Schedule 13 - Further and higher education: reduction of burdens

Deregulation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 13th March 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Question proposed, That the schedule be the Thirteenth schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Following a comprehensive review of all remaining legislation, we have identified provisions that either are obsolete or create an unnecessary burden on the sector.

Schedule 13 will repeal the Secretary of State’s powers, under sections 136(a) and 136(b), and sections 137 and 138 of the Education Act 2002, to regulate qualification requirements for FE teaching staff and principals. The schedule also will repeal the Secretary of State’s powers, under section 31 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, in relation to the governance of designated institutions conducted by companies. The will repeal the Secretary of State’s power, under section 3 of the Further Education Act 1985, to set the minimum interest rate on loans made by local authorities to certain types of educational institutions.

The schedule will repeal the Secretary of State’s power, under sections 33D(2)(b) and 33D(4) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, to unilaterally convert a sixth-form college corporation into an FE corporation  where the Secretary of State is no longer satisfied that it is appropriate for the body to be a sixth-form corporation. The schedule will repeal redundant provisions—in sections 23 to 26, 32, 33, 34 to 36, 38 and 58 and schedule 5 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 —concerning the transfer of property, and so on, to FE corporations, designated institutions and sixth-form colleges. Finally, the schedule will repeal or amend the Secretary of State’s powers in relation to local authority-maintained institutions, in sections 61 and 62 of the Education (No.2) Act 1986, sections 158, 159 and 219 of the Education Reform Act 1988, and section 56A of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.

I am sure that every member of the Committee followed that list carefully. The changes in the schedule mean that we have a consistent approach for all types of institution in the FE sector while ensuring the safeguards we need to ensure standards and quality.

Let me turn to the detail. The measure to repeal the powers to regulate qualification requirements for FE teaching staff and principals sends a clear signal that the Government are serious about removing regulation on the sector. The 2007 regulations made under these powers have already been revoked. Several provisions bring all FE institutions into line with the changes we have already made for FE corporations through the Education Act 2011. These changes are about creating consistency and a level playing field among all categories of institution within the FE sector.

For example, paragraphs 2 and 3 of schedule 13 repeal powers in relation to local authority-maintained institutions, while paragraph 5 repeals powers in respect of the governance of designated institutions conducted by companies. Some of the measures remove provisions that have never been used and are unnecessary—for example, the power to unilaterally convert a sixth-form college corporation into an FE corporation or to set the minimum interest rate on loans made by local authorities to certain types of educational institutions. The further education sector will benefit from this consistency and the removal of unnecessary controls.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

A moment ago we heard the Minister say that he would return to some of the questions I raised in the debate about clause 36 when he moved schedule 13, but I do not think he took the opportunity to do that. I am sure he will respond in his summing up.

Specifically, I am keen to hear the Minister’s response to the comments from City and Guilds and what it sees as a requirement on the sector to consolidate and improve the momentum towards more FE teachers working towards qualified status. I hope he will not miss the opportunity to respond to that point next time or the broader points I made about the key goals of teaching qualifications and the impact they would have in the sector. As was said in the debate on clause 36, we support deregulation for many of the powers that have become obsolete. We look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the comments made to the Joint Committee on the Bill by the Association of Colleges and City and Guilds.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

But before we do, we will hear from the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

Although qualifications for teachers may be desirable, they are not always essential. The gifted headmaster of my comprehensive school—the Pingle school at Swadlincote—Mr Joseph Bradley, started his teaching career teaching mathematics as an unqualified teacher, after an illustrious career in the RAF. He went on to be a very gifted headmaster indeed.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I understand entirely. It is good that the hon. Gentleman is able to place on the record his gratitude for the contribution that that head teacher made to his life. We all know inspirational characters in our schools. Many of us look back on individual teachers as people who made a big difference in our lives. I entirely recognise that.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Let me deal with this point first. The Labour party thinks that although there are inspirational people to whom many respond, people have a right to expect that those who come into the classroom with knowledge develop the technical knowledge of their profession. That is part of what makes teaching a profession and why we are resilient and robust about teaching qualifications in the school sector.

As I reflected on in my comments on clause 36, we recognise that more flexibility is needed in the further education sector. The Minister raised the issue of people from business coming to teach business studies. Similarly, if someone is doing a sports science degree and a professional footballer from the local football club comes along to talk about their training, of course that would be beneficial. We recognise that more flexibility will be required, which is why we supported clause 36. At the same time, there are skills learnt in a teaching qualification that often make for better teachers.

I will now give way to my hon. Friend, if she still has the enthusiasm and thirst for the intervention.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

My enthusiasm for the intervention matches my enthusiasm for the many inspirational teachers under which I had the good fortune to learn. Does my hon. Friend agree that the thought process—if we could call it that—of those on the Government Benches seems to suggest that they see a contradiction between inspiration and excellent real-life experience and a desire for the continuing development and lifelong learning that gives people the technical qualifications of teachers? Is there such a contradiction?

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I certainly do not think there is a contradiction, but I suspect that my hon. Friend is right about the views of some of those on the Government Benches. The Minister has so far rejected the opportunity to let us know what the Liberal Democrats think separately of the Government, but perhaps he will shortly take up the challenge.

The contradiction my hon. Friend mentions can sometimes be detected in the comments we hear—certainly from the Conservative Benches—that betray a little about their view towards the teaching profession and the extent to which it is a profession. We would never think of putting our lives or our freedoms in the hands of a lawyer or a solicitor who had never been to law school. We would not say, “Well, he’s a persuasive guy—doesn’t know a lot about law, but I think he might inspire the jury to give me a decent break.”

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I am getting a strong “Hear, hear” from my hon. Friend, a learned colleague whom I respect tremendously in this field. If someone was up on a murder charge, they would want to know that the guy in their corner representing them had the technical knowledge as well as the gift of the gab. We should view teachers in a similar light. They are professionals; they are people in whose hands we place the futures of our children, with confidence and all due respect and trepidation. It is not unreasonable to expect us to do that on the basis that they are people with that professional qualification.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I was about to bring myself to a conclusion—I was almost whipping up into a climax—but I will give way briefly to the hon. Gentleman and then I will climax.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

Having appeared in “Black Dog”, which picked up certain phrases last week, I will not be tempted.

The hon. Gentleman is taking an extreme position of annoyance, but would he consider something more nuanced? For example, magistrates do not have that formal qualification, yet we ask them to do what they do. It is not quite as extreme as having to have someone fully qualified or not qualified.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

It is an interesting position: following the hon. Gentleman’s ludicrous example to its natural conclusion would mean people having to be qualified to become jury members. This comes back to how people view the teaching profession and whether they think of it as a profession or as something less than that. Indeed, the example of a magistrate is not a good comparison with a school teacher. I had the pleasurable opportunity to meet a delegation from the National Union of Teachers on Friday in my constituency. I wish I had had the opportunity to put the hon. Gentleman’s comparison to them, because it would have been interesting and revealing to hear what they thought about it.

Our position is that everyone teaching in a school should either be qualified or working towards a qualification. That is not an extreme position; it is about standards. A Labour Government oversaw the biggest advance in educational standards of any Government. I am proud of that record and we will be resolute in future on standards, just as we were resolute in our 13 years in government on that investment in our children’s education. However, we are straying somewhat off the topic, interesting as this subject undoubtedly is.

I look forward to the Minister finally taking the opportunity to respond to the issues I raised and, perhaps, to give us a view on what the Liberal Democrats think about this matter. On that basis, I offer him our support for the schedule.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am going to start by disappointing the hon. Gentleman. I am afraid that in coalition we speak with one voice, and I think that the whole Committee is speaking with one voice on the schedule. Indeed, there is the challenge for him: he agrees with Government members of the Committee today.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, who intervened to say that there was a conflict between inspiration and a desire for continuing development. In the case of the head teacher who started out in the RAF before going on to become a maths teacher, whom the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire mentioned, I am sure that there was continuing development on show in his progress from the RAF to being a maths teacher and then a head teacher. There is no conflict between the two things.

Of course, continuous personal development is important for all staff in colleges. The Government support that in priority areas of English and maths. The Committee will be interested to know that maths CPD courses for further education teachers are available and currently running, and English courses will be introduced in autumn 2014 to support continuous personal development.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Minister for his eloquence in support of continuous personal development. The point I was making—as a great supporter of lifelong learning and continuous personal development and the great work of institutions such as the Workers Educational Association—was that often when the Government put up an inspirational teacher as an argument against a continuing requirement to achieve professional qualifications, they seem to see a contradiction between the two.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I will allow individual Members to express their views; in relation to the schedule we are debating, there is a clear and stated position.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield asked a number of questions about the standards of teaching. He will be aware that the Education and Training Foundation has responsibility for ensuring the development of a well-qualified, effective and up-to-date professional work force, and it is responsible for the standards for FE leaders and teachers. It is also implementing the recommendations of the report of the commission on adult vocational training and learning on closer links and a clearer line of sight with employers. It is paramount that the FE colleges take account of up-to-date technical expertise.

Roughly 80% of teachers in FE are qualified now, which is obviously a very good thing. Teachers should be qualified in teaching, where appropriate, as well as having expertise in subject areas. In the Government’s view, it is not necessary for the Government to regulate this; it is very much for colleges to decide what is  appropriate under the circumstances and what is effective for delivering the quality of education that their students request.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

City and Guilds was clear that it thinks the Bill puts an additional responsibility on the FE sector to consolidate and improve the momentum to see more teachers fully qualified. Is that the intention of the Bill?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I do not know whether that will be the outcome, but I am sure that if it were, it would be viewed in a positive way.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

Will the Minister be clear: is that the intention or not?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The purpose of what we are doing is about deregulation. It is about allowing the FE sector to take greater responsibility for its own future and thereby to improve the quality of teaching in its institutions —[ Interruption ]—and it is about—

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

Order. I have explained this, and I expect the Whips to understand it better than others. We will not have conversations across the Committee. If an hon. Member asks the Minister a question, the Minister will be given the opportunity to answer and will not be heckled during his answer.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Thank you, Mr Hood: the notes that were provided during the course of that exchange have enabled me to clarify that the Government’s focus is very much on flexibility, but it is not about imposing a burden on the sector.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 13 agreed to.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Gavin Barwell.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.