HL Deb 23 June 1998 vol 591 cc128-34

29 Clause 16, page 9, line 30, leave out ("one school year") and insert ("three school terms").

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 29. In doing so, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 31 to 42. The amendments in this group cover the length of the induction period, those schools which will be able to participate in the induction programme, the funding and appeal arrangements and the role of the local education authority in the process.

Amendment No. 29 makes clear that the induction period will last for three school terms. At earlier stages of the Bill we discussed the concept of the academic year. We envisage that for most teachers the period will run from the beginning of September until the end of July in the following year.

Amendment No. 31 will enable us to specify the periods of employment which will count towards the induction period. This is designed to take account of individual circumstances, for example, where a new teacher is able only to gain temporary employment in the first instance, and as a consequence has to move between schools during the period.

Amendment No. 31 will also give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to preclude a teacher from serving more than one induction period. There will be exceptions to this rule where either the appropriate body or the appeal body decides that a teacher should serve a further induction period. They would only make such a decision in circumstances where the evidence did not appear to support the head teacher's recommendation, or where procedures were not properly followed at the school.

Amendment No. 31 will also give the Secretary of State power to make regulations to preclude teachers from serving an induction period in certain categories of school. We intend this to preclude teachers from serving an induction period in failing schools and those in special measures. This follows up the undertaking which my honourable friend Mr. Stephen Byers made to members of the committee in another place.

Amendments Nos. 34 and 36 confer on all inductees aggrieved by a decision on induction a right to appeal to the general teaching council, once it is established, and prior to that, a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. The detailed operation of the appeal arrangements will be prescribed in regulations.

A number of the amendments in this group clarify the role and functions of the local education authority in the induction process and the range of decisions which the LEA may take at the end of the induction period. Amendment No. 35 will enable LEAs to make reasonable charges for services which they provide in respect of induction, in such circumstances as may be prescribed. We have in mind here that LEAs may charge independent schools for providing these services.

Amendment No. 35 also spells out the arrangements which will apply when a teacher fails satisfactorily to complete an induction period and then submits an appeal. In such circumstances the regulations will require the employer of a teacher at a maintained school or a non-maintained special school to secure either the termination of his or her employment, or that he or she undertakes only such teaching duties as may be determined in accordance with the regulations. We intend to prescribe in regulations that teachers in such schools will only undertake a limited range of teaching duties pending appeal. In practice, this is likely to mean that they would undertake the sort of teaching duties that teaching assistants would undertake under the close supervision of a more experienced colleague. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the regulations will require the employer to secure the termination of the teacher's employment after a short period of notice. All of this is consistent with good employment practice.

Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 are technical amendments designed to ensure that where a teacher continues to be employed at the same school, but is not undertaking his normal teaching duties there, his salary costs will not be met from the school's delegated budget, unless the LEA has good reason for deducting the costs from that budget.

Amendment No. 40 enables regulations to provide that any expenditure incurred by local education authorities for the purpose of implementing the induction programme will count as eligible expenditure for standards fund purposes. This will allow us to ring fence and target the money on those schools with new teachers, and will ensure the money is properly directed to where it is needed.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 29.—(Lord Whitty.)

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I did not notice Amendment No. 40 in that group but that may be due to a fault in the list that I have. I wish to discuss Amendment No. 31. The National Association of Head Teachers has expressed alarm—which I share—at this amendment. The association writes in a letter to me that there has been no consultation and hardly any debate on this amendment. The amendment was tabled at the last minute. I believe it includes a provision that regulations may preclude certain schools—which would be identified by the Minister—from being schools at which newly qualified teachers may serve their induction period.

The NAHT was extremely disappointed that it was not consulted on this issue. It is also concerned at the practical implications that this measure will have for the staffing of schools, along with the reduction in the autonomy of head teachers and governing bodies. As the noble Lord is aware, and as the NAHT's letter states, There is currently a recruitment crisis and shortage of teachers, particularly in certain subjects. School budgets remain tight … and the reality is that in many cases newly qualified teachers are the keenest, if not the only ones willing, to take on the challenge of teaching in those schools that require a new way forward. Neither does the Government's amendment differentiate between those schools which remain subject to special measures but which have a new head teacher and other staff in place, and those in which the leadership and the rest of the teaching in the school remains in question. If responsibility is to be delegated to heads, as indeed it should be, why cannot the decision be left to the head? He/she can decide whether the school can deal with the needs of a teacher in the induction period". The letter also states that head teachers cannot, understand why a head teacher of a primary school, if he/she is fortunate enough to find a talented newly qualified teacher, who is keen to take on the challenge of teaching in a school subject to special measures, should be prohibited from doing so. Why should a head teacher of a secondary school be prevented from recruiting a talented newly qualified maths, physics, or any other subject teacher? Although the Government's argument may be that the amendment is designed to safeguard pupils from poor teaching, it needs to be recognised that it does not necessarily do so. It might actually have the opposite effect by prohibiting the appointment of more talented, although newly qualified staff, and by inhibiting the replacement of those teachers considered to be underperforming. Indeed, it would be dangerous to conclude that all, or even the vast majority of teaching in a special measures school, is poor". As I have said, there has been no consultation with the very people this measure will affect. We believe that it will work against the best interests of a school that may be failing but wants to improve.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I received exactly the same letter from the NAHT as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Like the noble Baroness, I share that association's concerns. It is not necessary for me also to read out the letter, but I endorse all that it says. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us and the association on this matter. If what is stated in the letter is correct, the association was not given the opportunity to comment during the consultative stages of the Bill.

I have one or two further comments. Amendment No. 31 states, precluding a person from serving more than one induction period except in any prescribed circumstances". What does the Minister have in mind with regard to the prescribed circumstances? I think all of us would accept that it would be far from the norm for someone to serve more than one induction period, but I can envisage occasions where that is appropriate, for example after someone has taken a long career break.

I now turn to Amendment No. 29. As the Minister quite rightly said, we have discussed previously the issue of what a school year comprises and how many terms it should include. I am slightly puzzled at this measure. I understood him to say that one school year is recognised as lasting from September to July. I believe that is what most of us in this country understand to be one school year. However, I understand the words "one school year" will be replaced by the words "three school terms". That provision has been introduced at a time when there is much public debate on whether a school year should consist of four or even five school terms. If the Government intend the period to last from September to July—which is what I understood the Minister to say—why are they now changing that to what might be interpreted as a rather shorter period?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, first I shall discuss the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. The head teachers' organisation may feel that it was not consulted between the time when the Commons amendment was tabled and returned to your Lordships' House. However, during a previous consultation period it was quite clear that the vast majority of people did not think that the induction period—or the probation period, as it used to be called—should be undertaken in failing schools. We have a duty to ensure that we do not place potentially vulnerable teachers in a school which is already failing. I take the noble Baroness's point that "under special measures" can include schools where measures have been taken to ensure that the leadership and the whole ethos of the school are changing. I understand her argument that in those circumstances perhaps we should take on new teachers.

These provisions are not intended entirely to exclude that possibility. They would certainly exclude induction in schools that are determined to be failing. As to schools under special measures, the regulations may well prescribe certain exceptions. In general, schools under special measures have yet to prove themselves able to take on new teachers and provide sufficient support for them in addition to the other problems that they face in terms of turning the school round in total, however good the new school leadership may be and however effective are the other measures being introduced. In general, we wish to protect the position of new teachers and not place them in schools that are under special measures or in failing schools.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, raised questions in relation to prescribed circumstances. Regarding a second induction term, I indicated that there would be circumstances where either the local education authority, as in most cases, or an appeals body following an appeal would consider that a head teacher's decision did not entirely justify the failure of the induction period. In that case a further period of induction could be provided. There would be other circumstances—possibly where there was a break and the three terms had not been consecutive either as a result of illness or because there was no permanent position—where the induction period would possibly be extended or an additional induction period would be most appropriate.

I confess that the noble Lord has something of a point in relation to four school terms. Nevertheless, a school year is defined in any case as 12 months. Therefore, were a particular school to adopt a new pattern, appropriate changes would be acceptable under this legislation. In general, as the noble Lord recognises, three school terms is the definition of what is effectively accepted as an academic year in every school as at present. The change has not been made to allow for four or more terms to be a normal undertaking in our schools. Three school terms is the easiest way of describing more exactly what we mean by an academic year since it is capable of several different interpretations. The education year is a 12-month period and would relate to a three-term academic year. That seemed to us the best definition of the period of induction.

Earl Russell

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I am grateful to him for his concession to my noble friend Lord Tope. However, is he aware that in trying to define an academic year both by calendar month and length of term he risks running into the same difficulty as occurs at the beginning of St. Luke's Gospel? It dates a matter by four different events, which are now widely believed to have all happened in different years?

3.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I bow to the noble Earl's non-religious scriptural knowledge. I greatly admire it. However, in this case matters are consistent. The three terms have to take place within a 12-month period, which would normally be taken to describe an academic year. I am not sure that I actually went as far as making a concession to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I accepted that he had a good point. The aim is quite clear. We all agreed during earlier stages of the Bill that the academic year is what we meant and that in general circumstances three terms describe that period. That is the sensible period for an induction.

Lord Tope

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, from my experience in this House being told that I have a good point constitutes a major victory. I do not want to make a big issue out of this. I merely continue to be confused. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that I am right. I believe it will be possible, for instance, under the education action zones that are to be set up for the governing bodies of schools, if they so choose, to move to, say, a five-term academic year. As I understand it, they would be free to do so. That may well become the norm. I do not wish to discuss today whether that is desirable. But if and when it happens, shall we not have to amend this Bill? I simply do not understand why we are passing an amendment that would seem to make the position less clear than the reference to one school year, or an academic year if preferred.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the amendment will alter the terms of the Bill from, "not less than one year", to, "not less than three terms". Although that may not be entirely clear from the amendment, that is its effect. Were there to be a change in particular schools to four or five terms, no doubt they could adapt and remain within this legislation. We are talking about a normal academic year, presently defined in normal practice as three terms. I think that "not less than three terms" would meet the noble Lord's concerns.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we are grateful for that clarification that a four- or five-term year would be acceptable and legal within the terms of the Bill.

Perhaps I may return to the noble Lord's response to the concerns of the National Association of Head Teachers. The noble Lord's defence was that the majority of people who took part in the previous consultation, which did not include this particular point, had said that they would not wish young teachers to have a probationary year in such a school.

The National Association of Head Teachers represents a very large proportion of head teachers in this country. They are the people who will be in the front line managing induction programmes for new young teachers. They are in the best position to make that judgment. It seems unfortunate that the noble Lord is not prepared to take into account in drawing up the regulations the powerful points that they have made.

When a school is failing, it is not necessarily failing in every department. If there is a shortage of teachers in a subject such as maths, science, technology or languages, and a very bright, talented person with good credentials comes along who could enhance the school and help it to reform, should not an opportunity be given? That should happen so long as, first, the head teacher has control as to whether it is appropriate that the school should offer an induction period. Secondly, as there is a right of appeal for the person undertaking the induction programme to appeal against its quality, it seems to me that all the safeguards are already built in.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I accept that the National Association of Head Teachers has a broad-based membership and we are right to take account of its concerns. However, the Government's concern must be that we would not wish to place any newly qualified teacher, however bright or dedicated, and however rare his or her speciality, in a situation where in a different context a school had been designated as failing. That would mean a managerial failure in the school. To place the mentoring and induction of a new teacher, or a series of new teachers, into that context would add to the problems of turning that school round.

I accepted that there might be particular circumstances in which a school that had clearly turned the corner might be in a different situation. In general, schools which are still deemed to be failing schools or which are under special measures would not be an appropriate environment for newly qualified teachers. That would divert managerial effort from the fundamental turn-around required in those schools.

We note the concern. However, we feel that the interests of new teachers, and therefore the long-term interests of the teaching profession and the quality of education, require us to try to find places for newly qualified teachers in schools that are not in that category.

On Question, Motion agreed to.