Education Bill

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Mr. Timms: The amendment goes further than the debate implied. It would give additional bodies the same rights as the Secretary of State in providing a remit to the STRB. Amendment No. 492 deals with

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the General Teaching Council, but amendment No. 525 is a more generalised version that leaves the field wide open.

We had an interesting debate about the GTC. Both a clause and a schedule are yet to come that will provide further opportunities to discuss the subject. Councils have a different role than is envisaged by putting them on a par with the Secretary of State in providing a remit to the STRB. The GTC exercises important regulatory and advisory functions on professional matters with the aim of improving the standards of teaching, and maintaining and improving standards of professional conduct among teachers. It has made an excellent start.

As I said, amendment No. 525 would leave the field wide open to anyone to provide remits to the STRB. The board has an important and difficult role. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales reminded the Committee a few minutes ago that the STRB is served by volunteers to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. They devote much time without reward to assessing evidence, providing reports and recommendations at the Secretary of State's request, so it would be unfair to impose on them—as would the amendment—the duty to consider any matter referred to them by a host of people and organisations.

Currently the STRB works within a remit provided by the Secretary of State. It reports independently in the light of evidence received from a range bodies. The GTC certainly has an interest in the work of the STRB and it is free to submit evidence if it wishes. It did so recently when the Secretary of State asked the STRB to consider the implications of the fee that teachers are required to pay to register with the GTC. There is nothing to prevent the GTC from submitting evidence again, but it is inappropriate to give it an additional remit and even less appropriate to offer an open-ended free-for-all and require the STRB to consider all representations.

I hope that our useful debate has clarified the requisite points and satisfied the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful for the Minister's clarification and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.45 am

Mr. Brady: I beg to move amendment No. 493, in page 72, line 33, leave out 'require a report' to end of line 34 and insert

    'are to be sent a report under subsection (3) the Review Body shall publish it.'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss amendment No. 496, in page 72, line 35, at end insert—

    '( ) nothing in the foregoing shall allow the Review Body to propose a maximum level of remuneration for teachers or for any group of teachers.'.

Mr. Brady: This is a simple point. A provision in the Bill states that when the STRB produces a report, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State shall arrange for it to be published. Amendment No. 493 would shift

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that balance by requiring the STRB to publish the report. That would accelerate the process by avoiding any unnecessary delay, and ensure greater openness by preventing the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State from delaying or preventing publication at particular times for political purposes. I look forward to the Minister's comments.

Mr. Turner: My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West has dealt with amendment No. 493 in some detail. It is a fact that review body reports tend to drift until there is an occasion, such as Boxing day, when the Government—I do not mean just this Government—find publication convenient for political purposes or because they have decided what they will do as a result of the report. Publishing such reports on Boxing day may contribute to the Government's effective handling of press relations, but it would be much more open, as my hon. Friend suggested, for the report to be put in the public domain and for a period of public discussion to ensue before the Government reach conclusions.

During such a period, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough may want to use one of the Liberal Democrats' Supply days to debate the report. That is a matter for him, but I hope that it will not take place between Boxing day and new year's eve.

Amendment No. 496 relates to the proposals that the review body may make. It is important to reflect on the fact that the current teacher-supply position is probably one of the worst that we have ever experienced and it changes quickly. At the moment, it tends to move in a deleterious direction. Of course, that may not always be the case, but some schools find it incredibly difficult to recruit teachers in a very competitive market.

It would be unwise for the review body to impose at any stage a maximum on the salary that may be paid to any teacher or group of teachers. I am not saying that the review body has a recent history of so doing; that is not the case. The salaries of teachers, particularly super-teachers and super-heads, have tended to go up in leaps and bounds recently, which is an entirely good thing, but in many areas of the country recruitment is still difficult and retention even more so. We read in the pages of The Sun this morning about a class that has enjoyed the attention of 13 different teachers in 14 weeks—I may have got those numbers wrong.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): My hon. Friend is right.

Mr. Turner: I thank my hon. Friend.

In my constituency, recruitment is difficult because teachers quite often come from families that rely on the earnings of two parties for their income. It is much more difficult to recruit a teacher to the island if there is no job there for his spouse, so special arrangements or negotiations for salaries may be appropriate in future. The review body needs to keep in mind the fact that setting upper limits on teachers' remuneration would be unwise. The best way for them to keep that in mind is for us to provide for it in the Bill.

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Mr. Timms: On the first amendment, it is appropriate that the legal duty falls on the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, as it always has. I heard the hon. Member for Isle of Wight's remarks about the danger of delay. To be fair, I do not believe that that happened under the previous Government, and it has certainly not happened under this one. I do not believe there is a need to change the system. The STRB reports are produced to a public timetable; that is indicated in the remit letter sent by the Secretary of State. The full consultation process then begins. That is how it has worked for 10 years. I see no reason for change; it has not caused any difficulty.

I turn to the second amendment to which the hon. Member for Isle of Wight spoke. Pay scales and progression up pay scales has been a key part of schools' and teachers' pay systems since the beginning. By definition, pay scales have maximums; otherwise, there would be little purpose in the pay review system. The hon. Gentleman suggested that there should not be a maximum at the top of the scale. There is already a great deal of flexibility to pay additional allowances to teachers; for example, for recruitment and retention; more responsibility brings additional allowances and successful teachers can access the upper pay scales and progress upwards. It is part of the review body's role to set the top of the scale as well as the other parts of the arrangements.

Mr. Brady: I am again grateful to the Minister for his helpful comments and for his assurances of good faith on the first amendment regarding publication dates. I hope that Ministers will continue to receive prompt publication of these reports.

The Minister's objection to amendment No. 496 seemed to centre on the question of pay scales and the need to fix an upper limit on a particular pay scale. Had the amendment been drafted in such a way as to prevent a maximum level of pay being fixed for teachers without the reference to ''any group of teachers'', he would have found it easier to accept. The object of the amendment was to ensure that no artificial constraint or limitation is placed on schools' ability to recruit the teachers they need, particularly in the current difficult climate of recruitment and retention across the country, and especially in certain areas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight mentioned. I do not seek to press the amendment to a Division and I beg the Committee's leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 116 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 117

Consultation by review body

Mr. Brady: I beg to move amendment No. 494, in page 73, line 11, after 'schools' insert—

    '( ) bodies representing the interests of parents'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 495, in page 73, line 11, after 'schools' insert—

    '( ) bodies representing the interests of independent schools funded by the Secretary of State.'.

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Mr. Brady: Here, we deal with the review body's consultation of outside bodies during its deliberations. Amendment No. 494 seeks to ensure that the interests of parents are taken into account by including a new paragraph specifying that bodies representing parents' interests should be included as statutory consultees.

Amendment No. 495 recognises the degree to which, through the previous Government's promotion of city technology colleges, the development of that model, and now, under this Bill, the potential to broaden them into academies, a far more diverse pattern of educational provision is beginning to emerge. Part of that pattern is a relatively new creature: an independent school that is funded by the Secretary of State.

An academy is an independent school that derives its revenue as if it were a maintained school. The schools will clearly have different challenges, and take different approaches from other schools in the maintained sector. The STRB should consider this separate category of schools with their potentially different needs and responsibilities when it draws its conclusions and makes its recommendations. That is especially so, given that many of those schools are likely to be in areas of particular difficulty where this kind of innovation has been encouraged precisely because of the difficulties faced. Such schools may, therefore, have a unique input, and their interests should be taken into account in a specific way. The amendment seeks to include that in the Bill.

 
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