Clause 75 - Functions of agency

Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 22nd March 2005.

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

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

With this it will be convenient to take the following: new clause 10—Duty of Training and Development Agency for Schools to consult other statutory bodies—

‘For the purpose of the exercise of their functions under section 75(2)(a) and (b), the Agency must consult the General Teaching Council in England and Wales and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.’.

New clause 16—Annual Report of Training and Development Agency for Schools to Parliament

The Agency shall produce an annual report which shall be laid by the Secretary of State before both Houses of Parliament for approval by affirmative resolution.’.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

New clause 10 says:

“For the purpose of the exercise of their functions under section 75(2)(a) and (b), the Agency”— that is, the newly titled Training and Development Agency for Schools

“must consult the General Teaching Council in England and Wales and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.”

That would mean a consultation exercise to ensure that the objectives of all the bodies are held in common and the highest calibre of people exercise those powers, because their common aim is to assist the career development of not only teachers but the whole work force in schools. The work force are becoming more diverse as the functions in schools expand. The new clause is sensible, involving the General Teaching Council and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in making joint decisions after consultation about the exercise of the functions under the new power.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I have a few queries on clause stand part, which I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to clear up. First, on the relationship between clauses 74 and 75, it is clear in the supporting notes that clause 75(2) extends the objectives of the Training and Development Agency for Schools listed in section 1(2) of the Education Act 1994 to include matters relating to all members of the school work force. In the Bill, the listed functions of the new agency do not include all the functions of the Teacher Training Agency. From memory, one of the TTA’s function is to secure the appropriate supply of teachers. That is not included in the Bill. After this Bill is enacted, are we to have two Acts, the Education 1994 Act and this one, both containing different functions for the new agency?

Secondly, clause 75(5) states:

“For the purposes of this Part, the school workforce consists of the following members—

(a) persons who work in schools”— which is quite clear, and I presume includes all non-classroom workers—

“and,

(b) persons not falling within paragraph (a) who are teachers or carry out work that consists of or includes teaching.”

That could include itinerant music teachers and people brought in for special reasons. It may even mean supply teachers. I do not know. I am all in favour of the revamped agency taking over responsibility for the whole school working community, but we are discussing an agency that will have responsibility for the training of the dinner staff, the caretakers and the people who work on the grounds. The provision will almost double the responsibilities of the new agency. Well, perhaps they will not increase by that much, but the provision will massively increase the agency’s responsibilities.

I would like to hear from the Minister how he envisages the new agency expanding its staff, its required expertise and its budget to cover the increase, and whether he can assure me that the new agency will be competent to train groundsmen, for instance, in how to look after football pitches, or caretakers in how to unblock toilets. It is a huge increase and it is welcome, but I do not get any indication from the Bill of how the competencies of the new agency will change and expand to cope with it. Those questions will come up again in relation to schedule 13, where I think there are some more anomalies, but I will raise those when we discuss that schedule. I would welcome the Minister’s response to those points.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Minister of State (Education and Skills) (School Standards) 3:15 pm, 22nd March 2005

This is an important part of the Bill. The clause sets out the overarching framework for the activities of the Training and Development Agency for Schools. My hon. Friend has just asked about the remit of the agency, as set out in the Bill, and how it fits in with previous legislation, and particularly the 1994 Act. I can certainly assure him that the duty on the Secretary of State under section 11A of the 1994 Act remains in force. It remains the primary function of the agency to ensure that we see a continuing improvement in the standards of teaching and learning in our schools.

In response to the perfectly reasonable points that my hon. Friend raised, it is worth clarifying that the agency’s job is about making training available. It is not about the direct delivery of that training. It needs to build the capacity in the market and to do that in conjunction with a range of organisations, including some that the hon. Member for Upminster has set out in her new clause, to which I will come in a moment.

The role is therefore different. It addresses the needs of the whole school work force in the way that has been set out. The role is geared to raising standards in the classroom. For example, it is geared to learning assistants, sports specialists and others and to ensuring that the proper training, support and development is in place for those other members of staff, as well as for teachers in the classroom. The provision, and the associated work that is going on to ensure that it becomes a reality, is the product of a great deal of debate, discussion and engagement. The agency itself is keen to take on the role and believes that it has the capacity and resources to do so. Detailed work is going on between our Department and the agency to ensure that the resources are in place. I am happy to write to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) to set that out in much more detail and to copy that to all members of the Committee.

On new clause 10, I welcome the acknowledgement from the hon. Lady that, in exercising its functions, the new agency needs to work closely with other bodies with an interest in raising the standards of teaching and learning, such as the General Teaching Councils and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. However, the new clause is in danger of achieving precisely the opposite of what she wants. Similar, related amendments were first tabled in another place.   In response, Carol Adams, the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England, writing to my noble Friend Lord Filkin, said that

“while we do not believe that these amendments have undermined the concrete and positive nature of our partnership working and contribution to the TTA, we are concerned that they may have had the potential to do so”.

I know that that view is shared by the agency.

In encouraging the agency to take an inclusive approach to its business, it is vital that we do not encumber it with bureaucratic procedures to an extent that could inhibit its ability to act. The new clause seeks to oblige the agency to consult various organisations and agencies before doing anything with the objective of raising the standard of teaching and other school work force activities, or promoting careers in the school work force. In practice, that would encompass most of what the agency’s routine funding is for and its other activities, and it could turn out to be—I am sure that this is unintended—a recipe for pointless red tape and wasted time and resources for all the bodies involved. If there is any doubt on the issue, let me assure hon. Members that the TTA already works closely, not only with ourselves, but with the General Teaching Councils and the QCA—for example, through the School Workforce Development Board and the school work force strategy group. Likewise, in the past, the TTA has always consulted those and other bodies when they were likely to have an interest in particular activities. The new body, the TDA, will obviously continue to do so in the future.

New clause 16 raises the important issue of parliamentary oversight of the TDA. The TTA is already accountable to Parliament in two main ways. First it is required to make an annual report on its activities to the Secretary of State, who in turn is required to lay the report before both Houses. Secondly, the agency is required to submit its accounts annually to the Secretary of State—and to the Comptroller and Auditor General—who in turn is required to lay them before both Houses with his report on them.

The provisions figure in schedule 1 of the 1994 Act, and they are re-enacted in schedule 13 of the Bill. We have proposed no lessening of parliamentary scrutiny of the finances and performance of the agency and it remains open to either House to debate or table questions on any of these documents. The mechanisms for parliamentary scrutiny, inquiry and, if need be, censure that I have described are proportionate to the importance of the work that the agency undertakes.

In the light of that, I do not believe that it is necessary for us to adopt the proposal that the hon. Lady has put before us. Both new clauses 10 and 16 may have unintended negative consequences, so I hope that she will reflect on what I have said and not press the motion to a Division.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

The remit of the new agency is clearly wider than that embraced by the General Teaching Council because the career development of other categories of staff in schools will be covered by the new agency, whereas the GTC has not traditionally   involved itself in that. I would like to see career paths to enable teaching assistants, for example, to move into teaching and I wonder whether the General Teaching Council would be attracted to that and might give it as a reason for becoming involved with the new agency.

Given the Minister’s reassurance that new clause 16 is a duplication of what appears elsewhere in the Bill, I will not press my new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 75 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 76 ordered to stand part of the Bill.