anyone without explicitly defined limits.

Parents and teachers are concerned. That concern needs to be taken seriously. They want assurances that such people—unqualified—will not be used as a cheap substitute for a qualified teacher. It is clear that the supervisory teacher, who may be qualified or even unqualified, need not be physically present in the classroom or even in the school. There is nothing in these regulations which covers that. There are no minimum staffing levels for qualified teachers in a school. Unless I am mistaken, one qualified teacher could cover the teaching duties of more than one class with unqualified teachers. There is no limit on how many assistants teaching whole classes could be deployed at any one time.

I have heard that in Rochdale a conference took place recently where there was publicity boasting that schools could employ four cover assistants for the price of one teacher. Is the Minister aware of that? If so, what is her response to such a suggestion?

Previous regulations allowed head teachers to direct unqualified staff to work in prescribed circumstances. Any use of staff outside the regulations was deemed illegal. The previous, now repealed, Education (Teacher Qualifications and Health Standards) (England) Regulations 1999, state: save in the cases and circumstances specified in Schedule 2 and subject to Regulations 11, 12, 13, 14 (which allows student teachers, overseas training teachers, and others on a route to QTS and, exceptionally, instructors employed when no qualified teacher is available), no person shall be employed as a teacher at a school unless he is a qualified teacher in accordance with Schedule 3". As amended, these regulations enable persons, irrespective of their qualifications or absence of qualifications, to take on the core teaching duties of teachers, as set out in Regulation 6.

Two things occur to me. First, if my reading of these regulations is correct, let us have some honesty from government. Why not admit that unqualified teachers can be assigned whole classes and all the core teaching tasks of a qualified teacher without close supervision and without any limit on the numbers of assistants used in this way? Secondly, if teaching assistants have all the skills to fulfil the teaching duties set out in Regulation 6, rather than be used as cheap labour, they should have those skills validated and converted to qualified teacher status.

Teachers and parents can be forgiven for being suspicious of government at this time. Budgets are difficult. In order to cope financially this year, many schools have shed teachers and assistant teaching staff. Many schools have incurred deficit budgets with no guarantee whatever that the deficit will be recognised in next year's settlement. Unprecedented moneys are held back by central government—one has only to witness the massive capital and revenue spend on learning and skills councils and buildings and staff up and down the land, and even to calculate the number of additional people in education on the non-school-based teacher payroll who add little or no value to the education of our children in schools.

The pressure on heads and governors to economise on qualified teaching staff will be enormous. There is nothing in these regulations to prevent that situation. Because there is no framework for supervision of teaching assistants—it is clear that the qualified teacher may not be present necessarily when the assistant is planning, teaching, assessing, and so forth—there is an issue of responsibility, which is an important legal point. The qualified professional teacher or nominated person—set out in paragraph 10 of Schedule 2—who is nominally responsible for one, two or even more teaching assistants, could, in law, be held responsible for poor or inadequate teaching or an incident that took place in the classroom. Will the Minister tell the House where responsibility lies? How can qualified teachers meet such responsibilities when regulations do not address the role of supervision?

At a time when more teachers than ever are being required to teach subjects for which they are not trained, it would be a tragedy for children's education if non-qualified teachers, without a subject specialism, were given whole class preparation, delivery and assessment of education responsibilities. The morale of our teachers is not high now. They want greater professional freedom and greater protection of their professional status. The way in which these regulations are written leads to great uncertainty and a suspicion that they could become a licence to save money without regard to the consequences for children's education.

Perhaps I may finish by emphasising this point: I am not against teaching assistants. They have played an incredibly valuable role in our schools. I know that there are teaching assistants who are more than capable of taking on the role of the professional teacher. That is what we should be in business to do. Using them as teaching assistants may be an abuse of their use rather than using them for the right reasons. Nor am I against the freedom of governors and head teachers to select the appropriate staff to teach children in their schools. But loosely drafted regulations which, on the face of them, allow the appointment of anyone to take on core teaching duties, working to an unqualified teacher who is not even present in the classroom, do little to improve the confidence and morale of our professional teachers and the quality of education for our children in schools up and down the land. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 8th July, be annulled (S.I. 2003/1663).— (Baroness Blatch.)

7.50 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for tabling this Prayer and for speaking to it so thoroughly and clearly. Those things needed to be said and I hope that she may have saved me a little time.

What strikes me strongly about these regulations is that they represent a belated recognition within Whitehall that what is now becoming one of the major problems for our public services is the fact that people do not want to work in them. It is shortage which has created the need for regulations such as these. That shortage is to be found up and down the country and complaints are being made everywhere.

Two years ago, I told the House in the debate on the humble Address that we were listening to the sound of turning worms. Now we have regulations to deal with the wormcasts, and I do not think that we should be too surprised about that. In future, it should be a major object of policy to make people rather more willing to work in public service jobs than they have been hitherto. So I am sure that the Minister will be as grateful as I am that we do not have to consider the housing element of that in today's debate.

As the noble Baroness emphasised at the end of her speech, in anything that involves qualifications, some attempt must be made to strike a balance; I shall start there. When Members on these Benches express our dissatisfaction with these regulations, we have no wish to go back to the glorious days of the great demarcation disputes represented by Peter Sellers in his prime. We have no objection to the existence of assistants doing properly selected and appropriate jobs and—I stress that I agree with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—with the prospect of promotion if they show enough quality, range and imagination in carrying them out.

We do not need to insist that the normal qualifications should be the only way of showing merit. We remember, for example, the case of Professor Richard Titmuss, who was a university professor without ever having been awarded a first degree. That was perfectly proper because his merit was proved in other ways. In fact, personally I am in no position to disagree with this, having been one of the last three history professors in the country with no PhD. Perhaps I may say that one of the others was Professor Sir Keith Thomas. Anyone who becomes president of the British Academy may, I think, be assumed to have the qualifications for a professor.

It is also a matter of pride for me that at no time in my career have I ever been qualified to be one of my own pupils, as I predate A-levels. So I do not say that regular qualifications are the only method. What I am saying is that there must be some evidence of appropriate quality and some matching of the quality which is shown to what someone is allowed to do.

The noble Baroness spoke powerfully on Regulation 6 and has saved me a great deal of time. I wish to draw attention to only one other point, which is the existence of assessment. Assessment is something comparative. When crossing the Atlantic, I found that their B-plus grade is not quite the same ours. Learning about comparative assessment is something that takes a good deal of experience and it will cause overseas teachers some problems. And even within this country, most university teachers do not regard you as a safe mount on marking until you have gathered comparative experience over two or three years. But these people will be doing assessments on their own, immediately. That causes me concern.

It is more constructive to ask the noble Baroness— I have given her notice of this question—what is there which is not covered under Regulation 6? What is it that a qualified teacher may do but which an assistant benefiting f rom Regulation 6 may not? In particular, are teaching assistants to be allowed to write references for people applying for jobs? That is a matter which may be of concern to some employers; it certainly would be of concern to me. So the answer to the question, "The power to do what?", seems to be, "Almost anything".

I turn to the question, "The power to be given to whom?". Here we turn to Schedule 2. I shall not deal with all the categories set out in the schedule because they are pretty numerous, and I shall not deal, for example, with what has been described as the "grandfather" provisions, covering those who have been in the profession since before any of these systems of qualification existed. I see no need to disturb that. I shall deal with two particular categories, the first of which is overseas teachers.

The wording states, any country outside the United Kingdom … which is recognised as such a programme of training by the competent authority in that country". Therefore, if I have read the words correctly, it is the country's own domestic recognition which is at stake, not an international recognition. Are we in fact going to recognise the degrees awarded in every country in the world? If so, one must point out that they are not necessarily all of the same standard as each other.

I would not want to go back to the standard of one British university of the 1920s, which was considering an application for a PhD from someone who said that he had taken a BA from the university at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Looking at the paper upside-down, he read on the interviewer's notes a comment that looked suspiciously like, "No degree". I would not want to do that because there is more danger of the boot being on the other foot, but I would not want to assume a priori that every country in the world, including every Pacific islet, is capable of conferring qualifications at a standard which we would normally recognise. Certainly I want at least to ask a few questions about that.

The second point is that, unlike the power for student teachers, which may be continued indefinitely if the Secretary of State wishes it, the power for overseas teachers is confined to four years. I should like to know why the distinction has been made, and why a period of four years has been chosen. Even more important, how is this to be monitored? Is there any form of register of overseas teachers which records when they began teaching and how long they have been doing so? If there is no such register, then I should like to know how this provision is to be enforced. If one considers the standard performance of the Home Office in questions of nationality, immigration and so forth, it cannot be taken for granted that that department gets it right. That is certainly the opinion of the courts, which I take extremely seriously. So 1 want to know how the four-year provision is to be monitored.

Since 1997 we have seen a very considerable increase in the proportion of teachers without formal qualifications. The figure for 1997 was 2,500, while the figure for January 2003 was 11,000. Ministers in the other place have already been asked this, so I think that by now the noble Baroness will have been briefed: under what headings has this increase taken place? What proportion is made up of overseas teachers? What proportion comprises student teachers? What proportion is made up of what is set out in paragraph 10 of Schedule 2, other people of particular quality"? We should like to know how the rise has happened.

Turning again to the question of overseas teachers, we should take note that the United States is beginning to do to us what we have been doing to South Africa. When that really gets under way, we may hear some rather different language about this subject from what we have heard hitherto. However, I shall not dwell on that now. Further, having taught in the United States, I cannot in any case dwell on it with too much force.

We have some problems in regard to trainee teachers and the colossal open-ended way in which the regulations are drafted. They are allowed to be assistants before they are admitted, before they have begun the course. At that stage one knows nothing whatever about them. Most of them probably have been rightly admitted, but no system of admission on earth is perfect. Some of them may be extremely mentally disturbed and highly unsuitable for admission. In my experience, I would estimate the figure as being in the region of 0.5 per cent. It may not be many, but it may be enough to create quite a few unpleasant headlines if some journalist has a mind to do so—and there is usually at least one that does.

These people are allowed to go on after having failed their BEd or whatever it may be. Before the war, the English used to make jokes about Indian applicants who filled in their application forms saying "Failed BA etc Calcutta". As it used to give great pleasure when I was in Sri Lanka just after it had won a Test series off us for the first time, it might give great pleasure in Calcutta—and I must give it its modern spelling—to be able to deal with applicants who are "Failed BEd etc London". That will not be very good for our standing in the world. A little bit of harmless pleasure at winning a test series is one thing; pleasure at falling standards in a place which used to be a Mecca for them, would be quite another.

What is more, the power to go on after failure— although it is formally limited to two years—may be extended by the Secretary of State, as far as I can see, more or less for as long as he wishes. If that happens, where is the incentive to take a degree course which may be becoming extremely expensive? Would any of your Lordships who are parents advise your child to spend the money on getting what he could get without it?

Paragraph 10 of Schedule 2—"Other persons who may carry out specified work"—poses quite different questions. There are many provisions in it which I cannot find in any of the provisions for trainees or student teachers. For example, it states that it is necessary that, the head teacher should be satisfied that he has the skills, expertise and experience required to carry out work specified in regulation 6. Why is that provision not in any of the earlier regulations?

That raises the question of the status of these assistants in employment law. Where do they stand in relation to questions of unfair dismissal? The paragraph which deals with standards—paragraph 10(4) of Schedule 2—states that the head teacher may have regard to, such standards for higher-level teaching assistants, or guidance concerning school support staff as may be published from time to time by the Secretary of State". We know that "have regard to" means practically nothing—we have the authority of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale—but I have never seen the words "may have regard to" in legislation before. It is milk and water—but go easy on the milk, please. I should like to know what the words "may have regard to" mean and why they are there.

I view these regulations with great misgivings. The ball is in the hands of the noble Baroness. She and I have discussed the question of regulations quite often before. My views are set out in a speech—which I have quoted so many times that people must be sick of it— of 20th October 1994. In that speech I express the view that maintaining our present status is essentially a matter of compromise. I do not see much sign of compromise by the executive here.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, I have listened with great care to the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I hope to deal with them effectively in the course of my response, but I wish to explain briefly the impact of the regulations and what we are seeking to do.

Noble Lords will have heard me speak before in your Lordships’ House about the significant contribution that we want to be made to improving standards in schools through the remodelling of the school workforce. The regulations help clarify the way in which schools can deploy their workforces more effectively, providing them with safeguards on standards and enabling them to deliver the benefits of the national agreement to their teachers and their other staff. They also preserve the role, status and overall responsibilities of qualified teachers in schools.

Many aspects of the regulations—the noble Earl, in particular, picked up some of them and I will deal with his points—including those regarding the role of qualified teachers and different types of unqualified teachers such as instructors, trainees on employment-based training routes and overseas trained teachers, update previous legislation. But, in one key regard, the regulations introduce new safeguards in an area where previously there has been a lack of clarity—that is, the deployment of growing numbers of support staff in schools. That is something I know the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, supports and which I believe the noble Earl will also support.

In the past, there was nothing in law to say in what circumstances schools could deploy such individuals to teach whole classes or small groups of children, or to work with individual children. If they did so, there was nothing to say how schools should support those individuals, how they could be sure that the individuals had appropriate expertise or training, and how they could be sure that the standard of education for pupils was being maintained—an aim that 1 know is shared by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. In short, there was nothing to preclude someone with no qualifications or experience from teaching children of any age, whether for short periods or possibly longer. That was, in effect, the situation in the time before these regulations were introduced. I think we are all agreed that that is something we would wish to change. I believe that the thrust of the regulations will take us to where the noble Earl and the noble Baroness would wish us to be.

We have introduced the regulations and the accompanying guidance for schools to provide a clearer legal framework. They recognise the contribution of individuals who are not teachers but may have other valuable qualifications and experience. The regulations also, as I have said, build in important safeguards.

Under these regulations, if support staff are to undertake any aspects of what we call specified work with groups or classes of children, including the delivery of lessons to pupils, a clear set of conditions must be complied with. First, they must undertake the work to assist or support the work of a teacher. Secondly, they must be under the direction and supervision of a teacher, and thirdly, the head teacher must be satisfied that the individual has the skills, expertise and experience to carry out the work. I believe that that addresses the noble Earl's point about knowing nothing about these people. The onus is very clear; the responsibility rests with the head teacher and teachers to make sure that those individuals have the necessary skills, expertise and experience. We have provided an indication of what we think those should be in the new standards for high level teaching assistants, published on 16th September. Early next year we will be introducing training to help individuals meet those standards.

Making it very clear what we expect to be done and the kind of training and experience we expect and then providing, through the Teacher Training Agency, the kind of high-level teaching assistance, training and support funded by the Government that is necessary— it is being piloted now and will be rolled out next Easter—will, we believe, enhance the quality of the experience for children in school, which I know that noble Lords on all Benches wish to see.

I do not believe that head teachers appoint people who do not have the appropriate skills, expertise and experience. I do not believe that they work to undermine their own standards in their own school.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the point about knowing nothing about these people related specifically to people who had yet to begin any course of teacher training. How do we know anything about them?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, people apply to attend teacher training courses. The noble Earl is referring to those attending through schools. Again, anyone employing anybody in a school is required to look at their expertise, experience and skills and ensure that they undergo the appropriate checks. I do not believe that head teachers would fail to do that.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. She said a moment ago that until now there has been no prescription about the way in which teaching assistants can be used in schools. I gave the noble Baroness chapter and verse of regulations that are to be repealed. Those regulations allowed head teachers to direct unqualified staff to undertake work in prescribed circumstances. Where are the prescribed circumstances? In the regulations before us, they simply do not exist, and the regulations I have just referred to have been repealed.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I think we are very clearly within these regulations. If the noble Baroness will look at them, she will see that we lay out very clearly in Regulation 6 what specified work is. We have been very clear.

The noble Earl asked me specifically whether there were other things that teachers carry though. Indeed there are—for example, appraisal of staff, staff meetings, the direction of cover staff, and so on. They are all laid out in Part 12 of the teachers’ pay and conditions document, which gives a full list and to which I refer the noble Earl.

The noble Earl also asked me about references. We took the trouble to check with a number of head teachers. There has never been anything to prevent anybody giving anyone a reference but the head teachers are absolutely clear that within the teaching profession and in all schools, they would be the ones giving the references. It is not a legal requirement because references are given by whoever, but that would be their expectation, which I believe deals with the noble Earl's point.

We want to make sure that we have in our schools a flexible workforce to recognise the reality of what is happening there and to make sure that, as I said during the passage of the Education Bill, we do two things at the same time. One is to protect people working in schools and give them opportunities. I agree with the noble Baroness and the noble Earl that we want people to pursue the routes and the ladders of opportunity to becoming qualified teachers.

I also believe that there are people in our schools with expertise who do not wish to do that for a variety of reasons. They may not be graduates, for example, but could become a high-level teaching assistant. Under our modern foreign languages strategy, people with great linguistic skills and the ability to communicate with children are able to come into schools and teach a lesson under the supervision of a teacher. That teacher may not be in the room while the class is being taught a Portuguese lesson but is involved in ensuring that the lesson is delivered effectively, that the individual is monitored and is under supervision when it comes to planning the lesson. This has been true of lessons with musical instruments and of the instructor scheme when there has not been an available teacher and people come into schools from industry. I believe that what we are doing enhances what we have.

The noble Baroness was specifically concerned about nominated teachers and qualifications. I shall be as clear as I can on that. We have been very clear about unqualified teachers because we want to allow the following circumstances to apply.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred often to overseas teachers, who are relevant in this context. The recognition that we give overseas teachers is restricted to those in the European Union and a few other countries, such as Switzerland and Scandinavian countries. No other qualifications are recognised. Those who come as overseas teachers are expected to qualify. The countries given recognition are the EU countries, Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland. Teachers have four years in which to take the qualification to become a qualified teacher in this country. If they do not, they cannot continue. We believe that it is reasonable that teachers from Australia, or from other countries to which we do not automatically give that recognition, are given the opportunity to do that in four years. I hope that satisfies the noble Earl.

If a teacher is in that position, it is reasonable to say that there may be circumstances in which they would supervise a trainee. For example, a person who is actually in the process of getting a PGCE might do a bit of supervision as part of the training. Some nursery nurses and teachers appointed before 1989 do not have QTS. They can use teaching assistants as any other nursery teacher can—we would not want to exclude them.

The crucial factor is the discretion of the head teacher. I have been told in clear tones by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and many other Members of your Lordships' House about their desire to ensure that we recognise the experience and expertise of head teachers and let them get on with the job. Within what we are doing here is a clear steer to head teachers—to their professionalism.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to a lot of good answers that I have been given, but might I play Winnie-the-Pooh and be greedy? Can the Minister tell us how the four-year provision will be monitored?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I can. Under the 1999 regulations, work permit and visa requirements provide an enforcement mechanism. As I understand it, that has worked well, and there is no reason to suspect that it should not continue to do so. They have been very effective.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Earl has raised a serious point. During the four-year period, that person is not a qualified teacher as recognised in this country. Therefore, we are not simply referring to someone who is working towards a qualification in those four years being a teaching assistant in school. We are referring to someone who is acting as a supervisor, is responsible for assistants and is teaching whole classes, planning, preparing, teaching and assessing the development and attainment of children in schools. Those people are in the position that qualified teachers should be in.

There is a whole list in Schedule 2 of people who are unqualified—even a graduate teacher with no teaching qualifications at all is in that position, as are people working towards a qualified teacher status, who have very little experience at all. Those people are in a position of supervising someone in the classroom who looks to them as fully qualified professionals. The Minister so far has no answer to that at all.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I believed that I was answering rather well.

Let me give the noble Baroness an example. I described my Portuguese teaching assistant coming into school. Let us say that a very well qualified teacher from another country, but one who is not yet recognised, is working in a school. That teacher might be in charge of some of the languages being taught in a primary school, and would have a classroom assistant available to come in and teach a class a particular language. It would be entirely consistent to ensure that those people were working very closely, that that teacher had supervision over what was being taught in the classroom, because he or she was the language teacher who would normally be teaching that class, and that the supervision was appropriate. I go back to the point that I have made several times. All that would happen under the direction of the head teacher, who makes the decisions about how that is done.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to assessments. I agree with her that a piece of course work that was to be assessed would clearly be in the province of a qualified teacher. However, if it were a set of multiple choice questions, it would be quite possible for a teaching assistant to mark it.

We are trying to recognise the reality of many schools today. Noble Lords will know from their visits to schools that there is a team approach to the delivery of education for our children. At the pinnacle of that team is the professional teacher, and available to that teacher is a range of different support, providing either expertise—in new technology, languages or music, for example—or the kind of support that classroom assistants have been given for some time.

As I said before in discussing the Education Bill, for the first time we have the regulations that will enable us to ensure that those people are well supervised, are not exploited and have the opportunities to which noble Lords have referred to get their qualifications and have the chance, if they wish, to move on to take further qualifications.

It is worth saying a little more about what we are trying to achieve in the whole area of the nominated teacher, so that the noble Baroness in particular understands it. We had a wide consultation process on the regulations. We discussed the issue at length with the signatories to the national agreement on raising standards and tackling workload; that is, with all the school workforce unions except the NUT, and with the local government employers. They all agreed that the "nominated teacher" approach was entirely appropriate.

In other words, it would help schools if they could use their instructors and certain categories of unqualified teachers—as I said, overseas trained teachers—in a way that enables them to deliver to their teachers the benefits of the national agreement. In fact, the groups of teachers covered by the "nominated teacher" definition will all benefit from the changes to the teachers’ contract which will be introduced as a result of the national agreement. It includes, for example, a limit on the amount of time they can be required to cover for absent colleagues and a guarantee of 10 per cent of their timetabled teaching time to undertake planning, preparation and assessment. Noble Lords have said time and again that they would like to see such arrangements as a means of lightening teachers burden of other work and allowing them to focus on the professional job that we want them to undertake.

We have good examples of the role of instructors and the support they have given. I believe that these regulations help to clarify the role of teachers and school support staff. I believe that they do what the noble Baroness said that she wanted to do—give greater professional freedom to head teachers, which is particularly important. It is not about cheap substitutes or shortages or about trying to find a cheap, easy fix for other issues. We are saying that the reality of our schools and of so many other aspects of our public sector world and indeed of our lives in general is about people working together, using different skills and experiences to provide high-quality support. I think that noble Lords should consider these regulations in the light of that critical factor and consider the way in which we are trying to provide flexibility and certainty.

We believe that these regulations will help to move forward our schools—to deliver higher standards, to ensure that we have professionalism and to support all those working in schools as effectively as possible. We have ensured that we have brought on board all but one of the key professional bodies involved in this. Those who have agreed to the national agreement are raising standards and tackling workload. Critically, the agreement has received the commitment of head teacher associations, local government employers, the support staff unions and three of the four teacher unions. The agreement has also been endorsed by the TUC. I am sad that the NUT is outside this. It is a pity that it wants the benefits but accepts none of the responsibilities. I am, however, very clear that these regulations will be an added plank in our drive to help schools raise standards and support all those working in schools. I hope that your Lordships will support them.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there is a huge gap in our understanding of what these regulations mean. I have read these words in the regulations over and over, but looked in vain for many of the points that the noble Baroness made. I do not doubt the Government's motives and I certainly do not doubt the noble Baroness's word about what she wants the regulations to achieve. However, we have to consider the words on a page which are legally binding.

The noble Baroness started by saying that the regulations help to clarify what the Government intended. The reason I am here is that they provide no clarification whatever. She went on to say that they preserve the role and status of qualified teachers. I am here because of the great uncertainty surrounding the role and status of qualified teachers. We are not discussing a stop-gap measure or cover for sickness; we are talking about whole-class teaching for periods of up to two years and beyond, subject to the decision of the Secretary of State. We are talking about the preparation, the teaching and the assessment.

The noble Baroness said that the regulations introduce new safeguards. I asked her to specify the location of those safeguards. They simply are not here, neither for the assistant nor for the qualified teachers themselves. She said that the circumstances in which they could be used were not prescribed before but are prescribed now. I have looked in vain for the prescription. However, they used to be prescribed. Previously, if any head teacher operated outside those prescribed conditions, the use of an assistant teacher would be deemed illegal.

The noble Baroness said that the guidelines provide a clearer legal framework. No, they do not. Guidelines do not provide legal frameworks at all; guidelines explain the legalese of the regulations and the primary legislation.

The noble Baroness said that the assistants must support the work of a teacher. However, that teacher is not necessarily a qualified teacher. That teacher can be barely off the ground in training. The noble Baroness said that assistants would be directly supervised by a teacher. They will neither be directly supervised, as has been admitted by the noble Baroness, nor will they be physically supervised as the teacher, as I said, does not necessarily have to be in the classroom or even in the school. As I also said, there is no limit on how many assistants one single teacher, either qualified or unqualified, can be responsible for.

The noble Baroness said that Regulation 6 describes all the conditions under which assistants can be used. In fact, Regulation 6 spells out the job of a teacher. I specifically asked—the noble Earl asked this in a very different way—what there was over and above what is contained in Regulation 6 that a qualified teacher does that is different from the teacher who is expected to carry out—

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I interrupt her only to say that I answered that point by saying that all that is listed in part 12 of the teachers' pay and conditions. I gave two specific examples: first, dealing with cover, attending staff meetings and so on, and, secondly, staff appraisal.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Baroness said—we can consult Hansard tomorrow—that Regulation 6 sets out the conditions under which teachers can be employed. It does not; it simply sets out the job description almost of a teacher, with the exception of staff appraisal, that these unqualified people, working under unqualified people, will carry out.

As I said, the nominated teacher can be a totally unqualified person. We mentioned the overseas teacher but it can be someone barely into, not out of, training school. The noble Baroness was generous in referring to teaching Portuguese. Let us enter the real world. These regulations apply to all schools and all subjects. Let us talk about maths, geography, history and English—some of the fundamental subjects. I halfway meet the noble Baroness in that I think that there is a role for instructors in vocational subjects and in the practical side of music and in some language teaching. But that is a very different kettle of fish from what these regulations are licensed for. It is possible under these regulations for an unqualified assistant working under an unqualified teacher to be the whole class teacher for as long as two years or more with a single year group of children. For two years out of their five years in school some children could be subject to that kind of unqualified teaching. As I said, that is against a background of more teachers than ever teaching subjects for which they are not trained. This measure will add insult to injury for our children.

The noble Baroness said that assessment was work for a qualified teacher. I agree with that but that is not what the regulations say. The regulations permit, assessing the development, progress and attainment of pupils; and reporting on the development, progress and attainment of pupils". Under Regulation 6 that can be done by an unqualified teacher working under an unqualified teacher.

Where is the clarification? It is not here. Where is the professional freedom for qualified teachers when their role in the classroom—the qualified teachers' role—is taken by an unqualified teacher for very long periods of time?

Let us make no mistake, the regulations before us make it possible for an assistant without qualifications to work for up to two years and beyond under another person who is also possibly not qualified without the latter having to be present either in the classroom or in the school. The regulations say nothing whatever about the conditions of supervision or the number of assistants who can be working under a professional.

I shall take the noble Baroness and the Government at their word, but the teachers will be watching the matter very closely, and so will the governors and the parents. At the end of the day the loser is not me, speaking for the Opposition, or the Minister as a Minister in this House. If things go wrong and our worst suspicions—and those of good professional teachers—are realised, the losers will be the children.

I shall not change the habit of a lifetime in this House by putting the Motion to a vote, but I shall say that I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Earl. The sooner the rules are changed so that we can look at regulations and amend them to make them more workable and more consistent with primary legislation—and more especially with the fine words of Ministers and the Government— the better. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.31 to 8.41 p.m.]