HC Deb 02 February 1993 vol 218 cc133-4
8. Mr. Pope

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what arrangements will be made to protect the interests of staff at a school that transfers from local education authority control to grant-maintained status.

Mr. Boswell

The contracts of employment of staff automatically transfer from the local education authority to the governing body of a grant-maintained school, which is required to observe all aspects of employment law. Staff at grant-maintained schools have the same rights as other employees to take their case to an industrial tribunal or to the courts.

Mr. Pope

Does the Minister accept that there is a legal obligation on GM schools not only to accept the terms and conditions that exist for teaching and non-teaching staff but to maintain the union recognition agreement when there is evidence—and I have evidence—that conditions of service for teaching and non-teaching staff in GM schools are worsening? Can he give an assurance to the House, which he would not give to the Standing Committee, that the Minister has not only the power but the political will to intervene?

Mr. Boswell

The hon. Gentleman is referring to the acquired rights directive which is under consideration in another Standing Committee of the House. Whether or not the directive is enacted in our domestic legislation, it already requires that grant-maintained schools must recognise unions for the same purposes and to the same extent as they were recognised by the local education authority until such time as the agreement is amended or terminated.

Dame Angela Rumbold

Can my hon. Friend advise my local authority, the teachers who work therein and those people in schools who are considering going grant maintained what protection there is for teachers who wish to participate in, or at least give their assent to, becoming grant maintained against the local authority that indicates that they may be acting contrary to its wishes?

Mr. Boswell

I had the opportunity to attend a college in Surrey yesterday, and I know of the good reputation that my right hon. Friend's local education authority generally holds. I emphasise, however, that in the Education Bill, which is currently under consideration, we have taken steps to ensure that obstruction and interference by the local authority—whether Surrey or elsewhere—as they may bear on individual teachers involved in a compaign, should be reduced to a minimum and, if possible, eliminated. I am sure that no hon. Member would wish to sanction or condone such unfair and inappropriate practices.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The Minister is telling the House about unfair and inappropriate practices. He must be aware—the Standing Committee considering the Education Bill has certainly been made aware—that grant-maintained schools have already sacked teachers and altered their contracts of employment, refusing, for example, to recognise length and continuity of service or to allow maternity and other benefits to be properly enjoyed. Is it the Government's intention that grant-maintained schools should erode the employment conditions of teachers to save money? If, as the Minister implies, the answer to that is no, will he take steps to prevent grant-maintained schools from doing that?

Mr. Boswell

The purpose of the discussion in the Standing Committee was to consider the effect of the acquired rights directive on conditions of transfer. If the hon. Gentleman is inviting me to say that no grant-maintained school may ever dismiss a teacher, I must remind him that, under the local management of schools arrangements, the governors of schools within the maintained sector already have the power to hire and fire, and I know of at least one locally managed school where two teachers have been dismissed through redundancy. There is no essential difference between the two sectors in that respect.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that, with children queuing up to get into grant-maintained schools and with strong community and parental support for them, the morale of teachers in such schools is unprecedentedly high?

Mr. Boswell

As ever, my hon. Friend is exactly on the point. The survey recently conducted by Grant-Maintained Schools Ltd. shows a positive side on employment practices as well as on the delivery of education. My hon. Friend is right: staffing levels are generally better and staff turnover is very much lower than in the equivalent maintained schools.