HC Deb 25 April 1995 vol 258 cc644-6
2. Ms Quin

To ask the Secretary of State for Education when she last met teachers or their representatives to discuss pay and conditions; and if she will make a statement. [19169]

The Secretary of State for Education (Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

I discussed pay and conditions with representatives of each of the main professional teacher associations at meetings held in March. At the end of March, I announced my acceptance of the independent review body's recommendations.

Ms Quin

Does the Secretary of State realise that vague promises about possible jam tomorrow are simply not good enough and that parental support for teachers and for a better education service remains strong? What will she do, here and now, to tackle the problems of class sizes and to ensure that the teachers' pay award is fully and properly funded?

Mrs. Shephard

Each year local authorities say that funding is insufficient. The settlement is manageable, although it is tough and has a variable impact across the country. The vast majority of local authorities have managed to fund the teachers' pay award in full, many of which are funding other aspects of education in addition. There is no accumulated evidence to link class size with attainment. Class sizes have edged up over the past couple of years and, I am glad to say, standards have risen a great deal.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

Is my right lion. Friend aware that Northumberland county council has cut £800,000 from its schools budget amid a well-orchestrated campaign to convince parents that it is the Government's fault? Does he realise that the county council decided, at the same time, to spend £700,000 a year funding road races? Furthermore, a few days ago it decided to award county councillors higher allowances—it will spend a further £400,000 a year on allowances, including a 260 per cent. increase in the basic allowance. Does that not show that Labour local authorities are more concerned with propaganda than with educating children?

Mrs. Shephard

It seems extraordinary that a local authority should place greater emphasis on councillors' allowances than on spending in the classroom. That merely goes to prove what we have been saying all along—that the vast majority of authorities are able to identify their priorities and protect front-line services. What a pity it is that Northumberland is not prepared to do so.

Dr. Marek

In the light of the right hon. Lady's statement about class sizes, will she tell us why class sizes in public schools are much lower than in state schools?

Mrs. Shephard

I find it difficult to understand why Opposition Members so frequently raise the subject of independent education. I should have thought that they might be embarrassed that so many of their colleagues are in the awkward position of wanting to exercise choice for their own children while opposing it for other people's. Conservatives have no such difficulty: we believe in choice, diversity and excellence, and we have the added advantage of practising what we preach.

Mr. Pawsey

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the overwhelming majority of the nation's teachers are dedicated to their profession and to the children in their charge? Will he therefore make it clear to teachers that those who argue the case for selective strikes or who seek to introduce a rota under which children are sent home will damage not just the children's education but teachers' standing in the eyes of parents?

Mrs. Shephard

Yes, industrial action by teachers, whatever form it takes, can only damage children, children's education and our schools. It will certainly infuriate parents and it will yet again harm teachers' professional reputations, which had begun to recover after the regrettable industrial action of the mid-1980s.