Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am sorry to come at this at such a late hour but, if it is any consolation to the Minister, who looks a bit grey, I have no intention of trying to beat some of my record performances for time, as in the past.

My noble friend has clearly outlined some aspects which require explanation from the Minister. I shall not go over them again. My noble friend outlined the existing position, which does not seem to leave much of a role for inspection of the kind mentioned. That must be particularly true with regard to concurrent courses. They have developed since I left the teaching profession. Many, if not all, teacher training colleges are now part of universities. That is why there are now concurrent courses. They certainly did not happen in my time, which I accept is probably prehistoric--at least from the point of view of teaching. It is a seriously good step forward that many teachers in training receive their subject tuition in classes which are not specifically designed for teachers and where they can mix with others and hear a wider appreciation of the subject. There does not seem to be much of a role there for the kind of inspection mentioned.

Will the Minister confirm that, as I assume, this issue will be totally devolved to the Scottish parliament? If I am right, why can it not be left to the Scottish parliament? Why must the provision be added to this Bill?

I got my final point from a quick reading of the introductory part of the Bill. I notice that there are no manpower implications. If that is so, I come to one of two conclusions. Either, there will not be many inspections or, alternatively, there are a lot of under-employed inspectors. Which is it?

Earl Russell: Not for the first time I follow "marathon man" into the debate, and I am very happy to do so. I am glad that the noble Baroness has persisted with her opposition to this clause. She has given a persuasive account of the differences between the Scottish and English positions, but I would not wish to imply, by not having raised the English clause, that is not a matter of concern. I thought that it was an infernally complicated issue for this time of night. I shall not go into it now.

I should like to comment on two points made by the noble Baroness. First, when dealing with the authority of the Scottish General Teaching Council in this matter she described the way in which I hope in future matters might proceed in England. Secondly, she said that

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1501

higher education institutions had no objection to the most rigorous inspection of their courses. I am happy to confirm that, but it must be inspection by those who have both the competence and authority to do it. The proposition that Ofsted has that is not self-evident to me, and that we shall have to debate on another occasion.

Lord Sewel: I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy. She is for ever watchful in matters affecting Scotland and does this House a great service in making sure that any legislation that affects Scotland is properly debated and scrutinised.

In reply to one point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, this will be a general matter devolved to the Scottish parliament. He asks: why do it now? The simple answer is that the programme of the Government does not stop. We do not have a hiatus until 2000 when the Scottish parliament is up and running. We are determined to maintain the momentum of reform and improvement.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: In that case, why do the Government not take advantage of the two idle Standing Committees in the other place that do not have anything to do in this parliamentary Session on Scottish legislation?

Lord Sewel: The Government make use of all the legislative opportunities that present themselves to pursue their programme of reform and improvement in Scotland. That is a clear and unassailable fact.

As the debate has clearly underlined, the Government have a special responsibility for assuring standards in education and quality. A key element of that is the training of teachers and the need to ensure that prospective teachers who emerge from the training institutions are, in the words of the day, fit for the purpose. That is a key responsibility of the Government which they cannot duck. Clause 15 provides for the reinstatement of powers for Her Majesty's inspectors of schools to inspect pre-service and in-service teacher education and training in higher education institutions in Scotland. Basically, it re-establishes the situation prior to the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish--which is a fair one--is that there has been an institutional shift over the period. Whereas in 1992 teacher training was carried out by distinct and separate colleges of education, in about half the cases those colleges have merged with universities, but I do not believe that that affects the principle of the need to establish proper processes of inspection.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, rightly listed the inspection and quality checks in the system at the moment and in effect asked what had changed and why something new and additional had to be done. Despite those processes, which I readily agree lead to a degree of duplication--that is a concern--there is no effective mechanism to ensure that teacher education reflects government priorities and addresses problems in the teaching and learning experienced in schools. I have no difficulty in making that point strongly. The Government have a responsibility to ensure that their

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1502

basic and fundamental priorities in driving up standards are being followed right the way through the system, right into the schools via the production of teachers through the training institutions.

I have made it clear that we are committed to raising standards in schools. It should be beyond dispute that a key element in that is that teachers are prepared properly for their jobs. We are not saying that teacher education in Scotland is poor, rather that there is a gap in the system. We approve all courses against our guidelines before they start, as the noble Baroness said, but we cannot go on to check whether new teachers are being prepared properly for their role in maintaining and raising standards in Scotland's schools. That is the gap. We have come forward with this proposal to fill that vital, missing element.

The noble Baroness asked who the "other persons" could be. It is a provision that exists already in the general requirements covering HM inspectors. They can involve other persons in the inspection of schools. It is designed to give an opportunity to have a multi-disciplinary inspection, led by the inspectorate, but bringing in successful head teachers and fellow professionals in the area who can make a major contribution to the inspection of a training institution. The other persons are not part of some dark, nebulous group; they are people actively involved in education who can make a contribution to the inspection of a training institution, based on their own experience.

The inspectorate is made up of the right people to take the lead responsibility for that task, because only they have the breadth of information and experience necessary to ensure that teacher education takes account not just of best practices in schools but areas of difficulty or weakness and that they are being addressed quickly. It is that breadth and depth of experience that is necessary to deliver a high quality inspection--a good product.

The inspectorate is at that important interface between policy implementation and school practice. It is that experience that also enhances the value of an inspectorate-led inspection of training institutions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, made the point about concurrent courses. Let me make it clear that in the inspection process there we are interested in the initial teacher education. It is those courses, or parts of courses, which lead to a teaching qualification which will be the subject of inspection. The academic element will not. I appreciate that there is a need for consultation and discussion here. That will be covered in HMI's discussions with institutions about the framework for inspections. That is something that needs to be worked on and clarified in the light of arrangements on the ground.

We are trying to--this is an important step towards achieving the objective--put into place an inspections system throughout the entire school system (the schools and the training institutions) that builds in quality; that enables us to have confidence that we are making progress towards enhancing standards; and doing so in a way which is professionally based and which draws

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1503

upon the depth and breadth of the experience of the inspectorate. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her objection.

Earl Russell: The Minister spoke powerfully about driving up standards. Can he tell the Committee whether he has a driving licence and by whose authority it is conferred?

Lord Sewel: The answer to the first part of the question is yes. The answer to the second part of the question is that I shall write to the noble Earl.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: The Minister gave a very interesting reply. I believe that the universities in Scotland, which will soon have responsibility for all teacher training--few colleges will not be merged--will be fascinated by it. The Minister will be the first to know how fascinated they will be because he was a distinguished vice-principal of Aberdeen University, which is in negotiations with Northern College to merge. He will know what the problems are, but he had the job of explaining the clause and he did that ably.

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1504

The universities will be most interested to hear that the Government do not believe that the quality assurance agency can do this job and that the involvement of the inspectorate, which has two roles and is deeply involved in developing schools' policy in universities, is appropriate. It seems to me to be a most extraordinary thing for the Government to be doing in Scotland. I can understand that they are reflecting the situation in England, but they are not doing that in Scotland. The proposal was discarded with everyone's agreement and pleasure. There is no reason to believe that the system will not improve greatly under the universities as they exist.

I shall read exactly what he said, as I am sure will members of the Association of University Teachers, who will be most interested in it. They will let me know precisely what they think about it, as will the principals. I beg leave to withdraw my opposition to the clause, but I shall be likely to return to it.

Clause 15 agreed to.

House resumed.

        House adjourned at twenty-three minutes past eleven o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page