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Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, saw some difficulty in the fact that the employer is not the same person as is judging competence. With respect, that is not an entirely uncommon situation. A barrister is not employed by the Bar Council, but the Bar Council is competent to decide his fitness to act as a barrister. A bus driver is employed by a bus company. But it is not the bus company that takes away his driving licence if he drives extremely badly. What happens when he loses his driving licence is that he loses his qualification to be employed by his employer. That is a perfectly recognised procedure. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, invoked the spectre of accountability. This has been done by power in all
Lord Tope: My Lords, my name is also attached to this amendment and I rise therefore to offer support for it from the Liberal Democrat Benches. Reference has been made to the amendment at Report stage in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin. I know that since withdrawing that amendment, the noble Earl has worked extremely hard to take on board the points made on Report. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, has offered some extremely valuable advice, which has been included in the drafting of the amendment. Noble Lords have said that the amendment now before us is significantly better than the amendment at Report stage. Although I was disappointed that the amendment at Report stage was not pressed to a Division, I can now see that that was a wise decision. We now come to an amendment which meets all of the concerns mentioned at Report stage.
This is one of the key amendments in this part of the Bill. On the government amendment earlier today, we recognised that the general teaching council should have a majority of teachers. That was an important step towards having it seen by teachers themselves as an appropriate professional body. We then passed an amendment giving it proper functions and a proper role as a general teaching council. I see this amendment as a third plank in establishing the general teaching council as a proper professional body and being recognised as such by the profession. So on these Benches we are pleased to support this important amendment.
We noted with great interest the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that it is this provision which is valued most in Scotland. I can well recognise that that must be so. Another speaker said earlier--and I know it to be the case--that very often the people who feel most strongly about bad teachers are other teachers. I speak as the husband of a teacher, so I know that to be true.
Perhaps I may follow on from the point made by my noble friend Lord Russell in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, as to how a governing body or an LEA--the employer of a teacher who is deregistered--would feel. I can speak as a school governor who has had to face this issue. First, it is highly probable that before a teacher is deregistered the governing body would have taken action anyway. These are notoriously difficult areas for school governing bodies to deal with. In the probably unlikely event that the governing body had not dealt with it, or had not been able to deal with it, I suspect that most governing bodies, if not all governing bodies, would be very pleased indeed to have a professional body which was able to judge, and judge independently, that a teacher was not suitable to teach.
This is an extremely important amendment for the establishment of the general teaching council. We were warned, if that is the right word, earlier that the Minister may have something positive to say on the amendment. We look forward to hearing it. However, unless it is accepted in its entirety, I think it is something which the noble Earl may wish to pursue further.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I recognise the strength of feeling in the House on this matter, obviously reinforced by the Division which has recently taken place. I pay tribute, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has done, to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, for his work in drawing up the amendment, for the way he responded to contributions by Members of your Lordships' House at an earlier stage and for the force and eloquence with which he moved the amendment today. Most important of all, he has come up with an amendment which we believe proposes a more workable and responsible way forward than the amendments that have just been passed.
As my noble friend Lord Whitty said earlier when the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, were being debated, they would undermine our new qualified teacher standards. They would undermine the valuable work of the Teacher Training Agency. They would fragment what is currently a coherent child protection system and would give highly sensitive powers over child protection to an untried and untested body. For those reasons, we shall seek to overturn the amendments in another place.
As we have said at earlier stages, we understand why many Members of your Lordships' House wish to give the council full power over the register of teachers and particularly more power over professional discipline. That is an admirable aim. There is clearly a case for the council assuming such powers in due course. But where we part company is on how and when that might be done.
We have concerns, which I outlined earlier, about fragmenting the child protection arrangements. This amendment attempts to address that concern and I am pleased to welcome the principle that underpins it. As I understand it, the amendment is designed to cover those cases which might be characterised as being about a teacher's professional standing or involving conduct unbecoming to a teacher. Therefore, I am prepared to undertake on behalf of the Government to consider how we can translate that principle into this Bill. It is not possible to give the council the role envisaged without affecting the existing disciplinary system administered by the Secretary of State. So we need to take this matter away and do some detailed work on it before bringing forward an amendment in another place, which I undertake to do.
More than half of the cases dealt with by the department's teacher misconduct team are clearly about child protection. They account for some three-quarters of the barring or restriction orders on teachers. Around one quarter of the cases have little or no child protection dimension to them. These cases involve things like teachers making false claims about their qualifications; misappropriating school funds, helping pupils to cheat in exams, and similar forms of misconduct. There are around 100 such cases a year, which typically lead to between 10 or 20 barring or restriction orders.
However, the remaining one quarter of the cases may not be quite so easily classified. These are cases of serious offences which may not involve children directly, but in which the offending behaviour may indicate a possible risk to the safety or welfare of children. We shall need to consider how such cases are handled and who decides whether they should be taken up by the GTC or the Secretary of State.
As we said at earlier stages, there could also be some difficulties of scope. The amendment covers only registered teachers since the council's power would be to strike a teacher off the register, suspend him or her from the register or attach conditions to his or her registration. We shall need to consider how we deal with unregistered teachers in the independent and FE sectors and with the non-teaching staff who are covered by the current barring regime.
Similarly, removal from the GTC's register would effectively bar a person only from teaching in maintained schools. We shall need to consider whether a teacher who has been removed from the council's register should be barred from teaching in independent schools and FE colleges and from other non-teaching work with children. However, I would have reservations if appropriate professional standards were to include at this stage matters of competence as to how individual teachers do their job. We have worked in partnership with the education service and drawn up new arrangements agreed by representatives of local education authorities and teachers' unions. I would want to consider carefully whether a role for the council would help or hinder those new arrangements. We must give the arrangements time to work.
There is a range of issues which we need to work through in more detail in order to make absolutely sure that the amendment will have the desired effect. But I can say again that we shall bring forward an appropriate amendment at a later stage at the same time as overturning the amendments that have just been passed in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, for the considerable energy and clarity he has brought to this issue. In the wording of the amendment the noble Earl's intention is made crystal clear; namely, to distinguish very clearly child protection cases, which we believe should remain with the Secretary of State, and those misconduct cases where we now believe that the GTC can bring its unique professional insight to bear. I hope that he will understand our wish to make sure that the wording is also legally watertight. As I have said, we shall bring forward an appropriate amendment in another place. In the light of that commitment, and in view of the conflict between this amendment and the amendments which have just been passed, I very much hope that the noble Earl will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
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