Education Bill

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Mr. Timms: Requiring head teachers to be qualified teachers is a logical extension of the thinking that we have explored in Committee and our commitment to raising standards in schools by ensuring that those who lead our schools have the skills and professional knowledge to do so successfully. At the moment, legislation indirectly requires head teachers to be qualified, but we want to make that more explicit.

It has been our objective for some time to make the national professional qualification for head teachers mandatory for all new head teachers, and clause 131 gives us the power to put that into effect. That will probably be widely welcomed in the Committee. We all know that the leadership, management ability and vision of the head are crucial factors in the overall effectiveness of a school. The new strengthened national professional qualification for head teachers has been widely welcomed by the profession. It has achieved a step change in recruitment. More than 10,000 people have applied since 1997, and almost 5,000 now hold the qualification. When recruiting for a head teacher, governing bodies can be assured that candidates who hold it will have had a thorough preparation for headship.

The requirement to hold the qualification will apply only to those seeking their first headship post. It will not apply to existing head teachers. I hope that I have given the hon. Gentleman some helpful, further information.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Minister, and with those assurances and that further information, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 364, in page 80, line 18, leave out

    'The Secretary of State may by regulations'

and insert 'Regulations may'.

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No. 365, in page 80, line 20, leave out

    'The Secretary of State may by regulations'

and insert 'Regulations may'.

No. 366, in page 80, line 30, leave out

    'does not include an independent school'

and insert

    'means—

    (a) a school maintained by a local education authority, or

    (b) a special school not so maintained.'.—[Mr. Timms.]

    Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Turner: The point that I am about to make will not surprise hon. Members. The clause appears to be a further extension of the control mechanism that the Government want to impose on many aspects of education. The Bill is meant to be deregulatory, but the Government have reverted to type and the controls that they want to impose on schools pop up in unexpected places.

Why have the Government so little confidence in all the other mechanisms that they have in place? They have mechanisms to deal with failing schools, improve the quality of governing bodies and encourage training of heads and other teachers. However, they do not have the confidence in the devolved arrangements, which they introduced, to enable the people who are responsible for implementing the arrangements to take appropriate action in choosing someone admittedly as important as a head teacher.

We can always envisage circumstances in which it may be appropriate for a school to consider a candidate who is not so qualified. I can give two examples, one of which admittedly does not refer to a maintained school. In the immediate post-war years, the governing body of the school at which I was educated chose not to appoint a qualified head teacher, or indeed a qualified teacher, as headmaster because there were important requirements for reorganising the school and getting it back on to a sound economic footing. Other governing bodies in other parts of the country, even in the maintained sector, have done the same, and the name of Queenswood school in Hertfordshire rings a bell. Other maintained schools have recently chosen not to appoint qualified teachers to the position of head for excellent reasons.

I have one other point, for which I should perhaps have intervened on the Minister earlier. I think that he said the regulations will apply only to those applying for their first headship, but I suspect that he meant those applying for their first or subsequent headship. Is he saying that someone who already has a headship will not be required to gain the qualification, even when he is applying for a further headship?

Mr. Timms indicated assent.

Mr. Turner: In that case, I thank the Minister.

I revert to my main point of concern about the clause. Like some subsequent clauses, it erects too high a hurdle in the way of governors who are appointing head teachers. It unnecessarily constrains their freedom of action, and shows that the Government do not trust the people they are setting in place. The

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terrible thing is that however many qualifications someone may have, he or she can turn out to be absolutely useless. I will not go into my own qualifications, but one could turn out to be useless at the job for which one has qualifications. They are not a guarantee of competence, and their absence is in no way an indication of incompetence. We have many procedures in place for dealing with those who turn out to be incompetent.

Mr. Timms: We are determined to raise standards in our schools, and insisting on qualifications is part of that. One can always think of exceptions, but there is no doubt that the experience and training that will be required in order to obtain the headship qualification are valuable development processes that indicate that candidates have acquired skills and undergone training that will help to equip them for the task. Making that requirement compulsory will mean that schools will be choosing from a field of qualified rather than unqualified teachers.

I do not think that that is unreasonable. If one were appointing a commissioner of Metropolitan police, one would expect that person to have been a policeman. I do not think that is an unreasonable requirement. It may limit the field, but given the importance of the role of head teachers, and the impact it has on so many children, I think that expecting head teachers to be qualified teachers is a good step.

Mr. Willis: Is putting Mr. Birt in charge of the railways another example of that?

Mr. Timms: The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the context. We will consult on the regulations. An experienced teacher in further education may not have QTS, but may be an appropriate person to be appointed as a head teacher. Regulations will be produced, and we will consult on the matter.

I hope that members from both sides of the Committee will recognise that these are good steps to take. I would emphasis in particular the enthusiasm that I have come across for the national professional qualification for head teachers, which I think is a very big step forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 131, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 132

provision of education

Amendment made: No. 367, in page 80, line 33, leave out

    'The Secretary of State may by regulations'

and insert 'Regulations may'.--[Mr. Timms.]

Mr. Brady: I beg to move amendment No. 542, in page 80, line 39, at end add

    'although nothing in the above shall prevent a person who may otherwise be prohibited from providing education under the supervision of a person who is not prohibited.'.

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Amendment No. 542 explores the circumstances in which Ministers may deem it appropriate not to prohibit people who come into the various categories under clause 132. It particularly raises the possibility that a person who is prohibited because they have not yet completed a probationary period or because they have not yet attained the specified qualification may none the less be permitted to teach--to exercise an educational function-if supervised by someone who has attained that qualification or that status.

This is a probing amendment to get from the Minister a little information as to whether it is in the Government's thinking that prohibition may not always be rigid under those circumstances.

Mr. Lewis: I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurances that he seeks. The current regulations already allow for and encourage unqualified staff to enter teaching through FE. They allow a new entrant between two and four years to gain a recognised qualification. Teachers employed in FE on 31 August 2001 are not required to gain a qualification. New people are being given time to obtain the relevant qualification, and people who have been teaching in FE without qualifications are not required to gain those qualifications if they were in post on 31 August 2001.

The existing regulations, which we imagine will continue, already exempt temporary or occasional visiting lecturers who are practitioners and who offer colleges updates on industrial, commercial or professional practices. The regulations do not and will not in the future apply to support staff. As the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said, we should encourage support staff to obtain qualifications, but they are not required have any.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance that, although we have a commitment and determination to drive up standards and have a far higher proportion of qualified FE staff, his concern about rigidity is not well founded.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Minister for his assurances, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 132, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 133

Principals of further education institutions

Mr. Brady: I beg to move amendment No. 543, in page 81, line 2, leave out subsection (1).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 544, in page 81, line 17, at end add—

    ''(5) Notwithstanding the foregoing a person may serve as principal of a further education institution if—

    (a) another member of the staff of the institution has a specified qualification; or

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(b) the corporation of the institution has agreed to his appointment for a special purpose which in its opinion renders the qualification otiose.''.

Mr. Brady: The amendments would allow a principal to serve who perhaps does not have the required qualifications, on condition that there is a qualified person on the staff who could act as a deputy or surrogate in some circumstances. Again, it is a question of whether flexibility exists within the proposed regulations.

 
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