HC Deb 10 February 1984 vol 53 cc804-5W
Mr. Sackville

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he intends to amend the regulations to allow teaching service in the independent sector to count for the purpose of a new entrant fulfilling the requirements of a probationary year.

Mr. Dunn

My right hon. Friend has over a long period considered the possibility of devising arrangements whereby probation could be served in suitable independent schools and has had discussions with the Independent Schools Joint Council and with representatives of the local authority associations, but has had to conclude that it is not possible to devise an acceptable arrangement.

Probation is a requirement in maintained schools and is assessed by the local education authority maintaining the school at which the new teacher serves. It is not a simple pass or fail matter, but involves induction, counselling and support for the new teacher throughout the probationary period, drawing on the experience and expertise of the authorities' inspectors or advisers. It is not possible on logistical grounds, nor would it be acceptable to all local education authorities, to make the same support and assessment arrangements available to new teachers in independent schools. Moreover, my right hon. Friend has no powers to make regulations relating to the probation of teachers in independent schools. It is thus not possible for him to introduce different arrangements for the independent sector and require acceptance of the resulting decisions by the maintained sector.

I can understand that newly qualified teachers in independent schools may believe that they are disadvantaged by being unable to pass probation, but I believe that any such disquiet arises more from false impressions which circulate from time to time than from any material disadvantage. I should like to take this opportunity to put the record straight.

Some have suggested that probation must be passed within a specified period — usually quoted as three years, but sometimes as long as seven — after qualification. There is no such time limit and teachers who have been recognised by my right hon. Friend as qualified remain qualified whether or not they serve in independent schools. A teacher is placed on probation on his first appointment at a maintained school — or at a non-maintained special school. The normal period for those trained in the United Kingdom is one year and for those trained elsewhere or accepted untrained in special circumstances, two years, but local education authorities have the power to shorten that period or dispense with it altogether in the light of the teachers' previous experience. This power is exercised particularly for teachers with substantial previous experience in independent schools, and local education authorities have been urged to take such experience into account for this purpose.

The second damaging suggestion is that teachers who have not passed probation cannot be appointed above the lowest scale, scale 1, in a maintained school. This, too, is quite untrue. Teachers are selected on merit and experience, and an experienced independent school teacher has every chance of obtaining a post at the appropriate level, even as a head teacher, in a maintained school, whether or not probation has been served and whether or not the probationary period has been shortened or waivered by the employing authority.

Teachers who serve in independent schools and who wish to transfer to the maintained sector should not therefore be disadvantaged by the present probation arrangements. It is true that they will still have to complete probation after transfer, unless the waiver power is exercised, but I do not see that a competent teacher should be concerned at that prospect.