§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Durant.]1.17 am
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the current teachers' pay dispute. I am a former polytechnic lecturer, married to a college lecturer who comes from a family of teachers, so the continuation of the pay dispute causes me concern. It must be in our interests to create the best education system possible. One of the ways to do that is to attract to the teaching profession the best qualified and most able teachers to teach our children.
The profession must be presented as an attractive vocation. Little can be more important if we are to nurture and develop the seed corn of tomorrow's Britain. The future is in our hands. We must have the best teachers available at our disposal.
We must consider the problem in the light of the society that we want for the future. As information technology and technology generally advances we shall need to provide people with higher qualifications who can cope with the jobs created by that technology.
We shall see a society in which there will be fewer hours of work, in which people will retire earlier, and in which they will stay at school longer. They will have to learn at school how to cope with the increased leisure that such a society will provide.
The second function of the future education system will be to provide the necessary training for the skills that will be required for the jobs of the future. We are effectively facing a social revolution, and the main function of the education system will be to enable people to adjust to it. It is for that reason that many of us in this House are very concerned to get the best teachers that we possibly can.
The main reason for the present teaching dispute is the reduction since 1979 by about 1 million of the number of children in our schools. It has had a number of important effects on the teaching profession. The number of posts available for promotion is becoming much more limited. A considerable number of teachers are now stuck on scales 1 and 2. There is no movement and very few senior teacher posts are being created.
Would-be teachers are being required to stay at school for an extra two years to do A-levels, to take degree courses and B.Ed. courses. Many of the honours graduates go on to obtain teaching certificates. They do not go into a job until they are 21 or 22. Those extra years at school or university have to be rewarded by proper terms and conditions of service and a decent salary when they enter the teaching profession. This House should help towards the creation of attractive terms and conditions for the teachers who come into our schools.
At the age of 21 or 22, on a salary of £8,500 at the top of scale 1, and with very little chance of promotion, the job of a teacher is not a very attractive proposition. A scale 1 or 2 teacher today is earning the average wage, not of an accountant, lawyer or bank manager; his wages are on a par with those of a gas fitter, deck hands on ships, crane drivers and machine minders. In some cases, people in those other occupations are doing financially better than our teachers.
The top of the pay scale of a head teacher in a primary school is about £13,500. That teacher can be responsible 148 for upwards of 300 primary schoolchildren between the ages of five and 11. The pay scale is in no way commensurate with the responsibility that a head teacher carries.
In secondary education, £22,500 is the maximum for head teachers with 2,000 pupils, including fairly large sixth forms. Their pay is not commensurate with that of industrial managers, senior officers in the Army and senior officials in local government and central government. Today on page 3 The Timespointed out that, over the past ten years, the wage levels of head teachers in secondary schools have been severely eroded compared with those other posts. Local education authorities have reduced staff levels as schools have shrunk.
Morale is at an all-time record low. What can we do to deal with this? The symptoms have been the annual pay round and the inevitable arguments about pay levels, followed by industrial action and arbitration. I doubt whether many hon. Members agree with the teachers' industrial action. I reject it. There can be no forgiveness for those teachers who put children's education in danger. Many of us understand the frustration that leads teachers to take industrial action, but, if the teaching profession is to prove its dedication and professionalism, it will not be done by acting in this way. I and many of my colleagues have pointed out to teachers that, if they want to improve their terms and conditions, by acting in this way they are not impressing those whom they need to influence—the parents, Members of Parliament and the Government. They are going down the wrong road.
We must see an end to the annual pay round and the disputes cycle. In an early-day motion I and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) urged all parties in the dispute to negotiate in a spirit of goodwill for a long-term solution.
Some of those who represent the teachers at high levels, especially in certain unions, do not negotiate in a spirit of good will. This has been shown by offers by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to meet the union leaders. They refused to negotiate over the 1986–87 pay settlement, even though in October we shall be finalising the rate support grant for that financial year. Many Conservative Members must suspect that the leaders of certain trade unions, in the interests perhaps of the main Opposition party, are using the dispute to discredit the Government. They are interested, not in the profession as a whole, but in making political points. Perhaps Mr. Jarvis and some of the leaders of the NUT at national level have been reading Trotsky carefully and taking to heart his advice that demands should be made on the capitalist system which it is known it cannot meet. Teachers would do well to look at the motives of some of the union leadership.
I and the majority of my colleagues do not believe that the teaching profession is full of Left-wing activists. Teachers as a whole are eminently sensible people who realise the position that they are in. They want to settle the matter. We should be giving them the opportunity to do so. We should be talking about teachers in the way that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and other Ministers talks about the police and the way that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services talks about nurses, to emphasise the value of the teaching profession to the nation and to make it clear that we support that attitude and value them as a section of the community.
149 It is important for Conservative Members and the Government to make teachers realise that we care about their future and the future of education. It may be worth mentioning that the Opposition Benches are empty, and that the 32 Labour Members who are members of the National Union of Teachers are conspicuous by their absence, together with alliance Members, who have constantly wooed teachers. Where are they tonight? Not one is present.
In future we must look for a long-term solution. We must see an end to the annual pay round and its associated disputes because not only teachers and parents, but everyone, is fed up with it, and want it ended. To end it, our approach to the problem must be realistic. Teachers must realise that although they have a great deal of support and sympathy for their case in the House, the dispute must be settled in a climate of economic reality. They must realise that states are like individuals in that there are cash limits on what they can afford.
I advocate that any settlement must include the assessment of teachers' performance. I appreciate that that is disputed, but from my conversations with teachers I know that they are not afraid of assessment. They say, "We are good teachers. We are not afraid of it." It will give excellent teachers an opportunity to shine, and it will resolve the problems relating to out-of-school activities, school lunch hour supervision periods, and the other parts of a teacher's daily life.
We should consider restructuring the pay scales. The teaching profession must recognise that unless we attract mathematic and science graduates and computer scientists into the profession we shall not be able to create the technologists and scientists of the future, who will be important to the development of Britain. We shall not attract them to teaching unless they are paid adequate wage levels, commensurate with industry. Clearly, British Telecom, Plessey and the big corporations can exceed some of the salaries at present offered to young scale 1 and 2 teachers.
A complete restructuring is required. To return to Houghton in 1974 is a waste of time, because too much water has passed under the bridge since then. We must regard the appropriate levels of remuneration on the Clegg review of 1981 as a base from which to work. If we are to give teachers' pay increases we should consider a long-term pay settlement, for example, spread over three years, including assessment and conditions of employment. We should guarantee them an inflation 13Acc-proof rise over and above an equalisation rise to represent the erosion in their pay levels, which has clearly occurred between 1981 and 1984. We could begin to achieve that by repealing the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965, which set up the Burnham and CLEA/ST committees. It is a nonsense to negotiate on pay in one committee and on terms and conditions in another. We should merge the two committees. In 1981, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle), who was then Secretary of State for Education and Science, told the House that it was the Government's intention to amend he Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 to bring pay and conditions of service within the scope ofa single negotiating body.That is sound sense, but there are still two committees. Instead of discussing pay in one committee and conditions of service in another, they should be discussed together.
150 If we repeal that Act, there may be an alteration in the union representation on the newly constituted body, which will truly reflect the membership of the unions in the teaching profession. They have changed greatly, especially recently. Many teachers have left the large unions and joined smaller ones because they will not go on strike. In west Lancashire, teachers undertook some industrial action at the beginning, but they have now rejected it. They have been reasonable in all discussions about this matter, and they have consistently declared their desire to talk to the Government and move towards a long-term solution wherever possible. The spirit of west Lancashire teachers should prevail throughout the country.
A settlement of the long-term problems must include assessment of teachers and—I am sure the general public would welcome—this-a no-strike agreement, so that parents can guarantee their children's teaching.
As matters stand, there will be no resolution of the problem. I urge my hon. Fiend the Under-Secretary of State to do everything that lie can to give the teachers a reasonable working wage and to undertake the restructuring of their contracts. I am aware of the Department's desire to settle the matter. Perhaps my hon. Friend can persuade the Department to reach a settlement. which can be put to the Cabinet, so that resources can be made available for the future and so that there is an end to the constant rounds of negotiations.
I await with interest the views of my hon. Friend the Minister, who should be aware that I speak not only for myself but for many Conservative Members who believe that we should put this problem behind us. The only way in which we can run our education system is to have vision and ideals as to the direction in which it should go. The moment we lose sight of our ideals, we shall lose our way. Let us develop the best education system that we can obtain. The best way to start doing that is to solve the teachers' pay dispute on a long-term basis.
§ Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) on behalf of the House for having introduced this subject on the Adjournment. I should like to say how much I agree with him.
We are faced with a difficult situation, with which my hon. Friend has dealt fairly and responsibly, in which we accept the particular difficulties of the Government. I urge that our concentration should be on the problems of those teachers on scales 1 and 2. We need a new deal for the profession. Can we not forget the problems of the past, the difficulties we had with the teaching unions, and look for a moment to the future and try to build a teaching profession which will be worthy of the children and their parents for the future of the nation? Surely there are answers to the questions posed by my hon. Friend.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under—Secretary of State for Education and Science will respond to the questions. It is a question not simply of resources, but of will, and whether it is our desire that we have a teaching profession which is worthy of the children and parents of this country and are prepared to provide the means to do that. That is the question for the House tonight.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Bob Dunn)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) for raising this subject and acknowledge the support given to his views by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James).
The debate is on an important matter which is of concern to all of us in the House and, indeed, to parents, children, and other members of the public throughout the country. The teachers' industrial action has disrupted our schools for virtually the whole of the spring and summer terms, and that must be a matter of considerable anxiety to us all.
As the House will know, the unions' response to my right hon. Friend's constant encouragement to negotiate reforms which would benefit education standards and the teachers themselves has been far from positive. First, they began to back-pedal in the talks which, until last summer, had appeared to be making progress. As I said, they broke off discussions last December, and have refused to resume them. More recently, they have refused even to address the Government's offer of additional resources next year if acceptable reforms can be agreed until they have achieved what they consider to be an acceptable settlement of their 1985 pay claim.
In saying that, I wish to emphasise at the same time that the Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State do not undervalue teachers. They fully recognise both the importance of the job that they do and the skill and dedication with which the great majority perform their difficult task. They also recognise that career prospects for capable and effective teachers are much diminished. We firmly believe that the Government's offer of additional resources next year, subject to agreement on reforms, can provide the means both to achieve progress towards further improvement in the standard of education provided in schools, and to begin to meet the genuine concerns of 152 teachers about their pay prospects. I urge the unions not to squander another opportunity to achieve real and lasting improvements to their members' position.
My right hon. Friend has made it clear that further agreement in principle must be reached by October if more resources are to be made available next year. That is a genuine deadline, because at that point decisions have to be taken on the rate support grant settlement for 1986–87. Already nearly two months have passed since the Government's offer was made. Time is fast running out. This represents the only way forward to more money for teachers' pay. It is of paramount importance to the health of the education service that the unions face up to economic reality and begin to negotiate constructively and realistically on the basis of the Government's offer. I am sure that my hon. Friends the Members for Lancashire, West, for Cambridge and for Bury, North (Mr. Burt), who is also with us, support that view.
We must acknowledge that time is fast running out. If we are to progress in the light of the Government's offer, the unions must take advantage of the opportunity to make progress in a spirit of moderation and co-operation, which will be presented by the resumption of discussions in the Burnham committee tomorrow. I am sure that the House hopes that that opportunity will not be lost. Both sides know exactly where they stand. The Government's position has been made clear in the letters of 21 May, 2 July and 9 July. It would be the height of folly if either side were to delude itself into thinking that the Government could be persuaded to change their stance.
We are fully cognisant of the fears and anxieties of teachers who genuinely wish to make a full and effective career in teaching at a time of falling rolls and school closures. I listened with interest to, and shall bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, what my two hon. Friends have said in this important debate.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to Two o' clock.