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Scotland (General Teaching Council)

Volume 770: debated on Tuesday 22 October 1968

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Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Concannon.]

10.33 p.m.

I wish to raise a subject of some concern to the teaching profession in Scotland, namely the registration of teachers with the General Teaching Council. In its short history, the Council has roused strong feelings, and at least on the part of a minority, strong opposition. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this subject tonight, because, unfortunately, previous endeavours to discuss it were frustrated, for various reasons.

Since I put in the application for this Adjournment debate, I am glad to say that provision has been made for a discussion of a Prayer at a later stage.

I will not go into the controversial aspects, because the General Teaching Council is not a subject to be approached in a partisan way. Although there was fierce opposition and discussion on details of the original Bill, all parties supported the principle. In these circumstances, what is called for is a progress report from the Minister, which I hope he will give us, and also an answer to some of the questions which have arisen.

The first relates to the numbers who have registered. This register is compul- sory, if certificated teachers are, under the Act, to retain their rights and prospects. The original day for registration was 31st March, 1968. It has been alleged that in October, 1967, in discussions, officials of the S.E.D. claimed that the vast majority of teachers would be registered by Christmas. In any event, by March, 1968, the deadline, only 15,000 had registered, according to the Minister's figures, which is just over one-third. Only 33,000 had applied and this was 10,000 short of the possible total. By May, we were told that there were 41,000 applications and that 32,000 had paid.

On 15th May, the Minister was reported in the Glasgow Herald as saying that the numbers who had not registered must be "very small indeed". Since then, a report of the Association of County Councils said that the small number of teachers who had still to register with the G.T.C. would do well to reconsider the position in which they had placed themselves.

This week, I put a Question to the Minister to ask how many had registered. He told me that 44,577 had registered and paid the appropriate sum. It has been alleged that about 3,000 or 4,000 teachers have still to register. Bearing in mind that a few months ago we were told that the numbers who had still to register were very small, there is doubt and confusion on this point. Taking into account the teachers from primary and secondary schools, further education colleges and colleges of education, I hope that the Minister can tonight give an indication whether the numbers who have registered constitute the total or whether 3,000 or 4.000 have still to register.

The next thing is the question of acceptability within the profession. In view of the important task which the teaching profession has, as well as the problems that exist in teaching in Scotland, it is vital that any registration system should be generally acceptable. The signs that we have had indicate that there is concern within the profession about the Council and its operation and activities.

First, we have the evidence that on the last date for registration, although it was later brought forward, over 10,000 teachers had not even applied. That was in March, 1968. Secondly, as a result of a Question which I put on Monday this week, the Minister indicated that he had received a substantial number of representations on the subject and that all of them had been critical in some respects of the arrangements.

A third factor which I cannot ignore is that in one of the principal schools in my constituency, a secondary school in Castlemilk, about 63 teachers, practically the whole staff of the school, almost without exception people with very high qualifications, including the headmaster and the principal staff, wrote in protest to the Minister about the new School (Scotland) Code (Amendment) Regulations. There have been allegations, I understand, that the complaints come from a troublesome Minority of teachers in one association. I read in the papers, however, a report, which I have confirmed, of a meeting in Glasgow of another teachers' association, the largest one, the E.I.S., at which, on a vote on the subject, about 40 per cent. were understood to have voted for a motion condemning the arrangements.

I have also had reported from another association, the S.S.A., a poll in some schools in Glasgow, when 792 teachers gave their opinions and it was indicated by 79 per cent. of them that they had not registered or had registered only under protest. In these circumstances, the time has surely come to reconsider the whole question, because, clearly, we cannot obtain the advantages which were expected from the system if there is substantial opposition.

The third matter is the administration of the Council. It is surprising to me that no accounts have yet been published, although I understand, as a result of a Question this week, that this is about to be done. The questions which have been asked are how the finances are working out, whether the registration fee will be increased in the next year and, under Section 15 of the Act, how much has been given by the Government by way of loans or grants to the Council.

Another factor, which was brought to my attention only this morning by a constituent's letter, is the certificates issued by the Council. This gentleman says in his letter that
"The register itself is open to grave objection in that the entries relating to each teacher are not specific enough to be of any value. For example, there is no indication of the subject which the teacher is qualified to teach, nor the stage of pupil in respect of which he is certificated, apart from the wide terms primary ' and secondary'."
He mentions that this means that the head teacher who found himself without a mathematics specialist could parcel out the teaching of mathematics to teachers qualified in other subjects. It may be that administrative precautions have been taken to prevent this, but the mere fact that a highly-qualified teacher is putting these points to a Member of Parliament shows that all is not well.

We had long discussions about the composition of the Council during the Committee stage. Many teachers do not now consider it satisfactory to have a council of 44 on which there are only eight classroom teachers. As was made clear by the Secretary of State in his statement in July, this is not a professional association to look after only the interests of teachers, but it is considered by the teachers to whom I have spoken that such representation is inadequate. I wonder if the time has not come for reconsideration, bearing in mind the considerable responsibilities and powers of the G.T.C.

Doubt and concern have also been expressed about the standards of education. The Regulations which came into effect on 1st August, 1968, restricted employment in schools to registered teachers, but the Regulations said that if no registered teachers could be found then local authorities could appoint other persons, and these appointments would have to be reported to a reference panel. No time limit is laid down for the report to be made, except for the words "as soon as possible", and this has caused much concern.

At the beginning of the session a substantial number of uncertificated unregistered teachers were taken on by Scottish local authorities, and the question arises whether all the reference panels are set up. What is the position in Lanarkshire? How many uncertificated and unregistered teachers have been before the panel? It is nearly November now and the schools opened at the end of August. It would help to remove the fears of teachers if the Minister would say how many unregistered uncertificated teachers were taken on at the beginning of the session by local authorities, how many have been to the reference panels and how many have been approved.

What is the intention of the Government with regard to enforcement? Regulations came into effect in August which are not being enforced. It would be easy to poke fun at the Government but this is not a funny matter; it is a serious matter. I do not blame the Government for not enforcing the Regulations. It would be outrageous for the Government to do what they have power to do, or for local authorities to do it following protest from the Government, and dismiss graduate qualified teachers because they were not registered and take on uncertificated teachers. The procedure to dismiss a teacher because he is not registered is a tedious and lengthy process which is laid down in the 1962 Act, and such a procedure would not help relations with the teaching profession.

I do not blame the Minister or the local authorities, who have no doubt been in touch with him, for not enforcing the Regulations, but the position is ridiculous. Teachers over the years have been calling for a Council and for participation, and there is no disagreement in any part of the House that this is basically desirable, but there is considerable opposition and concern, and it is not in the best interests of the teaching profession or of education in Scotland if a Council continues to exist which does not have the general support or command the respect of all the teaching profession.

Has the time not come for a full report on the facts of the decision? Has the time not come to reconsider the constitution and activities of the Council? Indeed, has the time not come for the Minister to recommend and for the teachers to consider holding a referendum or some sort of general meeting in each area to consider whether the present arrangements are acceptable and in the interests of teachers and education generally?

I hope that these remarks have not been unhelpful. I think that the time has come for the Minister to give his views.

10.45 p.m.

The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Glas- gow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) for raising this important problem, and I would say to him and to the Minister how grateful I am to them for giving me an opportunity to intervene briefly in the debate. I hope that, before long, we shall have an opportunity to debate the matter in greater detail on the Prayer which we put down in July and for which, regrettably, the Government have not been able to find time.

The purpose of the new Regulations is to provide for the conditional registration of teachers with the new General Teaching Council. Any teacher in a primary school who has not registered in this way may no longer be employed. Teachers in secondary and special schools who have not registered or whose registration has not been conditionally accepted may be employed only if they are approved by a reference panel. This point has been explained by my hon. Friend. If teachers are not so approved, the education authority is required by the Regulations to dismiss them.

The reason for the Regulations is twofold, as I understand it. The first is to remove unqualified teachers from the profession if they are unable to secure the necessary teaching qualifications. The second is that it is intended by the registration system to bring teachers within the authority of the General Teaching Council, which we on this side supported and continue to support.

There can be little objection to these reasons as matters of principle. In the first place, it cannot be in the interests of our children that they should be taught by people who are totally unqualified to teach. Secondly, it is important to the status of the profession that the General Teaching Council should be clearly established as the professional body representing the teaching profession. Therefore, I have no quarrel with these principles, and I support them. What I question, like my hon. Friend, is the timing and method by which these principles are being introduced.

There has been much confusion about the Secretary of State's proposal, and much opposition to it. Some teachers question the composition of the Council. Some object to its disciplinary powers. Others have moral objections to registration. The result is that some thousands of teachers have not registered.

If the Secretary of State presses these Regulations, he is asking for a minority, and possibly a large minority, of teachers to be sacked when we are desperately short of them. If he does not press the Regulations, he will turn them into a dead letter.

The quandary is of his own making. Clearly, the Secretary of State cannot breach the principles which lie behind the Regulations, but he should have regard to the practical difficulties which confront education authorities and teachers.

In my view, he would not breach principle or break faith if he were to propose a course of action which would give more time for teachers to be persuaded that registration is in their own best interests, and consider introducing an interim sanction for a brief period which fell short of the dismissal required by the Regulations.

10.50 p.m.

On a point of order. Is it not customary, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the Chair to call a Member from each side of the House alternatively?

This is the general rule, with the exception of Front Benchers, who must be called in precedence.

Further to that point of order. Is it not the case that in these short Adjournment debates it has not been the custom to make a point of calling Front Benchers apart from the Minister who is to answer?

I am sorry. The hon. Member must accept my Ruling tonight. Mr. Bruce Millan.

I hope that I will be acquitted of any discourtesy, but I do not have very much time to answer the points which have been raised.

I appreciate the way in which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) put his points, but I think that he and his hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) were inconsistent in some of the conclusions that they reached, in view of the remarks made earlier by the hon. Member for Cathcart.

I will start by giving the figures asked for by the hon. Member for Cathcart about the number of teachers who are now registered with the Council. There is in fact a Parliamentary Question about this matter down for tomorrow. The situation, as it was yesterday, was that 45,406 teachers have now been registered. In addition, the Council has had 3,112 applications for registration which have not been completely processed. Adding these two figures together, one can say, with a good deal of confidence, that the number of certificated teachers actually in service in the schools who have not registered must be very small indeed, although I am not able to give this figure, because ultimately the figures can come only from the individual local education authorities.

I think I could answer a little more clearly some of the points raised if I remind the House of the background to the establishment of the General Teaching Council. This came in the Report of the Wheatley Committee which recommended that the existing system of control of entry to the profession by the Secretary of State through the certification of teachers should cease and that in its place control of entry should be vested in a new body to he called the General Teaching Council for Scotland. This recommendation, incidentally, came from a Committee of which leading individuals in the three main teachers' associations were members and were signatories to the recommendations of the Committee. The number of teachers on the Council, which is 25 out of the 44 places, is exactly the representation which was proposed by the Wheatley Committee. Incidentally, when the hon. Member for Cathcart suggests that we ought to look at this again, he is calling for new legislation which, by convention, is out of order in an Adjournment debate, so I cannot deal with that point; but the representation is exactly as recommended by the Wheatley Committee.

It has been argued tonight, by implication at least, that to require already certificated teachers to register with the General Teaching Council to preserve their existing rights is inequitable. Such an argument must be looked at against the background created by the Teaching Council (Scotland) Act, 1965, and the constitution under it of the General Teaching Council. Under the Act, registration with the Council has replaced certification by the Secretary of State as the mark of recognition of the qualified teacher. The Act withdraws from the Secretary of State his power to certificate teachers and thus to exercise control over the profession in such matters as recognition, probation and discipline. In that regard it gives very considerable advantages to the teaching profession at the expense of the Secretary of State. It is now in the interests of the teachers, as well as the authorities and parents, that all qualified teachers should be registered with the General Teaching Council. Only in that way can confusion be avoided. We cannot have two systems of recognition of qualified teachers running side by side, one recognition by the G.T.C. and one by the Secretary of State. In fact the statutory power is removed in the 1965 Act. Therefore, if the system is to work, all teachers have to be registered with the General Teaching Council.

The Wheatley Committee specifically emphasised this point. It said:
"We think it desirable, therefore, to stress that all existing certificated teachers will have to register with the Council, from a date to be determined by it, if they wish to continue to be entitled to the advantages of certification."
No hon. Member should have been in any doubt, when the 1965 Act went through and the principle of the G.T.C. was welcomed, that this was the inevitable effect of the Act. It was bound to have this effect. Therefore, when the hon. Member for Cathcart suggests that we should somehow withdraw the Regulations, he is asking us to deny the basis upon which the Act was put through with universal acceptance in 1965.

The Wheatley Committee also said:
"Our recommendations would lose much of their force if registered teachers did not have the same rights as certificated teachers and unregistered teachers did not have the same disabilities as uncertificated teachers. We therefore recommend that registration with the Council he obligatory on all teachers who wish to claim entitlement to the benefits conferred by certificated status."
It is in the discharge of that recommendation, which is absolutely inherent in the 1965 Act, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made the changes in the Schools (Scotland) Code for the current year. I wish to clarify this point because I think both hon. Members are not clear about it. These disabilities which arise from failure to register, do not arise from the Regulations which came into force on 1st August, but from the Teachers (Education, Training and Registration) (Scotland) Regulations 1967, and I am not aware that any Prayer was put down against them. These disabilities have operated from 1st April this year.

The current Regulations deal with a rather different matter, the position of uncertificated teachers, and they are to be taken in the context of the general recommendations about uncertificated teachers which were accepted, at least in part, by the Secretary of State. As from 1st August this year it is no longer possible for an authority to employ a teacher in a primary school unless he is registered or conditionally registered. In the case of a secondary school it is no longer possible to employ a teacher unless he is registered or conditionally registered without, of course, that teacher coming before one of the reference panels.

These Regulations are indispensable if we are to deal with the problem of uncertificated teachers. They have certain other effects which arise from the previous Regulations and not the current Regulations. The employment of uncertificated teachers has been a burning question in Scotland for many years. The number of applications received by the G.T.C. for conditional registration and not withdrawn is 1,559. That figure by itself demonstrates that large numbers of uncertificated teachers have not even applied for conditional registration and in the normal process they will come out of the schools automatically—perhaps not immediately, but eventually.

These generally have been teachers who had the lowest qualifications and were least suited to be teachers in our schools. Of the 1,559, 227 are regarded as eligible for exceptional admission to the register right away, 857 have been granted conditional registration for a limited period during which they must obtain the necessary qualifications for registration, and 475 have been given conditional registration only for an initial period. Large numbers of these will also be no longer eligible for registration from 31st January next year.

The reference panels are dealing with teachers who are not registered or conditionally registered, the people whom the authorities feel they must employ in secondary schools because of the acute teaching shortage in their areas. Although the panels have only just started to operate, they have already had submitted 560 references and have dealt with all these except 98 which are in the process of being considered. Some authorities, of which Lanarkshire is one, have still to put to the panels their submissions, but in a few weeks they have dealt with a large number of teachers whom the authorities wish to employ, although they cannot be registered or conditionally registered.

I think that the system of panels involved in the Regulations which came into operation on 1st August, considered together with the proposals for registration and conditional registration, particularly for uncertificated teachers, represent another considerable step forward in dealing with this extremely difficult and so far intractable problem of getting rid of the uncertificated teachers, as they used to be called, whose qualifications were such that they had no hope of becoming fully certificated or, as it now is, registered teachers. I hope that some of the points I have been able to make—and in this limited time I have not been able to deal with the Regulations which came into operation on 1st August, 1968—have clarified some of the issues, and I hope that the general feeling in this House will be that the General Teaching Council should be supported. The Government have followed the lines of what was inherent in the 1965 Act which was put through the House with general agreement and acclaim on all sides.

11.2 p.m.

That was a most unsatisfactory reply from the Under-Secretary. He seems totally to have failed to understand that the real problem is not, as he says, uncertificated teachers, but the highly-qualified and experienced teachers, some of whom have so far declined to register. It is precisely because this has been so that we are concerned and are asking that the Government should at long last give us time to discuss the matter properly and seriously, on a Prayer, and not in the way the Under-Secretary has done tonight.

The hon. Gentleman should take his hands out of his pocket when addressing the House.

I hope that when the time comes, the Under-Secretary will address himself to the real problem of unregistered teachers who have considerable qualification and experience and may have to lose their jobs because of these new Regulations. He must address himself to that.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at three minutes past Eleven o'clock.