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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 12:29 GMT

Teaching and Higher Education Act

Originally the measures in this Act - including the introduction of student tuition fees for the 1998 academic year - were to have been included in the legislation to improve school standards.

The government decided at the last minute to introduce two separate pieces of legislation, to minimise disruption to the School Standards and Framework Bill from the anticipated opposition to its proposals on tuition fees.

The Teaching and Higher Education Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 26 November 1997 and passed into law as an Act after completing its parliamentary passage on 16 July 1998.

Other main elements of the Act are:

Student Funding

This part of the Act paves the way for the replacement of the maintenance living grant for students across the UK with a loan, and the introduction of tuition fees for study.

The government first outlined its broad plans for student funding in a report, Higher Education for the 21st Century, published on the same day as the Dearing report on higher education - 23 July 1997.

The changes will see:

  • Tuition fees paid by all except the poorest students from 1998/9. About 30% of pupils will not pay tuition fees because their income or that of their parents or spouses is too low. Another 30% with family incomes of less than about 35,000 a year will pay less than the maximum level for 1998/9 of 1,000.
  • The replacement of the maintenance grant for living expenses with loans from 1999/2000. Repayment of loans will be at the rate of 9% of a graduate's income once it is above 10,000.
  • The availability of a supplementary hardship loan of 250 a year.
  • Bursaries for students entering teacher training or health and social care courses; employers will be invited to consider bursaries for other areas.
The government faced opposition to its proposals from not only students' representatives and the Opposition benches in Parliament, but also from its own backbenchers.

After one of the longest games of parliamentary "ping pong" in recent decades, the Teaching and Higher Education Bill finally completed its parliamentary passage in the early hours of 16 July 1998 and became an Act.

Prior to this, the House of Lords had passed three successive amendments to the Bill which would have meant that English, Welsh and Northern Irish students studying at Scottish universities would pay a total of 3,000 in tuition fees for a four-year course - the typical duration of degree-level studies in Scotland - in line with their Scottish counterparts.

These amendments were overturned in the Commons, but the threat of the Lords defeating the government on a fourth occasion was only averted when the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, promised an independent review of the operation of tuition fees in Scotland.

General Teaching Councils

The purpose of the GTCs for England and Wales is to improve the standing of the teaching profession by establishing professional bodies to represent it. They are modelled on the teaching council that Scotland has had since 1965. Separate legislation on a GTC for Northern Ireland is currently being framed.

The function of the GTCs will be to advise the Education Secretary on standards of teaching and standards of conduct for teachers, on the role of the teaching profession and the recruitment and career development of teachers, and on whether a teacher should be sacked or prohibited from teaching.

The GTCs will also maintain registers of teachers - who will have to pay a fee to have their names entered. The Secretary of State will have powers to require employers to deduct the fee from salary. These fees will eventually finance the GTCs, after initial start-up costs are met by central government.

Reform of the teaching profession

Various measures to improve teacher training are contained in the Act:

Time off for study

This enables certain 16- and 17-year-old employees in England, Wales and Scotland to take paid time off work to study or train for approved qualifications, in order to improve their employment prospects.

The government expects the cost to businesses to be between 60m and 130m per year, depending on how many take up the opportunities.

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