Clause 77 - Membership etc. of Agency

Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 22nd March 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education) 3:15 pm, 22nd March 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 25, in clause 77, page 43, line 38, at end insert—

‘(1A)In appointing the members of the Agency the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of including persons who appear to him—

(a)to have experience of, and to have shown capacity in—

(i)teaching in schools,

(ii)teaching in higher education (other than training teachers), or

(iii)training teachers, or

(b)to have held, and to have shown capacity in, any position carrying responsibility for—

(i)the provision of education in schools,

(ii)the provision of higher education (other than the training of teachers), or

(iii)the training of teachers; and in appointing such persons he shall have regard to the desirability of their being currently engaged in the provision of, or in carrying responsibility for, such matters.

(1B)In considering the appointment of members in accordance with subsection (1A) the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of including persons whose relevant experience or responsibility is, or was, in or in relation to—

(a)institutions of a denominational character, or

(b)teaching persons with special educational needs.’.

This amendment relates to appointing members to the agency and the circumstances surrounding their appointment. The inclusion of people with relevant expertise and experience would be essential in enabling the agency to exercise its functions. The appropriateness and relevance of qualification and experience of those people appointed to the agency is important and it must ensure that the greatest expertise is available to the agency so that standards can be driven up. Every element of the whole spectrum of school provision should be included in the field of expertise in the new agency.

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

I have some sympathy with what the hon. Lady is aiming at, but the list set out in the amendment seems to me a very limited one. I know that the phrase “desirability of including” is used, but it is nevertheless limited, particularly taking into account the expansion of the responsibilities of the agency, which we discussed a few moments ago. The provision also seems a bit incestuous, in that the list is entirely composed of those who have come through the route of teaching in schools or higher education.

I do not therefore support the amendment, although I sympathise with the hon. Lady in her attempt to clarify what sorts of people will be required for the agency. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to what extent the list in the amendment would reflect the make-up of the Teacher Training Agency as it is now and as it has functioned for some years.

I have a simple question about the clause. It is very open ended in stating that the agency

“is to consist of such number of members appointed by the Secretary of State as the Secretary of State may determine”.

That could mean any number of people, and could be added to whenever a Secretary of State thought fit. I am sure that the present Secretary of State would not do that, but the agency could be infinitely expandable; every time a problem came up someone would be bunged on to it. Eventually about 500 people would be sitting there trying to sort out a new range of responsibilities.

Why is there no upper limit on the number of people who can be members of the agency? Would it be advisable for the Minister to think about the range of suitable people, from business, trade unions and commerce—given the importance of teacher education to the welfare of the country—and to come up with a list of appropriate areas of expertise that might be represented in the new agency?

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Minister of State (Education and Skills) (School Standards)

Amendment No. 25 would re-enact a substantial portion of the 1994 Act, so the answer to my hon. Friend is that the list very much reflects the existing make-up of the TTA. However, in his opening remarks, he set out the argument against the amendment, which is that it is prescriptive, particularly in the context of the changing role and remit of the agency.

I take my hon. Friend’s point that, in extremis, the clause could result in a very large agency. However, we want to maintain flexibility, because of the challenges and the way they change over time. The agency may meet challenges in two or three years that even this Committee could not anticipate today. Clearly, it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that the membership of the agency does not become unmanageable, and the Secretary of State will be the guardian of that.

My hon. Friend has raised an important point about direct representation of industry and employers in the agency’s work. It is important that we maintain the flexibility that our proposal sustains, rather than setting out in the Bill the detail of membership which, as he said, could be unnecessarily restrictive.

I do not suggest that the groups specified in the amendment or in the 1994 Act should be without representation; we want sufficient flexibility in the system to enable those groups with a close interest in the activities of the agency to be represented, although not at others’ expense. My fear is that the amendment would unnecessarily restrict our ability to proceed in that way. I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

It is difficult to know how justified the Minister’s comments are without knowing how many members the agency will have, but I should like to make it clear that I believe that someone with expertise in special educational needs, and a representative of denominational schools, should be included in the agency. With that caveat, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.