Clause 23

Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 4 February 2010.

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Licence to practise

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment 336, in clause 23, page 22, line 22, at end insert—

‘(2A) Regulations under subsection (2) may only be made after consulting with the Council.’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 204, in clause 23, page 23, line 43, at end add—

‘(3) (1) None of the measures set out in subsection (1) and (2) shall come into effect until the Secretary of State has commissioned an independent report into—

(a) the most effective ways of improving continuous professional development for teachers, and

(b) any necessary changes in the system of performance management for teachers.

(2) The Independent Report must be informed by consultation with the General Teaching Council for England, the Select Committee for the Department of Children, Schools and Families, representatives of the teaching profession in England, and other suitable bodies.’.

Amendment 196, in clause 24, page 24, line 6, at end insert—

‘(1A) Regulations may only be made under subsection (1) after the council has issued a statement expressing its support for the introduction of a licence to practise as described in section 23 of the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010.’.

Amendment 337, in clause 24, page 24, leave out lines 18 to 20.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The licence to teach, as it is called in the White Paper—it is the licence to practise in the clause—has been launched to widespread opposition. The NUT said:

“The NUT can see no argument advanced by Government which justifies the introduction of the licence to practise for teachers” and that the licence to practise

“is likely to have little or no impact other than angering the profession.”

The ASCL said:

“Until the Secretary of State conducts a full cost-benefit analysis demonstrating the need to create a Licence to Practise we believe that legislating on this matter is premature and unwise.”

In the Committee’s evidence session, John Dunford went on to say:

“what value does a licence to practise add, over and above performance management, CPD and capability proceedings”?

Chris Keates said:

“The NASUWT has opposed the introduction of the licence to practise, basically because of concern in the profession about how it might be portrayed in the media.”

What was most revealing, however, was the opinion on the proposal given by Keith Bartley, the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England—the body to be charged with implementing the licence to practise. In his evidence, he said:

“I see merit in measures that support teachers to develop and improve their practice and that confer real benefits for teaching and learning that serve the public interest. We do not yet know whether the proposals in the Bill will achieve those aims.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 18-23, Q26 and 33.]

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm something for me? If a licence to practise is good enough for doctors, is it also good enough for teachers?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The trouble with the proposal is that it is not administered by something such as the General Medical Council. Although administered by the General Teaching Council, that is a state body set up by the  Secretary of State, rather than a body that has come from within the profession. There is a big difference between a professional body representing the profession and one that tends to represent the state sector.

Friday’s edition of The Times Educational Supplement reported that Keith Bartley had said at a conference in London that

“he was concerned that it would be ‘unduly burdensome’ for teachers and called for a change to the way schools are judged.”

He was reported as saying:

“We need assurances that it won’t be another layer of accountability in the system”.

Finally, according to the article, he added:

“A lack of information from the Department for Children, Schools and Families...about how the scheme will work means the advantages to teachers are not yet clear”.

When the statutory body charged with implementing a Government policy has concerns about that policy and expresses such concerns in public, we all need to take note.

The amendment would prevent the regulations to introduce a licence to practise from being made until the proposals had the support of the General Teaching Council. Our view is that the policy behind the licence is wrong. It is bureaucratic, it will not lead to more continuing professional development, and it will make it more, not less, difficult for head teachers to be able to manage and develop their teaching staff.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 2:00, 4 February 2010

I want to speak on the provision not only because we tabled amendment 204, but because this incredibly important part of the Bill could affect hundreds of thousands of people throughout the teaching profession. Although I feel that I keep making the same speech about our need to move on at some stage to other controversial issues, we cannot pass over the matter quickly, given the importance of the measure.

The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton mentioned the controversy that has been generated by this part of the Bill. I have a confession to make: when the Bill was first announced by the Secretary of State in the House of Commons last year, this was one of the few bits that, in a very Liberal Democrat way, I picked out and said that the Liberal Democrats supported it. However, the more that I have considered it, the more that I have heard representations and the more that I look at the Government’s policy, the less convinced I am that this is a good idea, partly because I am not sure what the Government are trying to deliver with these provisions.

Perhaps I can draw hon. Members’ attention to the rather large difference between what is in the very helpful impact assessment and how the Government decided to announce this part of the Bill. The provision was headline-grabbing when the Bill and the White Paper were announced last year. Indeed, in July, when, I think, the White Paper came out, the subject grabbed all the headlines. In relation to the motivation for the policy, one assumes that the headlines were inspired by the Department. The headlines generated were very similar in all the newspapers, so one assumes someone from the Department was spinning the policy.

Let me cite some of the headlines as examples to try to tease out what we are trying to achieve in the measure. The Sun covered the proposal under the headline, “MoT for teachers; ‘Licence’ test every 5yrs”, and the articlestates:

“Teachers must undergo MoT-style check-ups to make sure they are fit for the classroom under Government plans unveiled yesterday... The licence will help...weed out rotten teachers and make it impossible for those who have been sacked to walk into a job at another school. Rookie teachers must apply for a licence from next year.”

It does not seem that that was a briefing given to just one newspaper, because there are other examples. The BBC report on the White Paper used the headline, “Teachers facing classroom MOTs” and the Secretary of State even commented directly on the proposal. When he was asked what impact it would have, he said:

“It would be foolish to speculate about numbers”— in other words, the number of teachers who would fail the licence. The article goes on to state that the Secretary of State said:

“checks would make sure that schools were ‘facing up to inadequacy.’”

I shall list the headlines—The Guardian, “Teachers face MOT every five years to prove fitness to teach”; the Daily Mail,“Teachers’ MoTs every five years”; and The Times, “Teachers face sack under new classroom licence plan”. The Times included a description of how incompetent teachers will be weeded out.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that that was not spun out by the Department. May I just caution him? He might not have noticed this, but everything that we read in the papers is not always true.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

That is certainly the case with Liberal Democrat policy. I find what the Minister has said a little difficult to believe. Is he saying that the licence to practise is not designed to lead to MOTs to weed out poor teachers?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

It is certainly not the intention of the licence to practise to weed out poor teachers. There is a performance management process, which can then lead to a capability review that is in place. The purpose of the licence to practise is to raise the status of the profession and give people a proper link to continuing professional development.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Either a U-turn is coming on, or one happened a few months ago in response to the coverage. If it is true that the policy was never designed to weed out poor teachers, why does the Secretary of State say on the BBC News website that

“Without a licence, teachers will be unable to teach... It would be foolish to speculate about numbers”, but that checks would be necessary to make sure that schools were “facing up to inadequacy”? Why does a teensy-weensy little line at the end of impact assessment refer to the possibility of a small minority of teachers failing the test and ceasing to teach?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

If it is apparent at the five-year point that a teacher has not met the various criteria that have been set for the licence, as a result of the CPD and the capability to which the hon. Gentleman referred, he or she will not obtain the licence. The intention of the licence to practise is to provide a positive statement  about the status of teachers in this country and to help them with their continuing professional development. I repeat what I told the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton: if it is good enough for doctors in this country to have a licence-to-practise scheme and good enough for lawyers to have the same, it is good enough for our teachers, and it is long overdue.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Newspaper headlines on the MOT are making me cynical. I must be completely wrong when I assume that someone in the Department close to the Secretary of State decided to sell it as a sensational part of the Bill to weed out head teachers. When the Government came to tell the Social Partnership about the policy after it had choked on its cornflakes, it was watered down in the impact assessment. We do not read about culling teachers, but about building on the current performance arrangements

“to incentivise teachers to undertake high-quality CPD...increasing the incentive for schools to provide high quality CPD opportunities” and increasing the professionalisation of teachers, and all the stuff about the culling of poor teachers has suddenly disappeared.

I agree that there are two important issues. There is a powerful case for improving CPD for all teachers, particularly returning teachers who have been out of the profession for a long time and for supply teachers, too. Whether the existing performance management regimes are satisfactory is a separate issue, but head teachers have a legitimate concern that they are not. I thought that the licence was supposed to be dealing with teachers who, for example, are poor quality in the view of the head teacher. For example, when the head teacher tries to take action against them, they resign and get a job in another school. If the head teacher was right, they might be a poor teacher in that school, too. If a licence to practise was operated in a coherent and effective way, the GTC has been thinking that those teachers might have either their licence withdrawn or qualified in some way to show that there were concerns about them.

The Government seem to suggest that the policy is not about improving performance management, but only about CPD. Indeed, that makes me wonder whether it will make the performance management parts even more difficult. I cannot remember whether it was John Dunford at our evidence session or the guest of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton from the academies movement who said that taking action against poor teachers could become even more difficult as a consequence, given that a teacher who was performing badly could say that that was because they had not had their quota of CPD. The last thing that we need is to make things more difficult for head teachers who often make the difficult decision to get rid of the minority of poor staff. A minority of people in every profession do not do their jobs well, including at Parliament. We should not make the job of head teachers even more difficult.

The Government have two things tangled up. The CPD system will be expensive, and there is no estimate of the return on its £94 million cost. It will be applied not in a discrete way to the category of teachers who might need support, such as supply teachers or returning teachers, but to all teachers in the profession. It will be an enormous bureaucratic impediment.

The teaching unions are passionate about CPD. They want improved CPD, but they question whether the Bill will deliver it. We might look at the proposal as a performance management tool, but we now know that, contrary to all the stuff about MOTs and weeding out poor teachers, it is not supposed to deliver that in any case—the Government have rowed back from that. I fear that by the time the Government have finished legislating for the measure, tying themselves up in knots and retreating from the original spun intention, it will be even more difficult for head teachers who want to take tough action against teachers to do so, as they will have to go through a mechanism of proving that the teacher had all the CPD support that they needed.

Again, like the school report card, the proposal responds to some concerns about the existing provision of CPD, which is not adequate for some categories of teacher, such as supply teachers and returning teachers, and tries to touch on the issue of performance management, but is being done in a mangled way. If we allowed the measure to pass, its outcome would look much like that of performance-related pay, for which the Government legislated 10 or so years ago.

The performance-related pay scheme was supposed to incentivise teachers to teach better, but by the time that it came in, it had been so mangled up by the Government, who did not want to offend anyone, that such pay was paid to virtually every teacher, unless they simply did not appear in the school for years on end. It was a complete waste of time and resources. The measure before us will be the same because the Government are not clear on why it is necessary and why it is being delivered in this form. It will be a waste of money and a bureaucratic impediment. If we are trying to deliver CPD, it is unnecessary to do so in this way. If the Government are no longer trying to deliver a better performance management regime, the slender string from which the policy is hanging has already broken.

For those reasons, our amendments and those tabled by the Conservative party ask the Government to do what I genuinely think they should—not to implement the measure hastily and for every teacher in the country, when many will not gain from it. They should not legislate without a clear view from the GTC, which, I understand, does not have such a view, or without further consideration by the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, which has played a useful part in scrutinising the Government’s policies. That could save the Government from making a big mistake.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Labour, Wolverhampton North East

I have a few questions to put to the Minister regarding this part of the Bill. I am aware, as is everyone else in the room, of the difficulties that head teachers have had in the past regarding disciplinary matters. There is no question about the fact that the structures of local authority personnel departments have made life somewhat difficult to weed out—there are no other words for it—teachers who simply have not served our children as we would wish. It is, has been and remains the duty of head teachers to ensure that their staff are delivering education in the prescribed manner and in the way that the school wishes to happen.

I wonder whether granting a licence—I am struck in this thought by the Minister’s suggestion that it will be the same as how doctors, architects and others are  licensed—would remove from the state, the school, the education department or any institution the possibility of being sued by a parent. When a child emerges from school to the parent’s dissatisfaction, could action be taken against the teacher because they have been licensed? Will the teacher be left open to legal proceedings? If so, can we look forward to a similar edifice to the Medical Defence Union and other professional organisations that have to set up funds and insurances to protect themselves?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

No doubt, I will be corrected if I get this answer wrong. My hon. Friend is making a good point. If he is asking about the rights of a teacher and what would happen in those or any circumstances, let me say that employment law would normally apply. Normal industrial tribunals and other procedures and processes would be available.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Labour, Wolverhampton North East 2:15, 4 February 2010

Those assurances need to be absolutely clear before the whole Bill is passed in the Chamber. These are important questions, and people in the teaching profession will want to know their legal position as a result of being granted a licence to teach. If it puts them in a similar position to doctors, architects and so on, questions will need to be answered to reassure teachers that it is for precisely the purposes that the Minister has outlined: to assist the development of the teaching profession and to get it more clearly identified as a profession. Even though a teacher might be employed by the state, a liability might still accrue. Should the licensing system not make it explicit, teachers need to be reassured that that liability remains, as the Minister has suggested, with the local authority or the school itself.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I will check the important point that my hon. Friend makes. I think that what I have said is right; if not, I will correct it later. My understanding is that the relationship between pupils, parents and teachers will not change in any way. If there is an employment issue, the normal employment law is available. However, I will check that, and if I am wrong, I will clarify it. My hon. Friend is right to say that we must have certainty. I think that there is certainty, but I will ensure that that is the case.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Labour, Wolverhampton North East

I simply want to say that such assurances are necessary for the morale of the profession.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I agree, and my hon. Friend makes an important point. There need to be assurances so that there is certainty about the legal position, as we have seen with other provisions in the Bill. I have said that if there is an issue that needs to be clarified, or if an assurance on certainty needs to be given—whether that is requested by my hon. Friends or Opposition Members—I will do that.

I do not want to repeat myself to the hon. Member for Yeovil for reasons of time, but it was never the Government’s intention to have a new MOT that weeds out poor teachers. There is a performance management system with capability reviews for that. I know that many people say that it does not work and that we cannot get rid of bad teachers, but I say there is a mechanism for that. We are trying to do something  completely different: improve the status of the teaching profession and give it the continuous professional development that it needs and deserves. We are working with our social partners and others to ensure that there is a contractual entitlement to CPD. For the first time, it will be laid out in the contract that, as well as a licence to practise, there will be an entitlement to CPD, which will overcome the variability between different schools, different parts of the country and different local authorities. If we can invigorate CPD with the introduction of the licence to practise, that will be significant. Of course the process cannot be bureaucratic. It cannot weigh schools down and interfere with teaching and learning. The intention is to continue to raise the quality of teaching by addressing the variation in the take-up of CPD.

I referred to doctors because the system is similar in many ways. A licence is granted to doctors. Information is then collected on how they keep their practice up to date and the professional development and courses they undertake. After five years, the information is looked at to see whether it has been successfully completed, and then the licence is renewed. It is not used as a way of striking off bad doctors; there is a separate process available.

Teaching is a fantastic profession, and I return to something I said to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton: if this is good enough for doctors and lawyers, why is not good enough for teachers? Of course there will be difficulties, which sometimes can be challenging. I should say to the hon. Member for Yeovil that he needs to keep the faith. If he thinks that the licence to practise is important, we should look to see how we can overcome the difficulties.

We are working with the GTC to try to deal with issues of practicality. Of course there will be challenges regarding how best to proceed. The GTC is asking whether we have got something right or whether it should be changed, and we are working with it to deliver a workable policy.

I do not agree with the other Conservative amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East will be pleased to know that licences to practise will apply to academies, but one of the amendments would provide that the measure should be not applied to academies. The independent report that the hon. Member for Yeovil wants is unnecessary.

For decades, the teaching profession has quite rightly been asking that it is accorded the status that it deserves. The fact that, in many cases, CPD has been substandard, inadequate or non-existent is simply unacceptable. A contractual right to continuous professional development, alongside a licence to practise, is difficult to introduce, but it is a prize that we should all strive to achieve. That is what the clause is about. It will raise the status of the profession and give the teachers of this country a standard of professional development that they have not had before. With those comments, I ask the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I listened carefully to the Minister. His comparison with the medical profession—the GMC and the royal colleges—would have more strength if the chief executive of the GTC was not opposed to the policy. He is not mildly opposed to it—making his points behind the scene, as one would expect—but  making his opposition clear in public. He said that the measure would be “unduly burdensome”, and that he would need

“assurances that it won’t be another layer of accountability in the system”.

He also said that there was a

“lack of information from the Department...about how the scheme will work”.

That leads us to the conclusion that we have a cobbled-together policy at the tail end of a Government. It is the kind of policy to which schools object. As Dr. Daniel Moynihan said in his evidence, it would be a

“tick list of two pages-worth of items in the core professional standards”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 24, Q33.]

We have become all too familiar with such tick-box approaches over the past years. In view of the opposition from the education world and within government, I will press for a Division on clause stand part, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Division number 11 Decision Time — Clause 23

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 24 and 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.