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UK Internal Market Bill: Scotland’s Education System

Volume 684: debated on Monday 23 November 2020

What recent discussions he has had with (a) the Scottish Government and (b) professional bodies in the education sector on the effect of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill on Scotland’s education system. (909068)

What recent discussions he has had with (a) the Scottish Government and (b) professional bodies in the education sector on the effect of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill on Scotland’s education system. (909084)

Throughout the development of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill proposals and preceding White Paper, the UK Government have engaged constructively with many businesses, professional organisations and other groups, including the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

During the debate on that Bill in the other place last week, Lord Callanan assured peers that

“the devolved Administrations will retain the right to legislate in devolved policy areas.”

—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 November 2020; Vol. 807, c. 1520.]

However, during the previous Education questions the Secretary of State would not give a clear answer on whether the Bill could impact the Scottish Government’s ability to set university fees in Scotland. So can the Minister now confirm that her Government’s internal market Bill will not undermine the Scottish Government’s provision of free university tuition?

I can indeed confirm that it will not interfere with the Scottish Government’s ability to charge no fees for university students.

Well, that is a very unequivocal answer, so we look forward to that not coming back to bite them at any point in the future. I am glad the Minister is engaging with the GTCS, because in the other place the Minister has had to table an amendment to specifically include school teaching in the list of exempted professions. School teaching could be interpreted narrowly as solely relating to the education of children, but of course GTCS-registered teachers teach in many different educational settings, so will this Minister clarify whether the amendment is intended to include any institution in which teaching is delivered?

We have listened to the concerns about the Bill’s provision covering the mutual recognition of professional qualifications and have decided to exclude the teaching profession, so on Thursday 19 November the Government tabled an amendment to do just that.

That is an encouraging answer from the Minister, so I thank her for that response. She says that the Government have engaged with the GTCS, but last month the GTCS wrote to the Secretary of State on this very matter and has yet to receive a response. Is that normal Government practice when dealing with professional organisations? When should the GTCS expect to hear from the Secretary of State?

As the hon. Lady will know, officials from the Department for Education and the Scotland Office have met the GTCS to discuss these concerns and have passed them to those who are leading on the implementation of the UK internal market proposals. As a result, an amendment to exempt teachers from the recognition clauses of the Bill has been tabled.