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Lord Walton of Detchant: A number of noble Lords have spoken about Amendments Nos. 7 to 15 inclusive, with the exception of Amendment No. 8 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to which I have added my name. I shall refer to that in just a moment.
There is just a danger in all the well-argued points made in the last few moments that the membership of the council might become excessively prescriptive and restrictive. That is an anxiety of which we must be aware.
Reference was made to the constitution of the General Medical Council, for example. I wholly appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford; namely, that the teaching profession is very different. But there are 120,000 registered medical practitioners subject to regulation by that body, covering a very wide range of interests and activities, from medical journalism through to medicine, surgery and an enormous range of specialties.
When I last inquired, that particular council had 102 members; 52 are registered medical practitioners who are elected by single transferable vote in an election every five years. That election is based upon constituencies established throughout the United Kingdom. There is no right of representation of any sectional interest, professional association, trade union or other body--though it happens, of course, that the British Medical Association, the Medical Women's Federation and the Overseas Doctors all nominate people for election. As matters turn out, every one of the interests that one might think of within the medical profession finds individuals being elected to that body.
There is a majority of doctors--52; the other 50 members are made up of 25 appointed by the medical schools and universities and by the Royal Colleges, which have a direct interest in undergraduate and postgraduate education. But the remaining 25 are lay members nominated by the Privy Council, including lawyers, accountants, Members of Parliament, trade union members, nurses and others, covering an enormously wide range of interests representing the public. That is a model not to be followed directly, but one which gives a useful guide to the possible constitution of the council.
I wholly agree that it is very important that there should be a majority of teachers on this body. The majority need not be great, but it is a principle that we should follow very carefully. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, suggested that they should be practising teachers. I agree that it is right that the teachers should be people who have had experience in a wide range of branches of the teaching profession. My only concern is that service on such a teaching council is likely to be a demanding and arduous task.
It could well be that teachers who have taken retirement at the age of 60 could make a valuable contribution to the work of such a council. Under regulation, all the other regulatory authorities, such as
Lord Peston: I believe that the usefulness of this debate is simply to put on record the kinds of considerations that Members have put forward. I hope that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will take due note of them. However, there are two matters which require more than that. Whether the GTC has too few powers--as my friend Lord Glenamara said it has at this stage--or not, eventually it must become more powerful and must become the self-regulatory body of the teaching profession. It seems to me that a minimum requirement for that to happen must be that in the first instance teachers should comprise a majority of the membership, and in due course perhaps even larger than just a simple majority. I add my voice to those of Members who take that view.
Secondly, although I am aware of the technical difficulties that the noble Lord, Lord Detchant, put forward, I had taken the view that he was right in the amendment standing in his name and that "practising" should be the relevant word. One of the difficulties is that, in my experience, when one is a member of a body such as this it becomes a full time job; one can no longer practise and one becomes a professional member of the body. I should have liked to have had more detail on the nature of the body, such as whether there will be limitations on how many years an individual can serve. I believe strongly that there should be a maximum period of service on such bodies, with no possibility of renewal. That would at least mean that a member would have to go back to teaching one day. I therefore like the word "practising". I see no difficulty about having registered teachers, as well; but the main point is that the majority of the membership should be practising teachers.
Thirdly, following the initial remarks of my noble friend Lord Glenamara, if the teaching profession is to have the position that it wants in this regard, it must in the end choose its own membership of the general teaching council. The word "election" has been used. I should certainly like to see election rather than selection and both rather than choice by the Secretary of State.
I regard our job today as being to let the Secretary of State know what we think ought to happen. To go back to the remarks of my noble friend the Minister, I regard this as part of the consultation process. We do not need to divide; we simply want to express our views in the hope that the Secretary of State will read them, or, more
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Perhaps I may briefly respond with regard to my amendments and those of my noble friend Lady Young. I believe that the process of consultation has begun. I should like to underline what the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said. The Secretary of State and the Minister now have a lot of information at their disposal. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, gave examples of area constituencies; I spoke of more narrow constituencies. Having heard the debate, I believe it would be very much appreciated by the Committee if, at least in this matter, the Government would put something on the face of the Bill. That should be easy to do with my question about independent and state schools, for example. I realise the complexities of putting together such a body, but I believe that, if the department and the Ministers put their minds to it, it should be possible to put more detail in the Bill. These are probing amendments, and I do not intend to press mine. However, I have to say to the Minister that, if the Government do not intend to include more detail, I might have to ask my colleagues to vote to put something on the face of the Bill. It would be helpful, and would spare us some late nights, if the Government were to bring forward an amendment between now and Report stage.
Baroness Maddock: Perhaps I may once again reiterate the importance of including some detail in this clause. The noble Baroness talked earlier about wanting to involve people in a true consultation. This matter is a minimum point. If it is not on the face of the Bill, teachers will not be as enthusiastic as they might be about the general teaching council. For that reason, I, like others, press the Minister to put something on the face of the Bill in this clause.
Baroness Blackstone: I agree with my noble friend Lord Peston and the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that we have had a useful debate and that it is helpful to hear views aired in the Committee about who the members of the general teaching council should be. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will want to read the debate and to take it into account.
However, Members will perhaps not be surprised to hear that I shall resist the amendments; I believe that they would unhelpfully constrain and pre-empt the consultation which we have promised with the teaching profession and the other interests about the composition of the council. We must, of course, be sure that we have the right balance of interests on the council in order to ensure that it has the confidence of the profession and the whole education system. However I believe that at this stage, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, said, it would be unnecessarily prescriptive to put any of these amendments on the face of the Bill. I was particularly interested in what the noble Lord said about the General Medical Council; that is certainly a model that we need to consider in some detail.
As the note which we placed in the Library indicates, we shall issue a consultation paper in March inviting views on a range of issues associated with both composition and membership. I am happy to offer Members a commitment that in that consultation we shall invite views on the case for ensuring that the membership should reflect a wide range of interests, including those suggested in the amendments before the Committee today.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that we shall also consult on the right balance of teachers and non-teachers in the membership; but I am clear that a significant part of the membership should be serving teachers. I can see a great deal of merit in those other interests which have been mentioned during the debate--commerce, industry, denominational interests, the independent sector--having a role to play in the council. We also invite views on the merits of those who are consumers of our education system, such as parents of pupils, being represented on the council. I personally see a great deal of merit in that. I believe that at Second Reading my noble friend Lord Whitty made it clear that it was our intention that parents should be represented on the council.
I note also that some of these amendments reflect a concern about the involvement of independent schools in the GTC. It might be helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, if I clarify our position on that. I know that representatives of the independent sector, such as the Independent Schools Joint Council, want to ensure that teachers in independent schools are not excluded from the GTC. We are equally keen to involve the independent sector in the council. The Government made clear their intention to build bridges between the state and private sectors. All teachers in the independent sector who have qualified teacher status will be eligible to register with the GTC on a voluntary basis.
Perhaps I can say also to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that we see no reason at all why representatives of school inspectors should not be members of the council. In relation to constituencies, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. We must be careful that we do not involve so many constituencies that we end up with an enormously complex electoral college. Some of us have experience of electoral colleges and they can lead to difficulties. That is something that must be looked at with care.
In addition, it will be open to the council to involve others--such as experienced independent sector teachers without a full teaching qualification (we are all aware that there are more teachers in private schools who are not fully qualified in the sense that they have a specific teaching qualification)--in its activities, and some form of associate membership may be introduced for those people. Our consultation will seek views on the merits of any further measures to ensure that the distinct interest of the independent sector is properly represented on the council.
The Government are committed to supporting comprehensive, enforceable civil rights for disabled people against discrimination in society or at work, developed in partnership with all interested parties. As Members of the Committee may remember, they recently set up the Disability Rights Task Force to consider how best to secure those rights. On a related theme, we also published a Green Paper setting out our vision of how we intend to raise education standards for children with special needs.
I am not yet convinced that amending Clause 1(4) is the only or the best way of ensuring that the GTC contributes to those aims, which I know will be shared by the noble Lord. Clause 1(4) is not intended to provide a detailed or exhaustive list of all the interests which will be reflected in the council membership. That clause underlines our intention that it should be a general teaching council rather than a general teachers' council. The categories listed are intentionally broad and are intended to cover the wide range of real and important interests which will have a role to play in the GTC. It would not be appropriate to include a long and detailed list in Clause 1(4).
I am not sure that it would be sensible to pre-empt the consultation when we shall certainly seek views on the issues. That would allow us, for example, to seek views on whether the GTC should include people with knowledge and experience of special educational needs. Given that the GTC is about regulating the teaching profession and raising standards in the interests of the public in general, and parents and pupils in particular, the right focus may be on special educational needs. It would be better to put the flesh on the bones through the consultation and subsequent regulations rather than try to do it now in primary legislation. We shall certainly be consulting on the matter and I share the aim of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, of ensuring that those interests are not forgotten.
I am confident that the clauses as drafted lay down the core requirements for the council's membership and I should not wish to see our flexibility for meeting the wishes of the profession and the education system further constrained by primary legislation.
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