Education Bill

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Mr. Brady: I am delighted that I brought the Minister into deliberations. It has been an enlightening exchange, not least because of the logic of the Government's position. In elements of the Bill we have seen a clear indication that the Government wish to move away from the kind of national pay agreements to which the Minister just referred. I wonder whether he really believes that, under the more decentralised, locally determined pay arrangements towards which the Bill's logic is moving us, teachers in Wales are about to see their pay and conditions reduced. I do not believe that that is likely to happen, but it is an interesting point.

Perhaps more interesting was his tangential approach to the difficulties that arise when pay and conditions differ on either side of the border. That is an implicit recognition of some of the difficulties that might arise as a result of such an arrangement being made in relation to the English-Scottish border, where that situation already exists. The Minister did not specifically comment on the situation in Scotland, but by implication, he suggested that it was regrettable.

Mr. Touhig: Teachers move far more frequently between posts in England and Wales than they do between England and Scotland. Scotland has long established separate pay arrangements. That is not the case in Wales, which is integrated into the same system as England, with the same pay and conditions. That has proved satisfactory and beneficial for the teaching profession in England and Wales. For those reasons I strongly resist the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's arguments, but that in no way reflects on the way Scotland has developed its education system. It has been separate for many years.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Minister for clearing up that uncertainty. As I said at the outset, the purpose of the amendments is to explore how consultation might best take place. The Minister seems satisfied with consultation taking place solely with individual LEAs.

Mr. Turner: I wonder whether we might explore the issue further. The Minister may be happy with it, but I am not convinced that members of the teaching profession in Wales will continue to benefit from the existing level of consultation, for the reason that he outlined a moment ago. The benefits of the Bill will, to a great extent, not be felt in Wales. The Government have prescribed an imaginative and innovative range of measures for schools in England that would enable teachers in England to enjoy infinitely better terms and conditions of employment than those that the School Teachers Review Body may recommend. It is harder for teachers in Wales to enjoy those benefits. They may wish to see some improvement in their general benefits

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that they cannot negotiate at school level, unlike teachers in England. That is why we believe that the measures might be appropriate.

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. We will watch with great care how the developments that will be ushered in by the Bill will affect schools in England and Wales. The purpose of the amendments was to secure an explanation of the Government's view, which the Minister has given. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 115 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 116

Review body: function

Mr. Brady: I beg to move amendment No. 492, in page 72, line 20, after 'state' insert:

    'or a General Teaching Council'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 525, in page 72, line 20, after 'Secretary of State', insert:

    'or other appropriate or relevant body.'

Mr. Brady: The impact of the amendments would affect consultation and which bodies it is appropriate to involve in the process by which the STRB would arrive at its conclusions. Amendment No. 492 would introduce an expectation that the General Teaching Council would be involved in consultation on these deliberations, and seeks to draw from Ministers what they believe the role of the GTC to be in matters relating to pay and conditions. Do they believe that the role is integral to the process, and do they wish the GTC to be directly involved? If so, how would it be involved and at what stage of the deliberations? Presumably, the GTC would be in a position to make submissions directly to the Prime Minister or to the Secretary of State in various matters affecting pay and conditions. It may be appropriate for the GTC also to make representations to the STRB. If the Minister agrees, he may wish to include that in the Bill. Amendment No. 525 would broaden the basis on which other appropriate bodies could be involved.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I also welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths.

There has been much debate about the degree to which we believe that the Bill concentrates many powers in the hands of the Secretary of State over a range of different functions. The amendment would provide a small but significant safety valve for the process of possible centralisation. It would allow other groups involved in the profession to seek the involvement of the review body in matters of teacher employment and would provide a degree of reassurance to the teaching profession. It would be an additional route by which the teaching profession could raise and debate issues. As such, teachers' representatives would welcome it. I hope that the Minister will consider making that small addition to the Bill; it would enhance the profession's reception of it.

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10.30 am

Mr. Willis: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West for raising the issue. We must get a clear idea from the Government about what they consider to be the role of the GTC. I believe that the hon. Gentleman sat with me on the Committee that set it up.

Mr. Brady: No, I did not.

Mr. Willis: It must have been another hon. Member; they change so frequently.

There was a huge debate at the time about the role of the GTC. Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members argued strongly that the GTC should be more than just a registration organisation, which was the Government's initial intention. Although I do not believe that they intended it to stay at that level, we were greatly concerned.

The hon. Gentleman's proposal is a step too far. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) is not right in saying that the teaching profession would welcome GTC involvement in pay and conditions issues. The role of the GTC is to advocate the profession's role in education; we have long needed such an organisation and advocacy.

I supported the GTC from the time that I entered the profession. However, I would not want to see it becoming embroiled in pay and conditions issues, because that is for the professional associations themselves. If the GTC were drawn into such debates and arguments, it would be put on a different footing and no longer impartial. It would have to support one organisation against another, and that would be regrettable.

Mr. Brady: As I said at the outset, this is a probing amendment. We are having an interesting discussion. The hon. Gentleman has rightly said that the function of the GTC is to express views on the role of the teaching profession and its members. How can that be divided from the second part of the STRB functions to do with other conditions of employment, such as professional duties and working time? There is a clear overlap.

Mr. Willis: I draw the distinction where the hon. Gentleman says that the GTC should become involved in the STRB process. The STRB was set up under the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Act 1991 specifically to deal with teachers' pay and conditions, and the Bill reinforces that. It acts as the interface between the Government as paymaster, the local authorities and individual schools and teachers.

If the GTC were involved in such matters, it would be positioned alongside the professional associations. I do not think that that is what the GTC wants, what its chief executive or its chairman, Lord Puttnam wants, or what the teaching associations want it to be. They want an independent GTC that can advocate on behalf of the profession, responding to the Government's standards agenda and other involvements that affect schools. It should not interfere in matters that are the province of the professional associations, which are there to deal with the pay and conditions of their members, rather than with those broader issues.

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Chris Grayling: May I seek a point of clarification? It would not be appropriate for the GTC to become involved as a lobbyist in pay and conditions matters. However, if I read the amendment correctly, it would offer the GTC the opportunity to make the review body aware of important matters. Issues of pay and conditions for teachers cross over into areas of standards. Would it be beneficial for the GTC to draw the attention of the review body to such issues?

Mr. Willis: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As I said, the amendment is a good way of probing the Government's thinking. The GTC can speak to the Government and professional associations directly, and if it wants to express an opinion, it will do so. My amendment is questioning something else. By inviting the GTC to be part of a formal organisation—the STRB—it would stray into territory that I do not believe it should. That is my point, and I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Mr. Turner: I should like to explore in more depth the points made by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West that there is an area of overlap. The GTC might feel that an issue of pay and conditions has arisen, but cannot convince the Government or the professional organisations of the need to amend pay and conditions in order to implement that important issue. The GTC briefing explains that its purpose is to contribute to improving the standard of teaching and the quality of learning and to maintain and improve standards of professional conduct. Improving the standard of teaching implies a commitment to additional training. The professional associations may not want that training to be taken outside the school day. The Government and the employers may not want it to take place during the school day or to provide money for it to take place outside the school day. The GTC may need to influence the STRB directly, rather than use the indirect routes to which the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough referred.

On professional standing, the GTC has the power to remove teachers from the register. What are the consequences for employment in those circumstances? I assume the consequence is that they would cease to be employed. What is the position of an employer who has been deprived of a teacher whom they wished to employ? In a professional tribunal, it might be found that an employer had not given appropriate consideration to a teacher's continuing employment because a different body took the decision and nothing in the teacher's contract of employment or pay and conditions agreement enabled the teacher to be dismissed forthwith, which would be the consequence of removal from the register of the General Teaching Council.

It is unlikely that the amendment would be invoked frequently, but I see no reason why the GTC should not be consulted and be able to make a direct rather than an indirect contribution to the STRB's decisions.

 
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