HC Deb 15 May 1984 vol 60 cc132-5
2. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the teachers pay dispute.

7. Mr. Barron

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the teachers pay dispute.

14. Mr. Jim Callaghan

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the teachers pay dispute.

Sir Keith Joseph

As I told the House on I May, I very much regret the teachers' unions' rejection of the employers' 4.5 per cent. pay offer. I believe that offer to be a fair one. It strains to the limit the employers' ability to pay, and it is for that reason that they have, rightly, refused arbitration.

I regret even more the damage and disruption to pupils' education now being caused by the teachers' industrial action. I cannot believe such action to be in the teachers' own interests, and I hope that they will come to recognise the 4.5 per cent. pay offer as reasonable and acceptable.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Secretary of State agree that he was once very concerned about standards in schools and that one of the key elements in achieving good standards in schools is the maintenance of high morale among teachers, pupils and parents? Has not his handling of the dispute done irreparable damage to that morale? Will he allow the whole issue to go to arbitration, and do something to restore the morale of our teachers, pupils and parents, so that we get value for money out of our education system?

Sir Keith Joseph

The Government as a whole are certainly ardently in favour of increased standards in schools, but arbitration will not solve the problem. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Surely Opposition Members realise that the employers have now offered as much as — and possibly in many cases more than—they can afford. The arbitrator may not make the ability to pay the crucial criterion, and he cannot provide more money.

Mr. Barron

The Secretary of State has said that the present offer "strains to the limit" the money available to the employers, but has not the Secretary of State for the Environment been straining the ability of local authorities to pay by inflicting cuts on them during the past five years? Why does not the Secretary of State fight against those cuts in order to protect the educational standards of our people?

Sir Keith Joseph

The Government of which I am a member fought and won elections in 1979 and 1983, when the central plank of our platform was to bring public spending under control and so reduce inflation. We have done that in the interests of every person in this country. We cannot imperil that success by increasing public spending in order to give pay increases which the country cannot afford. That road leads right back to the inflation of the 1970s.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Secretary of State aware that 60 per cent. of teachers earn less than £10,000 a year and that, following intensive training, it takes a scale 1 or scale 2 teacher 14 years to reach the maximum of £8,000 or £9,000? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that compares unfavourably with other similar professions, such as the police? What does he intend to do to force employers to accept arbitration, in the interests of the high morale of the teachers and children in those schools?

Sir Keith Joseph

I have tried to explain that arbitration is no solution to the problem, since the arbitrator could not provide more money.

Mr. Walden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that teaching is a profession, and that the three main characteristics of a profession are the maintenance of high standards, adequate rewards and not going on strike? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend continue his efforts to put together a package that emphasises the raising of teaching standards and the restructuring of teachers' salaries?

Sir Keith Joseph

Some such possibility is under discussion within the Burnham framework. I hope that it will succeed in hammering out a system of rigorous teacher assessment which might be associated with the conditions to which my hon. Friend has referred. However, I should emphasise that the teachers have benefited and will continue to benefit from more job security than perhaps any other group in this country.

Mrs. Rumbold

Will my right hon. Friend reassure anxious parents of young people who are about to take public examinations that the effects of the teachers' action and any subsequent days of strike will not affect their children's opportunities when they take those examinations?

Sir Keith Joseph

The evidence so far is that children who have been taking examinations have not had their work disrupted. I hope that whatever happens in future — naturally, I hope that the teachers will soon accept the offer—that will continue.

Mr. Beith

Has the Secretary of State forgotten that it was the votes of his representatives on the Burnham committee that prevented the dispute from being settled at an early stage? Since he bears responsibility for the costs that local authorities will incur at the end of the day, may I ask him to recognise that they should not be penalised for going to arbitration and accepting its conclusions?

Sir Keith Joseph

I take my share of responsibility, but the proceedings inside Burnham are confidential. I repeat, a fair offer has been made and is still on the table.

Mr. Nicholls

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, whatever the present position may be, in the end GCE and CSE examinations will be affected? Is it not disgraceful, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of this dispute, that teachers should so abuse their pupils' interest as to use them as so many bargaining counters in a pay dispute? Does he agree that such disgraceful conduct deserves to be condemned by hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Sir Keith Joseph

I repeat, I do not believe that the teachers are doing themselves any good by their present conduct. I deeply regret the disruption to the children's education, including any repercussions for those taking examinations.

Mr. Flannery

It must be agreed that the teachers are among the most orderly members of the work force. Is it not disgraceful that they should have been provoked into strike action? Is the Secretary of State aware that a young teacher's take-home pay is about £65 a week, whereas, for example, a policeman, with only three months' training before he is in uniform—and with slender qualifications compared with those of a teacher, whose training, in addition to qualifications already held, lasts at least three years—receives massively more? Why should such a disgraceful situation obtain in Britain today?

Sir Keith Joseph

The teachers' present pay, let alone what it would be were the offer to be accepted, is at a level which I am told is attracting candidates of the desired quality for teacher training.

Mr. Greenway

Is my right hon. Friend aware that over the weekend I met a teacher who claimed to be doing a 64-hour week? Has he heard broadcasts in which other teachers have claimed to be working very long hours indeed, taking into account time spent on school clubs, marking, and so on? Will he bear that in mind when the restructuring talks are resumed, and will he press for that resumption as soon as possible?

Sir Keith Joseph

No one doubts that most teachers do very long hours during term time, and some work even between terms. That is not in doubt.

Mr. Fisher

Is the Secretary of State aware that teachers' pay has fallen 31 per cent. below the level set by the Houghton committee? Does he accept that the only fair and just action that the Government should take is a phased return to decent pay levels, or is he not interested in rewarding the work of teachers, which he concedes is extremely valuable to the country?

Sir Keith Joseph

A country cannot conduct its economic affairs to the benefit of all the people if past relativities are sought to be frozen.

Sir Peter Emery

Will my right hon. Friend point out to the teachers' unions that many local authorities, by keeping their budgets within the money available, have tried to cut everything but the money available for teachers, and that for many authorities increases above 4.5 per cent. would mean a reduction in the number of teachers to cope with the grant of the additional awards, which would not be in anybody's interest?

Sir Keith Joseph

That might be true of some local authorities. If more than 4.5 per cent. were to be contemplated, there would have to be reductions in such crucial elements of education as books, equipment and maintenance, and even consideration of reducing the number of teachers.

Mr. Nellist

Is the Secretary of State aware that his education cuts have increased demands on teachers so that many of them are having to buy paper, pens, pencils and books in order to teach the children? Is he further aware that class sizes of over 30, which many teachers have to teach, mean that teachers are engaged not so much in teaching as in crowd control? If he is so concerned about educational standards, why does he not concede the pay award for the teachers? After all, the police got 8.4 per cent. Are not teachers of equal value to the community?

Sir Keith Joseph

I invite the hon. Gentleman to send me details of any authority of which that is true. Class sizes of over 30 have been dwindling year by year. The pupil-teacher ratio is at a record low level. If teachers are being imposed upon, as the hon. Gentleman says, that must reflect upon the local authority's management of its affairs.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

In view of the last question, will my right hon. Friend confirm that not only is the pupil-teacher ratio at secondary and primary levels at its lowest level, but that it is considerably lower than the levels that the Government inherited in 1979?

Sir Keith Joseph

My right hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. The pupil-teacher ratio is substantially better than it was when this Government first came into office.

Mr. Radice

The Secretary of State has said that he is going to stand aloof from this dispute. However, does he accept that, far from standing aloof, his representatives on the Burnham committee have made a peaceful settlement far more difficult, most recently, on his instructions, by voting against arbitration, which is, of course, the accepted and constitutional way out of teachers' disputes? Why is the right hon. Gentleman now putting forward such weak arguments against arbitration, when only last year the Prime Minister and the then Secretary of State for the Environment were urging another public sector group, the water workers, to go to arbitration? What is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander.

Sir Keith Joseph

It is tragic for the country that Her Majesty's Opposition seem to live in a Utopia in which money is available without limit and without regard to the consequences.