Tory peers threaten to wreck Bill

16th January 1998 at 00:00
Opposition peers say they will scupper next week's committee stage of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill unless the Government gives them fuller details of its proposals, writes Frances Rafferty.

Baroness Blatch, leading for the Conservatives in the House of Lords, said she made it clear during the Bill's second reading that the Government would have to produce draft regulations which spell out how the Bill will work.

She said: "There are people hoping to go to university this year who still do not know the exact details of tuition and maintenance costs. It is particularly worrying for students from low-income families who at present get 50 per cent of the grant."

She said she had finally won a concession from Baroness Blackstone, the higher education minister, who said that, while the regulations were not ready, she would provide a detailed report for peers by yesterday. But Lady Blatch, who had not read the report by the time The TES went to press, said she was sceptical it would provide many answers.

Another Conservative peer, Lord Pilkington, described the Bill as "shadows in the sand" because of its lack of detail.

The Bill introduces university tuition fees and a new student loan scheme, a compulsory qualification for heads, probation year for teachers, Office for Standards in Education inspections of teacher training institutions, powers for the Secretary of State to penalise universities for charging top-up fees, paid time-off for young people to study or train and the establishment of a general teaching council.

Lady Blatch described the Government's handling of the Bill as a fiasco. She said there were a number of anomalies that needed explaining. For example, it will cost English students more to study in Scotland. And while students on four-year BEd courses will pay the full fees, their fellow students taking a one-year postgraduate certificate in Education will study for free.

The Opposition intends to table an amendment which will put a safeguard on the level of tuition fees. "What is to stop the Chancellor increasing them to pound;2,000 next year?" asked Lady Blatch. She also hopes to amend the Bill to retain the funding of grants up to 50 per cent for the poorest students.

Baroness Young, Conservative, has tabled an amendment to give the teaching council more teeth. The GTC should be responsible, she believes, for standards of teaching, conduct of teachers and medical fitness to teach.

Peers say as the legislation stands the English council will be a poor relation of the Scottish and Welsh councils.

The Lib Dems have tabled an amendment which stipulates that half the membership of the GTC should be employers of teachers, representatives of commerce and industry, providers of teacher training and the public. They also hope to block the introduction of tuition fees.

The Government can expect to be attacked on its proposal to withdraw funding from universities charging top-up fees.

* The committee stage of the School Standards and Framework Bill also starts next week. This Bill introduces action zones, abolishes GM schools and creates three categories of school, sets class sizes for infants and provides for ballots to end grammar schools.

Stephen Dorrell, the Tory education shadow to prevent the demise of GM schools and propose that schools should be able to ballot to become grammar schools.

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