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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I might ask the noble Lord, on the basis that there is no disagreement in principle and it is therefore only a matter of timing, to consider taking the
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I think not. We are dealing with both timing and the time that it takes to make a proper assessment of whether the GTC is operating in a way that allows it to take on additional responsibilities. That assessment can only be made by the next Parliament, which will provide for primary legislation to extend it in that way.
We believe that we have a balance of responsibility between the GTC, the Teacher Training Agency, which is important in this area, and the Secretary of State's direct powers. We would not be happy to see the new standards that we have brought in relating to qualified teacher status, and which come into effect for the first time in May this year, undermined by the development of a separate procedure under the GTC. We have only recently revised those standards. The regulations on registration may allow the GTC to make its own arrangements on many issues. They will set a framework within which the GTC will be able to make its own more detailed rules. But I think this strikes the right balance between maintaining effective statutory regulation and moving towards, at this stage, greater self-regulation of the teaching profession. I believe that the amendments would take us too far, too fast and upset that balance.
Nevertheless, having listened to the strength of feeling in the debate, we are prepared to consider whether we should tilt the balance a little further towards the GTC; for example, by bringing forward an amendment at a later stage to place the Secretary of State under a very clear duty to ensure that the GTC is fully consulted on standards for qualified teacher training, teacher status and entry to the profession. I hope that that would offer at least some further assurance that we are moving in the right direction and that it is clear what eventual role we envisage for the council on such matters.
Possibly more serious even than the evolutionary way in which we view the GTC on entry to the profession is the question of excluding teachers from the profession. We understand that Amendment No. 8 is intended to allow the GTC to take decisions on those barring cases which arise under Section 218(6) of the Education Reform Act 1988. I understand why many of your Lordships feel that the GTC should be in charge of this process. But perhaps I may explain why the Government believe that our alternative view is right. This relates to the important and sensitive issue of child protection.
The teaching profession differs significantly from other professions that have self-regulatory bodies in that it is almost entirely composed of people whose jobs involve them in regular contact with children. Sadly, a small minority of teachers abuse children
Moreover, it is not a question of not trusting teachers to make these assessments--teachers who will be involved in the GTC--because this whole issue of child protection goes beyond teaching. Regrettably, those few people who are determined to abuse children are cunning. They will take advantage of any gaps and loopholes that we leave them. It is not nowadays enough to say that if we bar someone as a teacher it is the end of the matter. They can come back as classroom assistants, they may seek to come back as volunteers, or they may seek to work for a firm that regularly drives children to school in taxis and so on.
I must draw attention to the fact that the previous government rightly increased substantially the provisions on child protection. They were extended to cover staff in schools who have regular contact beyond the teaching profession, such as classroom assistants; they were then extended to the independent schools; and they were extended to cover agency teachers and volunteers and to cover others who provide regular services to schoolchildren. The whole child protection system goes beyond the teaching profession.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I thank the Minister very much for giving way. Does he appreciate that all these circumstances prevail in Scotland and that it has been done by the General Teaching Council in Scotland for 35 years? So these arguments are not valid.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not as familiar as the noble Baroness with the situation in Scotland, but I am advised that both the remit of the GTC and the child protection arrangements in Scotland are somewhat different from those in England and Wales. Therefore, there is not a direct analogy. No one is suggesting that the GTC's responsibilities should extend to classroom assistants and others who come in contact with children. There would be a problem if we shifted the balance from a direct Secretary of State responsibility for child protection that these loopholes would become usable by people who, unfortunately, might be in a position to abuse children. As I understand it, the situation in Scotland is somewhat different on both sides of that argument both in terms of what we envisage for the GTC and the existing child protection provisions.
On the child protection issue, we believe that it is important to maintain a consistent and coherent system of child protection and that that should remain in the hands of the Secretary of State as far as concerns children in schools. I have undertaken today that we should look again at whether we can give the GTC a clearer statutory role in relation to the standards required for entry to the profession by including on the face of the Bill a provision that ensures that the GTC is consulted on such standards. I have also explained the
Baroness Young: My Lords, I thank all those noble Lords who have supported me on this amendment. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Walton. It was a recognition of all parts of the House being concerned about this matter.
Perhaps I may deal, first, with the two specific points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I always enjoy the noble Lord's interventions. He has a wonderfully seductive way of speaking. One of the troubles I find is that I am so busy listening to his voice that it is quite difficult sometimes to remember what exactly he has said. It is all very nice and one rather longs for it to go on, but I shall not take up more of the time of the House on that matter.
He referred to the drafting of the amendment and whether or not subsection (1) of the amendment was qualified by subsection (2). Perhaps I may explain how I see the two subsections operating. The first point is that subsection (1)(a), (b) and (c) would have the effect of making the GTC primarily responsible for determining standards of teaching, standards of conduct for teachers and medical fitness to teach. But in doing so the Secretary of State would have the power, under subsection (2), to require the GTC to seek his advice or the advice of bodies designated by him on these matters. However, I would not wish to have a great legal argument with the noble Lord about the wording of the amendment. If it is not clear, I should look at it again.
On the specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I think he misunderstands what I mean by the term "standards of teaching". In that context, I mean standards against which a general teaching council could judge issues of incompetence and once a matter has been dealt with in employment terms by the teacher's appropriate employer. I think he would accept that teachers probably know more than anyone else in the school who is an incompetent teacher. This is a quite difficult area of employment but it is one of importance.
I hope the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will not take it amiss if I say to him that I think he made the very best of a rather bad case. We are all agreed on the principle of this. It is a question of timing, as he said. I must read Hansard very carefully in the morning. I think he said that the department was not reluctant to relinquish but was looking for the optimum time. I felt that that was one of those quotes which must have been taken from Mr. Mandelson and one which I must work into the next speech I make. However, I shall check the wording to
When we debated this matter in Committee I recognised the role of the teacher training agency. I do not believe that these proposals would necessarily cut across it. Nobody wants qualified teacher status to be undermined. I accept everything that has been said, both on unqualified teacher status and on the very important issue of the exclusion of teachers, about whose seriousness there is no disagreement. I suspect that teachers would be much tougher on other teachers than outsiders would be. It would reflect very badly on them. Using a perhaps unhappy analogy, one can usually recognise the rotten apple in the barrel of those with whom one is working. The last thing people want to do is to work with someone like that. Therefore, I shall not be afraid on that score.
I should like to reflect on the point that the general teaching council might not be able to exercise powers on people like caretakers or agency teachers. I should like to seek advice on that point. But I do not believe that there is any reason in principle why teachers cannot be trusted to look at exclusion and standards. Indeed, if we believe in raising standards, I believe that teachers would do it better.
I am sorely tempted to press this amendment this evening, but a point has been raised that I should like to consider. I shall reflect on what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said. I do not believe that he has gone as far as I should like because ultimately what really matters is whether we give teachers the responsibility for managing their own affairs. I fear that, if we do not, they will be seen by themselves and outsiders--even worse, by parents and pupils--as a second-class group. There are one or two points that need to be looked at again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.