Teaching council and class limits now law

24th July 1998 at 01:00
The Government's vision for education has at last become a reality. Frances Rafferty looks back over its rocky ride through Parliament.

IT HAS TAKEN 258 hours, with more than 60 Parliamentary sittings, to put Labour's education vision on the statute book this week.

The School Standards and Framework Bill, and the Teaching and Higher Education Bill are both now Acts - completed in time for ministers and civil servants to enjoy their summer break.

Most of the drama took place in the House of Lords, with the peers inflicting the biggest defeat on a Government since 1913, on the so-called Scottish anomaly in the higher education Bill.

The Government then had to watch its legislation - introducing tuition fees and establishing a General Teaching Council - ping pong back and forth between the two chambers four times - another record. Finally a compromise was reached.

The troubled journey through the Lords also saw a last-minute climbdown by the Liberal Democrats who were set to force extra sessions on the higher education Bill. This led to rumours that high-level Government pressure had been put on Lib-Dem leader Paddy Ashdown.

And the drama did not end there. Lord Russell, accused by Labour whip Lord Whitty of "posing" as the students' friend, evoked, and won, a vote on Asperity of Speech, the equivalent to being read the Parliamentary Riot Act dating from Charles I's reign.

Lord Whitty was then subjected by the clerk - who deserved an Oscar for keeping a straight face - to a 17th-century-style ticking-off.

The General Teaching Council is now a very different beast from the one originally set out in the higher education Bill. Amendments have given it a majority of serving teachers, and powers to strike off teachers for professional misconduct or incompetence, with the Education Secretary retaining powers on child protection.

The School Standards and Framework Bill, with its 145 clauses and 32 schedules, received 750 amendments, but enjoyed a less controversial passage. It remains largely the same but now stipulates a class size limit of 30 for infants, and abolishes corporal punishment in the few private schools still interested in the practice (thanks to a Liberal Democrat amendment).

It also sets in statute a code of practice for local education authorities and adds details about the parental ballots that could abolish grammar schools.

The Lords managed to wrest one concession - parish councils (or other minority authorities) will still be able to nominate school governors. The lobby from the shires on this issue proved the most vociferous.

This legislation abolishes grant-maintained schools and sets up three new categories: community, aided and foundation. The former GM schools will now decide which category to go for in September 1999, and a year later other schools will be able to choose.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, believes the Act, which establishes education action zones as the Government's test beds for the school system of the next century, questions the future of local education authorities as we know them. "It will place huge tensions on the relationship between schools and LEAs," he said.

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